Workshop To Review Fenwick’s Proposed Design Guidelines

FENWICK ISLAND – A Fenwick Island committee will present its draft of commercial district design guidelines to the town council in a workshop set for March.

A few weeks ago, the Fenwick Island Ad Hoc Commercial District Planning Committee continued its review of voluntary design guidelines and recommended ordinance changes for the town’s commercial district.

Following a lengthy discussion and revision process, members agreed to present the draft guidelines at a town council workshop sometime in March, though no definitive date was set.

Last year, the committee began working with The Design Group’s Jeff Schoellkopf to better define Fenwick’s vision for the commercial district as it is redeveloped.

Since then, committee members have focused their efforts on core issues such as building aesthetics, mechanical equipment and parking, and have drafted voluntary design guidelines and suggested ordinance changes that would suit the needs of commercial development while protecting residential property owners.

At a committee meeting last month, Schoellkopf presented a summary of recommended ordinance changes and voluntary design elements for the committee’s review with the goal of gathering feedback and suggestions.

“If any of these recommendations are not adopted, they might still live on in the guidelines as encouraged,” he said.

Proposed ordinance changes for the town’s commercial district include expanding definitions and requirements for mechanical equipment, changing parking dimensions and allowing non-habitable sloping roof elements to exceed the building height limit by 4.5 feet.

Schoellkopf also suggested allowing porches, bay windows, cornices, eaves, gutters, chimneys, steps or entries projecting from the main structure to encroach into front yard and side yard setbacks no more than 2 feet.

“I think it would really help in somebody’s ability to give a little character to the front of the buildings without them having to pull the whole building back two feet in order to do that,” he said.

Another suggested change was allowing steps and ramps into the setbacks so long as they stay at least four feet away from the property line. Schoellkopf said the ordinance change could improve accessibility and aid property owners as they build higher.

That proposed change, however, diverged into a lengthy discussion on building height.

Currently, buildings in Fenwick Island cannot exceed 30 feet in height, or 32 feet in height if the building has a freeboard that elevates the structure. The total building height is measured from the highest point in the crown of the adjacent road.

One of the proposed ordinance changes raises freeboard requirements to two feet above FEMA’s base flood elevation in certain zones, while another ordinance change would allow the building height to be measured from the highest point of the adjacent property line or from the height of required freeboard, so as not to penalize property owners for freeboard requirements.

“I know this is a really touchy issue in town,” Schoellkopf said.

Members of the committee, however, agreed the proposed ordinance changes should be considered.

“In light of the flooding we had this fall, which has been unusual, I think it needs to be on the table,” Councilman Richard Mais, chair of the committee, said. “If this council doesn’t want to mess with it right now then so be it.”

Town Manager Terry Tieman said flooding issues would soon need to be addressed.

“I see the flooding and it’s gotten worse,” she said. “These are the questions that I struggle with. When is the time to the discuss it? These are the things that help us flood proof. At some point, whether you have an emotional attachment to that height limit or not, you are going to figure out it has to be done.”

Committee members on Wednesday also reviewed its draft of voluntary design guidelines in the commercial district. The document identifies design elements such as gable roofs, landscaped parking lots and porches that are encouraged, but not required, as commercial properties are redeveloped.

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.