FENWICK ISLAND – A resort committee has decided to continue its discussion on possible exceptions to the town’s commercial height regulations after meeting with an engineer last week.
Last Friday, the Fenwick Island Charter and Ordinance Committee met with Howard Krinsky, principal at Delaware Engineering and Design Corporation, to seek advice before drafting an ordinance to allow mechanical equipment to exceed the town’s commercial height limits.
In September, the committee began its review of town height regulations after it was discovered that there was no ordinance prohibited mechanical equipment placed on the roof of residential and commercial buildings from exceeding the height limit of 30 feet – or 32 feet if the building has a freeboard that elevates the structure.
And while the committee forwarded a favorable recommendation to include mechanical equipment in the height limit in residential zones – an amendment that was approved on first reading by the Fenwick Island Town Council – the group agreed to meet with an engineer to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of allowing mechanical equipment to exceed the height limit in the commercial zone before making any further recommendations.
To that end, Krinsky met with committee members last week to discuss a developer’s options for placing mechanical equipment – including air handling units, exhaust fans and other HVAC systems – on commercial property.
“The different pieces of equipment can be placed in different locations,” he said.
While he noted that most mechanical equipment at restaurants, mixed-use properties and shops could be placed at ground level, Krinsky told the committee exhaust fans typically found at restaurants should either be placed on the side of the building or on the roof.
“The exhaust would typically stay on the wall or on the roof of the building,” he said, “but the air handling units could be on the ground.”
Bill Weistling, chair of the committee, highlighted noise and pollution concerns associated with units located along the building wall and on the ground and questioned if placing units on the roof would be better for residents living adjacent to commercial properties.
“The back wall of a commercial building is 10 feet away from the property line and another 5 feet away from residential houses,” he said. “So from the back wall of a commercial building to the wall of a residential building is 15 feet.”
Krinsky, however, said the noise and pollution associated with the mechanical units would be subjective.
“The distance from the equipment impacts the amount of noise you are going to hear,” he said.
Councilwoman Julie Lee, who attended Friday’s meeting, questioned if the town should allow commercial mechanical equipment to exceed the height limit. She argued that developers could place mechanical equipment on the roof of a building and stay below the town’s height limit.
“Without parking underneath there is plenty of room to build two stories and put mechanical equipment on the roof,” she said.
However, some committee members argued that without the necessary parking, commercial development would be limited.
“The commercial zone is a completely different animal …,” Weistling said. “We want to give them the same benefit.”
Councilman Roy Williams, who also attended last week’s meeting, said he was against allowing mechanical units to exceed the height limit.
“What we are looking at here will completely change the look of Route 1 in the commercial zone,” he said.
Committee member Reid Tingle, however, said the allowance could be beneficial.
“A 20-foot building with 10 feet of mechanicals on top looks a lot worse than a 30-foot building with 4 feet of mechanicals on top,” he said. “That’s kind of a misleading statement.”
Councilman and committee member Bernie Merritt said allowing mechanical equipment to exceed commercial height restrictions should be considered.
“I think it’s a hard line for us to say no,” he said.
Committee member Bill Mould said the committee should carefully consider how the exception would impact commercial development moving forward.
“What are we going to attract?” he said. “Is that really what the town needs?”
After further discussion, the committee agreed to bring the issue to the town’s Business Development Committee and to revisit the discussion at its next meeting in January.
“I think there are a lot of variables to discuss,” Weistling said.