Fenwick’s Revised Motel Zoning Ordinance Moves Forward In 5-2 Vote; Citizens Support Moratorium

FENWICK ISLAND – Concerns remain regarding the redevelopment of the Sands Motel in spite of changes to a proposed zoning ordinance.

Town officials withdrew a previously proposed ordinance that would have enabled a local developer to replace the aging Sands Motel with a larger building and introduced a modified version during the Oct. 23 council meeting. Despite the purportedly more restrictive zoning change, residents in attendance said they were still worried about what it would mean for future development in the town.

“We’re setting ourselves up for unintended consequences,” resident Doug Lopez said.

In September, officials introduced an amendment to the town code that would have allowed one hotel room per 600 square feet of land area. The change would allow developer Spiro Buas, owner of the Sands, to tear it down and build a larger hotel. As the code is written now, motels are allowed one room per 1,000 square feet. If the code were amended, Buas would be able to tear down the 38-room Sands Motel and replace it with a 65-room facility.

At the council’s October meeting last week, officials withdrew the proposed amendment and instead introduced a new one that would permit one room per 600 square feet in motels that existed prior to 1988. Councilman Bill Weistling, who is also chairman of the town’s charter and ordinance committee, said the change would eliminate the need for the moratorium previously discussed. He said the town wouldn’t need to pursue a moratorium on the construction of hotels — something the council considered doing if the change enabling Buas to proceed was passed — because the amendment allowing more rooms would only apply to the town’s existing three hotels.

“Each motel/hotel permitted to be erected or altered hereafter shall occupy a lot(s) providing a minimum of 1,000 square feet of land area for each sleeping room therein including sleeping rooms in any apartment included in the mote/hotel building,” the proposed amendment reads. “Each motel/hotel existing prior to 1988 shall occupy a lot(s) providing a minimum of 600 square feet of land area for each sleeping room, not to exceed a total of 65 sleeping rooms, including rooms in any apartment included in the hotel/motel building.”

Council member Julie Lee asked whether the proposed change would even apply to the Sands property if Buas demolished the existing building and built a completely new one.

Mary Strider-Fox, town solicitor, said that was something to consider and suggested officials look at altering the language so that instead of “1988” it referred to hotels “in existence as of” a particular date.

Lee also pointed out that the council had received at least a dozen letters in opposition to the originally proposed ordinance. During the public comments portion of the meeting, several residents voiced concerns about the prospect of any amendment.

Richard Benn said Buas had been aware of what was allowed on the Sands property when he purchased it.

“I didn’t buy my house anticipating favorable zoning changes,” he said.

Benn also brought up Title 22 of Delaware’s state code and questioned whether the proposed amendment would be in violation of it. According to chapter three in Title 22, zoning regulations must be uniform within a particular district.

“All such regulations shall be uniform for each class or kind of buildings throughout each district but the regulations in one district may differ from those in other districts,” it reads.

When Benn asked Mayor Gene Langan why he supported the change, Langan replied that he didn’t see any downside to the redevelopment of the site.

“The thing needs to be rebuilt,” he said.

Several other residents echoed Benn’s feelings on the issue. Resident Bill Williams questioned the impact a larger motel would have on parking. He said he was afraid the project would create the parking problems already in existence on Atlantic Avenue.

“People will be parking all over that part of town,” he said.

Resident Dottie Lopez said that the majority of the town’s property owners were non-residents and weren’t in town to share their views on the potential zoning change.

“You’re holding this public hearing in the dead of winter when most of these people are gone,” she said. “I’m hoping you will delay a decision.”

Lighthouse Road property owner Reid Cummings told the council Buas wasn’t the only developer looking to erect a new hotel in town. He said he was in the process of buying a property on which he planned to build an inn.

“It’s not currently a hotel, of course, but it’s the same size as Spiro’s and the Seaside (Inn) and would make a wonderful hotel site,” he said.

He said he was simply sharing the information so residents wouldn’t be surprised when he came forward with development plans.

“I think I have a right to build it,” he said.

The council voted 5-2 (with Lee and Councilman Roy Williams opposed) to approve the first reading of the proposed zoning amendment. A public hearing on the change is expected to be held on Dec. 4.

Following Friday’s meeting, Lee said she thought the best course of action for the town would be a moratorium on hotels until the comprehensive plan was complete.

“At the council meeting on Friday, our residents were stunned by the announcement that yet another motel is being planned,” she said. “It validates the fear that additional motels in Fenwick Island are a reality. This ordinance change will most certainly open the door for more motel development. This is not just about one motel.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.