Field of Dreams debate continues at Kent County Levy Court

By Benjamin Rothstein
Posted 2/21/24

A conditional use application for the Field of Dreams, presented before Kent County Levy Court last month, made some waves among its neighbors.

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Field of Dreams debate continues at Kent County Levy Court

Posted

DOVER — A conditional use application for the Field of Dreams, presented before Kent County Levy Court last month, made some waves among its neighbors.

Droves of residents from the Verona Woods 55+ community came to speak out against the field, citing, among other disturbances, intense noise.

The county is seeking formal permission to use the Lewis Drive site for sports, which the lessee of the county’s land, the Delaware Recreation Education Athletic and Mentoring Association, is already doing. Levy Court members previously stated that it was an oversight that the facility had operated so far without approval.

The discussion Jan. 30 was eventually tabled, but talks resumed at a Levy Court workshop Tuesday, which centered on eight proposed restrictions from the county’s Department of Planning Services for use of the parcel.

To start, it was suggested that the hours of operation be limited from dawn until dusk, based on the hours of other county parks. But Levy Court members quickly shifted focus to instead implement actual hours that the field could operate because, during the winter, early dusks, combined with later school dismissal times, would severely limit the amount of use.

Therefore, a schedule was proposed of 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.

However, reactions from Verona Woods residents at the workshop made it clear that 9 was too late for them.

Another proposed rule concerned lighting and recommended no stadium lights, either temporary or permanent. This regulation was quickly dismissed by Levy Court, with members stating that lights could be installed if they do not shine directly on Verona Woods homes.

Third, the Planning Services Department suggested that only sporting events take place at Field of Dreams. Again, Levy Court commissioners disagreed, saying that the DREAM Association should be able to host gatherings other than athletics with the proper permits.

According to La Mar Gunn, founder of the association, non-sport functions are important to the field’s mission. He cited a camp-out for kids without fathers and a planned Juneteenth festival.

“We’re trying to show kids that there’s a different way,” said Mr. Gunn. “(We’re) trying to instill morals and positivity.”

The workshop attendees also discussed prohibiting amplified music, the main complaint of Verona Woods neighbors.

Questions were raised about why the field can’t be held to the county’s already established noise ordinance. Commissioner Paul Hertz argued that the field should be, but that requires monitoring and specific measurements to be enforced.

However, county administrator Ken Decker noted that imposing a restriction would make enforcement simpler.

“It’s much easier to enforce a prohibition against amplified music, where all we have to do is have a code enforcement officer (observe the loud noise),” he said. “So, if we’re asking staff to do this, my recommendation is trying to give them something that is easy for them to enforce, should the occasion arise.”

Next, the workshop debated prohibiting pyrotechnic displays, like fireworks. This was agreed on by Levy Court members, as these are not allowed in county parks generally, except via permission.

Trash removal was also discussed, with a proposed regulation of installing refuse receptacles and scheduling routine dumping. This was in response to complaints by Verona Woods residents about trash, but concerns were also raised that the bins might be used for community disposal.

Commissioner Allan Angel vouched for Mr. Gunn regarding cleanup, saying that he has quickly responded to trash complaints.

Another proposal was for a 50-foot buffer, at least 6 feet tall, to be installed between Verona Woods and the field. Commissioners suggested planting additional trees.

Finally, it was recommended that the existing buffer stay in place unless removal is approved by Levy Court.

After the reading and discussion of the recommendations, Levy Court opened the floor to public comment, requesting that contributors stick to the topic of the eight proposals.

Most comments concerned the field’s closure of 9 p.m. on weeknights.

“These young men and women that are going to be playing, if my understanding is correct, are up to the age of 14, and I believe that there should be an understanding that these boys and girls should be home doing their homework at some point,” said Verona Woods resident George Walter.

Another comment focused on parking, as the small lot at the field, combined with high speeds driven on Lewis Road, has created a dangerous situation.

However, Mr. Gunn defended his organization’s use of the field.

“I’m not here to inconvenience you,” he said. “I’m simply providing a service to kids that have nowhere else to go. ... The low-income kids that I had and (who) couldn’t afford to play anywhere are playing (at the Field of Dreams).”

Mr. Gunn said the location is meant to put kids on an upward trajectory, adding that he hopes to resolve issues with the Verona Woods residents.

He claimed that none of the neighbors has tried to contact him, despite asking them to do so to work through the problems.

The DREAM Association’s mission is paramount, he continued.

“I have at least 500 kids. They aren’t mine, biologically, but they need something to eat after practice. They need a ride home. They need to be picked up. They need shoes or cleats because they can’t afford that,” Mr. Gunn said. “There’s a group of people living right next to us that could be part of the solution.”

No date has been set for Levy Court’s next consideration of the Field of Dreams’ conditional use application.

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