FENWICK ISLAND – Building character, streetscapes and parking highlighted a meeting last week to discuss the future of Fenwick Island’s commercial district.
On June 18, the Fenwick Island Ad Hoc Commercial District Planning Committee continued its discussion on a planning study of the town’s commercial areas.
Earlier this year, the Fenwick Island Town Council approved funds for a planning study. The idea is to explore possible design guidelines and recommend changes to the town’s zoning code with the goal of achieving a more desirable look for the town’s commercial district as it is developed.
The town has contracted with Jeff Schoellkopf, an architect and planner from The Design Group, to conduct the study and established an ad hoc commercial district planning committee to review the suggestions he has made.
In its second meeting on Tuesday, Councilman Richard Mais, chairman of the committee, said the idea of the planning study is not to regulate architectural design, but to better define Fenwick’s vision for the commercial district.
“In developing our comprehensive plan there were some things we liked, but didn’t feel we wanted to restrict the property owners to one particular design,” he said. “On the other hand, we did want to encourage them with some options that we felt may be more attractive. As you drive up and down Coastal Highway, there isn’t one distinct architectural look.”
“Fenwick Island basically was developed mostly in the ’50s and ’60s, besides the lighthouse,” he said. “It doesn’t really have the Victorian traditions of downtown Ocean City or Berlin, and some of Rehoboth Beach even.”
To that end, Schoellkopf presented the committee with ideas on how the town could develop guidelines for commercial buildings, sidewalks, parking lots and landscaping.
“I think we are looking for some consensus from the committee and the town in what we might want to develop,” he said.
Tuesday’s meeting was largely spent reviewing photos of various building and streetscape designs implemented in towns throughout the east coast.
Schoellkopf told the committee the town could introduce design elements commonly found throughout the residential district.
“Porches are something I see a lot of on the houses here in Fenwick,” he said. “But it’s not something I see a lot of in commercial.”
He said if the town were to encourage porches on commercial properties, it could make changes to town’s zoning regulations.
“I have a suggestion that maybe you consider, as a way to encourage porches, allowing them in the setback,” he said, “which isn’t allowed in the current zoning.”
Schoellkopf also presented ideas for how the town could connect commercial buildings with streetscape designs.
“What might not be outside the scope of this effort is the idea of trees and landscaping,” he said. “I think it’s the thing that made the biggest difference in the character of Ocean City over time.”
He added that the town must also think about how development will affect parking and whether those changes should also be addressed in the zoning code.
“Anything you do will be punctuated by parking lots somehow,” he said. “You can’t just put all the parking in the back. It’s not going to be enough, and it’s not commercially tenable to have no parking visible when people drive by.”
Lastly, Schoellkopf and the committee discussed mechanical screenings, buffering and architectural finishes to the rear of commercial buildings, which often border residential properties.
“This is a condition you have a lot, where you have a tight relationship between residential neighborhoods and commercial properties …,” Schoellkopf said. “It seems as though there are a few older buildings here that are completely unfinished in the back and don’t present a nice face to the neighborhood.”
Schoellkopf said he would take the information and feedback presented at this week’s committee meeting to draft a plan for the design of the commercial district.
“To be clear, I’m not trying to encourage or discourage the amount and type of commercial activity,” he said. “I am here to serve you guys. I get a sense you don’t want to see Fenwick Island turn into Ocean City or Rehoboth, or even Bethany. It should be its own thing.”