FENWICK ISLAND – A resort committee is recommending changes to the town’s code on height regulations.
At the request of the town council, the Fenwick Island Charter and Ordinance Committee began its review of town height regulations and exceptions last Friday following a contentious debate on possible “gray areas” in the town code.
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 Committee 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.
It should be noted that the Building Committee denied plans for an elevator shaft on the property to exceed the height limit, but the developer received a variance from the town’s Board of Adjustment last month for the shaft to exceed the commercial height limit by up to 4 feet, 6 inches.
On the agenda for discussion this week, the town’s Charter and Ordinance Committee agreed to a proposed amendment that would allow elevator shafts to exceed the 32-foot height limit by 4.5 feet in the commercial zone.
“It’s virtually impossible to get an elevator in a commercial building within the 32-foot height limit,” said Bill Weistling, chair of the Charter and Ordinance Committee.
The committee agreed, however, that mechanical equipment placed on the roof of a commercial building should not exceed commercial height limits.
“I think buildings can be designed to incorporate mechanicals at 32 feet or less,” committee member William Mould added.
Councilwoman and committee member Vicki Carmean agreed.
“One elevator shaft on the roof is not a major problem. I think it’s a necessity …,” she said. “As far as the mechanicals, I don’t think we should go any higher than 32 feet … and I don’t think they should be all over the roof. They should be contained somehow.”
In its review of residential height regulations, the committee also agreed to proposed amendments that would clarify that nothing would be allowed above the 32-foot height limit.
Exceptions – including roof-mounted solar systems, wind turbines and chimneys – will remain in the town’s residential zoning code, with the addition of one personal weather station not to exceed 3 feet and a ground-mounted flagpole not to exceed 32 feet.
The committee last week also agreed to amend the town’s code on the issuance of permits.
Currently, the town’s Building Committee reviews and either approves or disapproves building permit applications for construction costing more than $20,000. With the proposed amendment, the committee will be disband and all responsibility given to the town manager or a designee, namely the building official.
“I think the times have changed enough now where we have competent officials to handle this process,” Weistling said, “so my recommendation will be to disband the Building Committee and leave it up to the town building official and town manager to approve or disapprove the permit applications.”
Last month, the Building Committee was found in violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for failing to hold an open meeting to vote on building permit applications.
“Now every time somebody comes in for a building permit application we are going to have to schedule a public meeting seven days in advance and get a quorum,” he said.
In an effort to make the process more efficient, the committee recommended the responsibility be handed to the town manager or official designee.
“I think this was originally in the town ordinance 60 years ago,” Weistling said. “I think it was a checks and balances on the building official at the time.”
Carmean said she agreed with Weistling’s recommendation.
“Times have changed,” she said, “and we need to adjust with the change.”
Lastly, the committee agreed to amend a portion of the town’s zoning code to require a 1-foot freeboard – a 1-foot elevation of a building’s lowest floor above the predicted flood levels – for new residential and commercial construction.
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. According to Building Official Pat Schuchman, changes to the town’s freeboard ordinance will better comply with new guidelines for flood insurance discounts.
“Your height limit will not change,” she said.
Weistling said the committee will reconvene next month to present a draft of the proposed amendments before presenting to the Fenwick Island Town Council.