Dover City Council has voted to move forward with consideration of The Dover Green as a national monument due to its economic benefits despite concerns with the federal designation amongst property owners along The Green.
City Council voted 5-2, with two absent, to endorse the designation. Council wanted to act in time for President Obama's consideration in mid-February for new national monuments under the American Antiquities Act.
But most of the property owners who spoke before council Monday night felt council was rushing into a consideration. Their comments were tempered by local business and historic officials who spoke in favor of the federal designation because of its economic and preservation benefits.
Firstly, Dover had to research the deed to ensure it owned the property and assistant city solicitor William Pepper, of the Scmittinger & Rodriguez firm, traced The Green back to William Penn and the king of England and determined the city owned the land, City Manager Scott Koenig said. (Penn laid out the city of Dover in the late 17th Century.) Secondly, the city also had an environmental assessment to verify there were no problems with the land and, thirdly, had to obtain enter into a conservation and preservation easement with the U.S. National Park Service.
Koenig addressed a number of issues property owners along The Green expressed to him in a letter. Among other things, he said the easement would not encumber any private property and he believed it would not affect property taxes.
Koenig said The Green was worthy of having its story told through the national network afforded by the National Park Service. What's more, a national monument designation would not affect the city's ability to hold events like Dover Days there.
Councilman James Hutchison asked if the city would retain ownership of The Green, and Koenig said it would.
The Green recently became part of the long quest by U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) to create a national park district in the state of Delaware.
Councilwoman Beverly Williams and Councilman David Anderson asked what the easement covered, and Pepper said only grass and trees were part of the easement. As such, the document would have no bearing on property owners ability to develop, as allowed by city code, he said.
Page 2 of 3 - However, residents of The Green, such as Joseph McDaniel and Mary Carroll, were frustrated at what they thought was a cumbersome process in trying to find out more of the gritty details about this national monument business.
"I worry about the federal government being involved," McDaniel said. "The Green is protected now. I like the way the city manages it."
Delaware Court of Common Pleas Judge Ann Hartnet Reigle, whose family owns property on The Green, went on record with opposing the national monument designation. Reigle said she and other property owners had not had enough time to closely examine the easement and all the details surrounding the designation.
"I believe the process has been rushed," Reigle said. "I don't think all the stakeholders have been heard."
Troy Windham, also of The Green, was blunt in his assessment.
"I don't think you on Dover City Council have been educated enough on this," Windham said.
However, The Friends of Old Dover supported the national monument designation as a confirmation of The Green's importance at the national level, Friends of Old Dover President Larry Josefowski said.
"It will provide another chapter of America's story, from the early government buildings, residences and offices that surround it to the military, social and commercial gatherings held on the lawn in the center," Josefowski said.
He said the federal recognition would provide publicity and exposure for the city of Dover, and it would provide more protection "for the primary focal point of historical Dover."
Members of the business community also expressed support. They included Delaware Made Owner Tom Smith and Kent County Tourism Director Cindy Small.
"The Green is like no other place in the nation," Smith said. "We here in Dover know this. It is time the rest of the nation knows. Many businesses downtown are struggling and more tourists will help us survive."
But not all businesses were ready to support the designation. Dover criminal attorney John Garey said that lawyers were one part of the business community concerned about council rushing into this federal designation and its effect on parking for clients and the like.
"I've been on The Green since 2004 and I've been an owner since 2008," Garey said. "I've never heard the city say, we want this. … I would just suggest and argue that we slow it down and look at it some more."
But, Carper aide Laura Haynes also urged City Council to act on Monday night given the president's timeline, not to mention the possible federal government's shutdown in March.
Page 3 of 3 - City Council in the end went with the feds' recommendation.
DOVER CITY COUNCIL VOTE ON THE GREEN
Sean Lynn (recused himself)
Adam Perza ((recused himself))
MORE ABOUT THE GREEN
The Green is a historical park located in old downtown Dover near the old Kent County Courthouse and the Old State House. Laid out in 1717 in accordance with William Penn’s 1683 orders, it was here that Delaware voted to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Special events are held here throughout the year such as Old Dover Days, Spring and Summer Performing Arts Series, 4th of July festivities, and Caroling on The Green to name a few. Benches and beautiful old trees shade this historic site. And it is within walking distance to stores, restaurants, and other historic sites in the capital city.