New Hotel Construction Moratorium Heads To Council

FENWICK ISLAND – A moratorium on new hotel construction will go before the town council this month with a favorable recommendation from the resort’s charter and ordinance committee.

Last Friday, the Fenwick Island Charter and Ordinance Committee voted unanimously to support a two-year moratorium on the issuance of permits or licenses related to new hotel or motel construction after a previous moratorium expired in February. The recommendation will now go before the Fenwick Island Town Council in late June for a first reading.

“What you see in front of us now is a draft moratorium our attorney sent to us to consider for discussion,” Councilman Bill Weisting, chair of the committee, said. “It’s pretty similar to the one we had before.”

In 2016, the town council voted to establish a moratorium on new hotel construction following an extensive debate regarding the former Sands Motel.

Developer Spiro Buas purchased the motel – located on Coastal Highway – in 2015 with plans to construct a new, upscale hotel in its place. In doing so, he proposed an ordinance change to the town code that would allow for one motel room per 600 feet instead of one motel room per 1,000 feet, allowing the Sands to expand from 38 rooms to 65 rooms.

Despite outcry from nearby residents, the council at the time voted 5-2 to approve the ordinance. However, a two-year moratorium on new hotel and motel construction was also put forward.

As part of the moratorium, the town would not issue permits, licenses or other approvals involving new hotel and motel uses. And in February of 2018, the council voted to extend its ban on hotel construction another two years while the town considered the impacts of the new hotel on Fenwick Island.

Since the moratorium expired in February without any action from the town council, a discussion on issuing a new moratorium was deferred to the charter and ordinance committee last month.

“It was a two-year moratorium that went from 2016 to 2018,” Weisting told the committee last week. “It was renewed in 2018 to 2020, and it expired in 2020. So what we have to do now is actually reestablish this moratorium by a new ordinance.”

The draft document presented to committee members last week included a 15-month moratorium on new hotel construction. After some discussion, however, the group agreed to extend the timeframe to two years.

“That gives us plenty of time, through next summer and next fall, so we can review it and make changes while the moratorium is still in effect,” Weistling said.

In public participation, Councilwoman Vicki Carmean supported the committee’s decision.

“I think it’s a good idea …,” she said. “You can always roll it back if you get the information you need.”

Committee member Mike Quinn questioned if a hotel developer could challenge the moratorium by bringing it before the Board of Adjustment, which hears appeals covering the interpretation or administration of the town’s zoning code.

“As an ordinance, I imagine it can be appealed to the Board of Adjustment,” Weistling replied.

After further discussion, the committee voted to forward a favorable recommendation to the town council at its June meeting for a first reading.

“This is a zoning change and there will be a public hearing on this,” Weistling said. “People will again get the chance to speak at the public hearing, which is normally before the second reading, if it’s approved by the town council.”

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.