FENWICK ISLAND – Citing recent struggles with the town’s aged zoning code, officials in Fenwick Island last week agreed to move forward with a planning study of the commercial district.
Last Friday, the Fenwick Island Town Council approved a request from town staff to move forward with planning services not to exceed $25,000 for the town’s commercial areas.
Town Manager Terry Tieman said the planning study, conducted by Jeff Schoellkopf of JSD Inc., will explore possible design guidelines for the commercial district along Coastal Highway, conceptual and schematic design studies of possible model buildings and site planning in the commercial areas and a zoning analysis to recommend possible changes to the ordinance that would achieve a more desirable outcome.
“Normally we would put this in the capital plan for next year,” she said. “Because of the timing of the issue, and since we have residents here in the summer, we thought it would be best to get the feedback from them as soon as possible so that the process can be conducted and finished by July.”
Councilwoman Vicki Carmean, however, questioned the need for design guidelines in the commercial district.
“We’re just a small town and the commercial area is a small area,” she said. “Is that a waste of time and money to come up with designs the businesses can build from?”
Tieman explained the council would decide what to do with the design guidelines once they are created.
“We can choose whether or not to make them ordinances, or we can choose if we want them to be guidelines,” she said. “But I do think it’s an opportunity for input from the residents and the community to talk to us about what we really want to see Fenwick look like.”
Tieman noted the guidelines would better define Fenwick’s vision for the commercial district.
“I hear all the time what we don’t want, but I think we need to start defining what we do want,” she said. “With this, we can say ‘This is what we like, this is okay if you do ‘x,’ ‘y’ and ‘z,’ and this is what we don’t accept.’”
Councilman Richard Mais, a member of the town’s planning commission, agreed.
“When our comprehensive plan was written, this was one of the issues we addressed,” he said. “Do we make strict guidelines, or do we give people some options? The idea is to go with one consistent look, like the town belonged together, and we felt it was something that was missing.”
Carmean said she wanted to be certain the design guidelines agreed with the town’s overall plan for the future.
“I do feel we need some sort of guidelines for the commercial area,” she said, “so people who live in a residential area know what to expect and the people who are buying into the commercial area know what to expect.”
Tieman added any design guidelines would not only aid in future development, but in future redevelopment as well.
“My concern, as your manager, is we have aged shopping centers, aged infrastructure in our commercial area and some of that will have to be redeveloped at some point,” she said. “Once that gets here, this would be invaluable to guide us.”
Tieman noted that Schoellkopf had assisted Bethany Beach and downtown Ocean City with its design guidelines and was qualified to do the job.
“He has an idea of what’s out there and look at things with an architectural eye that we don’t have the expertise for,” she said.
Carmean agreed that someone with architectural and planning expertise was needed to evaluate the town’s commercial district.
“Personally, I’ve been upset with some of the knee-jerk reactions we’ve had about some ideas,” she said, “so I would appreciate a plan.”
Councilman Roy Williams questioned the community’s response to a planning study.
“Are the property owners okay with it?” he said. “Have you talked to any of them?”
Tieman, however, clarified that property owners would have a chance to participate in public meetings and workshops as part of the study.
“They would be included in the process …,” she said. “It’s up to you to say this is the process we want to go through, but it’s up to them to participate.”
With no further discussion, the council voted 5-1, with Williams opposed and Councilwoman Julie Lee absent, to approve the planning study.