What is the “TITLE DEFECT”?

1994 Deed Included Strong Protections

John Finnegan’s plan was to build a horse training/exercise track on his Grassdale property. He started construction of this facility, but some filling of wetlands was required, and DNREC prevented him from continuing. With few options, John Finnegan sold Grassdale to the State.

The State purchased Grassdale in 1994 from Mr. Finnegan for $860,000. The Deed stated:

The said lands and premises are being acquired through the Delaware Land Protection Act, Title 7 Del. Chapter 75, and any conversion of use is subject to this statute as well as to the regulation and manual of the Delaware Land and Water Conservation Trust Fund.

John Finnegan Deed

The legislative intent expressed in Delaware Land Protection Act seems very clear. This Act uses the word “permanent” 34 times and “conservation” 13 times. There is no provision for “conversion” to private unprotected status. Grassdale has been Protected Open Space land for almost 30 years.

In addition to the Delaware Land Protection Act, the 1994 Deed cites the Delaware Land and Water Conservation Trust Fund which is Title 30 Chapter 54 of the Delaware Code.  § 5423 (2) states:

“It is intended that property acquired with funds from the Endowment Account shall remain in public outdoor recreation and conservation use in perpetuity. Said property may not be converted to other uses without a subsequent act of the General Assembly. If the General Assembly approved the sale of any project or portion thereof, the State shall receive its pro rata share of net sale income. Said funds shall be deposited in the Endowment Account to be immediately available for other projects.”

In March 2016, the State sold Grassdale to FDRPC for $10.00. The deed stated, “ALL SUBJECT, however, to all enforceable covenants, conditions, easements, reservations, restrictions and limitations of record…” 

The DNREC website documents that Grassdale remains protected under DNREC’s Open Space program. Grassdale is the purple triangle west of Route 9 and north of the canal. DNREC’s latest five-year (2016-2020) report on Delaware’s Open Space Program includes Grassdale in the map on page 4.

Here is a list of ten reasons the Grassdale sale is illegal. The FDRPC enabling legislation requires that Fort Dupont land remain public. One of the first statements in § 4731 is:

a. The Fort DuPont Complex will remain a public destination, with its historic, natural, and recreational resources maintained for public enjoyment.

Titles 7 and 30 also forbid the transfer of Grassdale to Delaware City and rezoning by Delaware City. These statutes require that public land be sold at public auction which was not done for Grassdale. DNREC and FDRPC have ignored these laws for years.