Civil suit filed by Country Club on way to state Supreme Court

By Lynn R. Parks

A civil suit filed by the Seaford Golf and Country Club against the DuPont Company is on its way to the Delaware Supreme Court. Last month, a judge in Superior Court ruled against the country club, which has appealed the ruling. "We had quite a discussion on the board about whether we would appeal," said Charles Butler, president of the country club's board of directors. "We know that very few cases are overturned. We just hope that we are one of those." The club is pursuing permission from the courts to sell 3.35 acres at the southeast corner of the club's golf course. In December 2004, the Seaford City Council approved preliminary site plans for a townhouse development on the 3.35 acres. Those plans call for three three-story buildings, each with 10 units. But the DuPont Co. has blocked the sale of the land. A restriction in the country club deed limits the use of the club property to golf, country club and related purposes as long as DuPont [which opened the country club and owned it until 1996] owns the nylon plant, across Woodland Ferry Road from the club. The DuPont Co. sold its Invista nylon plant to Koch Industries in May 2004. But it still owns the land on which the plant sits, as well as the surrounding land.

In an Oct. 5, 2004, letter to the country club, DuPont said that until it "actually sells the land, it is DuPont's position that the [land-use] restriction and right of refusal are still in effect." The country club contends that because the DuPont Company no longer owns the plant itself, the restriction in the country club deed against selling any of its property is no longer valid. Judge Henley Graves found in his Superior Court ruling that "the plain meaning of the terms 'Seaford, Delaware plant' and 'plant' include land along with the nylon manufacturing operation." He added, "A place includes the land." Butler said that that statement leaves room for reversal on appeal. "Places don't always include the land," he said. "Many times, people own a store or another kind of business, but don't own the land the building sits on. We think that that is not a good statement." Butler declined to say how much the lawsuit is costing the country club. But he said that pursuing the case is worth the cost. "It is real important to us that this restriction be lifted," he said. "It means a lot to us, not just for this one parcel but for the whole club in the future. If the restriction stands, we can only sell our land for a golf course, and it is not worth as much as if we could sell it for a development. This could be a wonderful place for a development for somebody."

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