Fenwick Council Cuts Building Committee

FENWICK ISLAND – Officials in Fenwick Island approved four ordinance amendments last week eliminating the town’s building committee from several approval processes.

Last Friday, the Fenwick Island Town Council approved on first reading two ordinances eliminating the Fenwick Island Building Committee from approving and issuing residential building permits and considering the duration of building permits. The tasks would be delegated to the building official and town manager.

“It’s the process of eliminating the building committee from residential construction permits, but keeping the building committee for the approval and inspection of building permits for the commercial zone,” said Bill Weistling, chair of the town’s charter and ordinance committee.

The council last week also adopted two ordinance amendments on second reading to eliminate the building committee’s role in approving permits for small cell technology and inspecting properties with nonexistent or insufficient erosion control structures. The responsibilities will now fall to the town manager and an appointed individual.

The town’s building committee is tasked with reviewing building permit applications for construction costing more than $20,000.

The group’s role, however, was called into question last year after it was argued the process was inefficient and time-consuming. At the suggestion of the council, the town’s charter and ordinance committee was then tasked with recommending changes that would eliminate what was deemed an unnecessary step.

It was ultimately recommended the town eliminate the building committee except for reviewing and approving building permits for construction within the town’s commercial district. Both the town manager and building official noted they did not feel comfortable reviewing commercial plans without some oversight.

Councilman Roy Williams, however, told the council last week he could not support any changes that “weaken the town” and eliminate a check system.

“I’ve voted against it before and I’m voting against it again,” he said. “I think it eliminates a check system. I’m just concerned about what the future will bring.”

The council ultimately voted 5-1, with Williams opposed and Councilwoman Julie Lee absent, to approve the ordinance amendments.

The council last week also opposed a motion to refer the use of the word “shall” in the town code to the charter and ordinance committee.

In January, the council voted to eliminate the word “shall” in all new or amended ordinances in the town code after officials argued its meaning was vague.

At the time, Williams also suggested that all existing uses of the word “shall” be defined as “mandatory” in the nomenclature of the town code.

Back on the agenda for discussion and possible action last week, Williams made a motion to refer the use of the word “shall” to the town’s charter and ordinance committee.

According to a letter from the town solicitor, the word was commonly used in legal circles is used at the state and federal levels to mean mandatory. Yet she reinforced that defining the word would not be recommended.

“I don’t know if I would want to proceed that far,” Weistling added. “That’s just my opinion.”

Councilwoman Vicki Carmean, however, disagreed.

“I don’t think it would hurt to put one little section in there indicating that when the words are used, this is what it means,” she said. “We have a committee, and that’s the purpose of the committee, for you to work through some of those things rather than come up with one person’s opinion. I think it’s up to the committee and the council to make the final decision.”

The motion to refer the use of “shall” to the charter & ordinance committee failed, with Mayor Gene Langan and Councilmen Richard Mais, Gardner Bunting and Bernie Merritt opposed.

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.