FENWICK ISLAND – A local hotelier looks to bring a flagship hotel to Fenwick Island, but concerns over the quiet beach community becoming over commercialized may stand in the way.
Ocean City hotelier/developer Spiro Buas has crossed over the state line into Fenwick Island to take on his most recent project, the Sands Motel. Buas purchased the 60-year-old motel in March and plans to demolish the building to make way for a new hotel.
Buas has met with the Fenwick Island Charter and Ordinance Committee over the past few months to discuss a request that would allow for more rooms in the new hotel.
Currently, Fenwick’s Zoning Code allows for one hotel room per 1,000 square feet, a regulation that went into effect in 1986 following the most recent construction of hotels in Fenwick, the Seaside Inn built in 1985 and the Fenwick Islander built in 1986.
“At that particular time, there was an ordinance change that required one hotel room per 1,000 square feet, and that is our current ordinance. The Sands property in its entirety is 39,000 square feet, so currently a new hotel on this lot would be allowed a maximum of 39 hotel rooms,” Councilman Bill Weistling said. Currently the Sands Motel contains 38 rooms.
Buas has requested to amend the Commercial Zone Regulations to allow one room per 500 square feet, which would allow for 78 rooms on the Sands Motel property. The current code also restricts the maximum height of a building to be 30 feet from the crown of the road that would minimize the new hotel to three stories, like the Seaside Inn and Fenwick Islander.
Weistling explained because the Seaside Inn was built prior to the regulation it has 61 rooms with one room per 640 square feet, and the Fenwick Islander has 62 rooms with one room per 363 square feet. After discussion, the Charter and Ordinance Committee was in consensus to allow one room per 600 square feet but wanted the public and council’s input prior to making a formal recommendation.
“It is not feasible to have a 39-room hotel. It wouldn’t make sense,” Buas said before the council on Friday. “I have the architect working on small rendering to find out what will fit and what wouldn’t with the other limitations like parking … it would be a newer style hotel, something a little bit larger and nicer … right now most of the rooms are very small with tiny bathrooms that I don’t think meet ADA requirements. I would like to see a change to the ordinance.”
Buas furthered, in order to build a marketable franchise in Fenwick Island, more than 39 rooms is going to have to be allowed.
“I know there are feelings about Fenwick being a family oriented and quiet town, and I respect that, but you can probably see in the few months that I have had it [Sands Motel] I think the demeanor over there has already changed,” Buas said. “If this can’t happen, I am willing to take other avenues. I am not sure what they are yet because I am hoping this works well.”
In response to several questions from the public over the concept, Buas stated given the size of the property the brand will most likely be a hotel that does not require a restaurant, only continental breakfast and the lowest room rate with be in the high $200s and above. The project would have the potential to bring in over $100,000 in room tax for the town.
“I went to the Chamber of Commerce and asked what they thought of a new, more modern style hotel, and they said it is desperately needed,” Buas said. “The quality for many visitors is not in Fenwick Island and visitors are taking their stays to surrounding areas.”
While a number of residents agreed the Sands Motel is an eyesore for Fenwick Island, the majority agreed a change in the code would be setting a precedent for the commercial zone along Route 1. Although there are only a few properties available, there are others on the verge of becoming available to be redeveloped, and the concern is the quiet neighborhood of Fenwick Island will turn into a much busier corridor with large franchises like their neighbors to the south in Ocean City.
“If we change the ordinance, it is going to affect the town. There are three lots here right now that can be built on by a motel or hotel. Is that the direction we want to go and encourage that? I’m not sure. Actually I am sure, I hope not,” Councilman Roy Williams said.
Councilwoman Julie Lee agreed, asking the council to look at the bigger picture.
“This is not about one motel … do you want to see Fenwick change from a single-family vacation and residence site into a place with more commercial and hotels. It would certainly increase the number of people on the beach by hundreds. We need to be looking at the potential of commercial redevelopment down Route 1,” Lee said.
The Charter and Ordinance Committee will return to the town council with further input at the next meeting on Sept. 25.