Fenwick Committee Eyes Height Ordinance Review

FENWICK ISLAND – A resort committee will review town height restrictions after a contentious debate about possible “gray areas” in the town’s code.

At the request of the town council, the Fenwick Island Charter and Ordinance Committee will begin its review of the town’s code outlining height restrictions at a meeting scheduled for Sept. 7.

Currently, buildings or structures in Fenwick Island cannot exceed 30 feet in height, or 32 feet in height if the building has a freeboard that elevates the structure.

That ordinance, however, was called into question last month when the town’s building official approved a developer’s request to place HVAC units on the roof of a new hotel. While the units would exceed the town’s height limit, officials argued the mechanical equipment was not defined as a structure in the town’s ordinance and, therefore, should not be enforced in the height restrictions.

Members of the town council in opposition to the decision argued the town’s ordinance allowed for certain items – including roof-mounted solar systems, wind turbines and chimneys – to exceed height restrictions, but argued the code had no further exceptions.

To that end, the town council accepted a motion to have the town’s Charter and Ordinance Committee review the town code, clarify the 30-foot and 32-foot height restriction and define the height of everything that could be placed on the roof of any building.

“I am requesting that Charter and Ordinance (Committee) take a look at our height ordinance and if there appears to be a gray area then this needs to be clarified and I believe this needs to be expedited,” Councilwoman Julie Lee said at last month’s town council meeting.

Last week, committee chair Bill Weistling said discussions on the town’s height restrictions would be added to next month’s meeting. He also requested that the committee consider amending the town’s ordinance to include a mandatory 1-foot freeboard, or a 1-foot elevation of a building’s lowest floor above the predicted flood levels.

“If council agrees to have that as a consideration then we’ll put it on the agenda,” he said.

Building Official Pat Schuchman told the council the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System (CRS) – a voluntary incentive program that encourages floodplain management activities through discounted flood insurance premiums – will update its manual in 2020 to include a mandatory 1-foot freeboard for insurance discounts.

“If we do not implement a mandatory 1-foot freeboard, we will lose 5 percent of the 10-percent discount that the town policy holders now receive,” she said.

Currently, structures in Fenwick Island are allowed to go 18-24 inches above the town’s height limit to accommodate for freeboarding, although the practice itself is voluntary.

After a brief discussion, the town council reached a consensus to have the Charter and Ordinance Committee review any possible changes to the town’s freeboarding ordinance.

“We’ll put that on the agenda for the September meeting,” Weistling said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.