Q&A With Fenwick Island’s Town Council Candidates; Election Set For Next Saturday

Q&A With Fenwick Island’s Town Council Candidates; Election Set For Next Saturday
Pictured are candidates Janice Bortner, top left; Mike Houser, bottom left; Richard Mais, center top; Jacque Napolitano, center middle; Bill Weistling, center bottom; Gene Langan, top right; and Natalie Magdeburger, bottom right.

FENWICK ISLAND – Fenwick Island voters will have much to consider next week when they head to the polls for this year’s town council election.

On Saturday, Aug. 7, the Town of Fenwick Island will hold its municipal election for the offices of town council.

This year, eight candidates will vie for four seats currently held by Mike Houser, Gene Langan, Richard Mais and Bill Weistling. In addition to the four incumbents, candidates for this year’s election include Janice Bortner, Paul Breger, Natalie Magdeburger and Jacque Napolitano.

Ahead of next week’s election, The Dispatch asked each candidate to answer a series of questions. The following highlights the responses of seven participants. Breger did not participate.

Q: Why are you running as a candidate for the Fenwick Island Town Council?

Bortner: Like many of our neighbors, we chose Fenwick Island 26 years ago for its quiet, family-friendly atmosphere and recently reinvested in the community by rebuilding our home. Fenwick Island is at a critical juncture. The Town faces pressure not only within its limits from current proposals to increase commercial density and height limits but also outside its limits from rapid residential development along Route 54. High-density commercial zoning and overcrowded beaches are common along the Delmarva Coast, but few towns can claim Fenwick Island’s quiet, uncrowded charm. I’m running for Town Council to preserve Fenwick Island’s distinguishing features for future generations.

Houser: I will continue to give back to Fenwick for the many benefits associated with being a citizen of this Town. I am first, foremost, and forever a resident of the Town of Fenwick Island. I have been coming to Fenwick Island since the 60’s, and owned a home since 1978. My children, Mitch, a United Airlines captain, and Heather, an interior designer, have grown up in Fenwick, and worked summers at Warren’s Restaurant. My spouse, BJ, and her family, owned properties in Fenwick Island from the 50’s to the 70’s. A most significant factor in our lives is the happiness and sense of well-being in this Town over the years. I am, like each of the incumbents, focused on using experience, expertise, and energy to maintain this vector. The record of the Council reinforces the desirability of Fenwick Island residency and the values associated with this Town.

Langan: I have been on the Town Council for 11 years and have been Mayor for 6 years, during those years I have been involved in many projects that have had a positive effect on both the residential and commercial zones in Fenwick. Currently, there are projects in the works that I want to see come to fruition. I have the experience and the knowledge of municipal government that can be beneficial to this great town.

Magdeburger: As a second-generation Fenwick Islander, I am running to protect the family-friendly atmosphere that has been the mainstay in Fenwick since 1953. Current leadership has prioritized developers’ interests over that of the residents. Participating in a “stakeholders” meeting with Orsted, failing to enforce ordinances prohibiting outdoor bars, commissioning a plan to increase the height of the commercial district, allowing shuttles and failing to address flooding has left Fenwick susceptible to losing her “Quiet Resort” identity. Lack of transparency, committee packing and restrictions on public participation has also created deep discord. To protect Fenwick and heal the divide, new leadership is vital.

Mais: I am running as a candidate for the Fenwick Island Town Council because I would like to continue to lead the Town to be a better place to live and visit. Our Town currently enjoys great fiscal health and our beaches and town are safe and clean. We have several ongoing projects including dredging, sidewalks and flooding on our bay side of town. All of these projects require a great deal of creative planning and funding and I would like to help move them to completion. As the Town continues to confront pressure from development inside and outside our Town limits, I will continue to work hard to see that Fenwick Island remains a great town. 

Napolitano: When I first started attending Fenwick Island’s Council meetings in 2015, I enjoyed staying informed, meeting neighbors and having discussions. However, that friendly atmosphere changed once the Sands Motel was sold. Anyone who questioned hotel accommodations was deemed a trouble maker. Indeed during the hotel’s construction, my own concerns about flooding, vehicles blocking my driveway, and porta-potties placed near my windows were not only dismissed but I was also labeled a “chronic complainer.” In January 2020, Town officials assured everyone that the Fenwick Shores’ ABC application violated ordinances in effect since the 1950’s. Still, the Town Manager’s letter to the ABC Commission advised that the outdoor bar was in compliance with Town Code. Along with others, I joined an incredible movement to oppose the outdoor bar, something the Council should have done. Thus while my desire to serve on the Town Council developed out of challenges, I want to provide the community with the friendly respect and integrity it deserves.

Weistling: As a property owner for 37 years, a full-time resident for 30 years and especially as a volunteer for town projects for over 25 years, I have worked closely with talented council members, committee members and members of the public. Due to my recruitment on these many committees through the years, I am familiar with the broad spectrum of the town’s routine and complicated projects. Sidewalks, dredging, drainage, streets, and ordinances are a few of the current ones. I am dedicated to continuing to improve our town through my volunteer services.

Q: Fenwick Island and surrounding towns have adopted the moniker “The Quiet Resorts” for their emphasis on natural recreation, family friendly activities and small-town charm. As the town ages and properties are redeveloped, how do you propose Fenwick Island maintain its character as a quiet resort town while promoting economic development?

Bortner: Historically residents of Fenwick Island have defended our uniquely quiet Town by supporting purposeful regulations – notably restrictions on parking, building density, new development and noise. However, regulations are useless if elected officials choose to ignore them. The residential community accounts for a majority of the Town’s tax revenue and responsible economic growth is achievable without forsaking the Town’s residential characteristics. The Town’s commercial establishments benefit from a unique asset – the surrounding robust residential population. Resident-friendly commercial growth will optimize tax revenue, but such responsible growth is only achievable through residential/commercial collaboration responsive to the concerns of both constituencies.

Houser: In the early 50’s, Fenwick Island’s founders envisioned and laid out the Town’s incorporated area with both residential and commercial zones. Today, some detractors would like to eliminate the commercial zone. This is no more likely than elimination of the residential area. It is my primary goal, along with the other Council incumbents, to successfully manage the interface between these two. I will continue to foster a sense of equanimity in these areas, devoid of the current misrepresentations and misplaced animosity generated by a few uninformed “groupthink” individuals. Fenwick Island has never been in better shape fiscally, socially, and organizationally. Many of our Town’s most desirable attributes, such as the Junior Lifeguard Program, Bonfires on the beach, Town Playground, Children’s Garden, “Storytime in the Park” events, and the Town Market are beginning to flourish again with the wind down of the pandemic. My goal is to rekindle this sense of well-being and respect for all citizens of Fenwick.
Langan: The incorporated portion of Fenwick Island has delineated boundaries, this will not change, therefore the town cannot physically expand. It will remain small and quiet, and not lose its charm. Furthermore, the commercial zone will not expand as it is space limited. Owners of undeveloped property in the commercial zone must follow town ordinances and building codes as do the residential property owners.

Magdeburger: Fenwick’s appeal and Quiet Resort atmosphere is not by chance but rather by prioritizing the protection of our uncrowded family-friendly beaches. This should continue to be our goal. A taller and more expansive commercial district with outdoor bars and shuttle services is not the answer to protecting the charm of Fenwick’s Quiet Resort, particularly since business license fees account for only 2% of the Town’s operating revenues. Rather, we should seek to attract new businesses who will embrace and honor our Quiet Resort atmosphere. This will allow Fenwick to maintain her unique allure among the local beach communities.

Mais: I will continue to address the issues of economic development and maintaining our character as a quiet resort town as I have by chairing the Ad Hoc Commercial District Planning Committee. It has always been and will continue to be a challenge to balance the convenience of a viable commercial district within in an easy walking or biking distance and not infringe on our residential neighborhoods. We have hired a consultant who has worked with many other coastal towns to help us anticipate, recognize and address issues like noise, odors, traffic and appearance. It is an issue that will continue to challenge us as our business district ages and is redeveloped. I would like to see a reasonable and attractive development of our commercial district without unduly impacting our residents.

Napolitano: Most people buy property here to escape from the stress of everyday life by spending time at their “Happy Place” in the Quiet Resorts. To ensure that the Town remains the place we treasure also means looking at other factors, including the commercial push to increase density, building heights, and development, not only in Fenwick but also along Route 54. Enforcing existing ordinances and safeguarding our community values must be balanced against the needs of economic development in Fenwick’s small commercial zone. Above all, we must protect the beauty of the coastal area and the marine environment. Fenwick needs ordinances that require standards to attract high end businesses that would be comfortable coming into Fenwick Island.

Weistling: The interests of both the residential and commercial zones need to be continually addressed. With new development occurring now mainly throughout our residential zone, the aging commercial zone may soon follow. NOW is the time for us to gather input from the residents and business owners to determine the preferred guidelines for the future designs of any improvements in the commercial district. The current Ad Hoc Commercial District Committee is a perfect starting point. Public input is received during these meetings and public workshops will be held to gather more input and inform the public with design sketches for review.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish if elected to the post?

Bortner: Now, more than ever, the Town needs proactive elected leaders solely accountable to residents. Fenwick Island’s unique characteristics will be persevered only through cooperation, transparency and accountability. If elected, I pledge to: enforce ordinances that protect our quiet family-oriented Town; respect the concerns of residents and facilitate government transparency; defend our Town from those attempting to wield influence in favor of undesirable change; and solve bayside flooding and dredging issues with qualified professionals As your representation on the Council, I will have the courage and passion to protect Fenwick Island’s culture and residential character for future generations.

Houser: My priority for the next term is to initiate actions to enable residents west of Coastal Highway to elevate their properties to obviate the ongoing effects of sea level rise. No one entity, not Federal, State, County, or Municipal, can do this alone. Initially, property owners must be given the opportunity individually to improve lot elevation. There is no need to increase the height limitation above the current 32’. Subsequently, the Town will begin to raise roadway levels and surface water handling systems. The perspective candidates have offered no intelligent, nor effective, balance in their critiques. Only the incumbents have maintained a clear, focused approach to preserving Fenwick’s traditions with future solutions.

Langan: I hope to complete the current projects in progress, pedestrian safety, sidewalks, dredging, and bayside flooding. They are very big and important projects for the improvement of life in Fenwick Island. In addition, I would like to see the differing factions come together for the benefit of this special town.

Magdeburger: If elected, I pledge to apply my 35 years of legal experience to: protect the residential Quiet Resort character of Fenwick; protect the beach and bay environment; ensure transparency of Town Council activities; treat all residents with respect while encouraging committee service and public participation; address bayside flooding with sound engineering assessments; maintain public safety and retain police force (Fenwick’s force is one of the lowest paid in the beach communities); and promote fiscal responsibility to avoid the Town Manager recently proposed 5 year 66% tax increase.

Mais: If elected I plan to continue the Town Council’s sound finances and fiscal management. I will work to solve pressing issues like bayside flooding and drainage due to climate change and sea-level rise. Part of the solutions to these issues began several years ago with allowance for free boarding to help residents elevate their homes up to two feet to remove their utilities from potential flooding (which we have seen over and over). I will continue to support the Town’s efforts to address the dredging issues we have on the bay side of our town. Many channels have silted in over the years and prevent our residents with boats and other watercraft from fully enjoying the pleasures of their watercrafts. I will continue to support our excellent Police Department, Beach Patrol and all of our Town’s professional staff, through proper funding and policies to help them do the great job they do.

Napolitano: If I am elected to be a town council member, I intend to listen to the concerns of the community plus maintain a balanced relationship between the residential and the commercial zones. Because transparency regarding town issues has been very important to me as an individual, I would like to be sure that all property owners are kept aware of town issues. Addressing and prioritizing the needs of the Fenwick community, including mitigation of the bayside flooding, is paramount. Adhering to town ordinances is also critical because the ordinances are only as good as their enforcement. Lastly, I pledge to be fiscally responsible to make sure the residents remain safe, the roads are kept repaired, and we make every last cent count.

Weistling: If elected I will continue to work on improving and maintaining the character of the town. Goals include State and County funding for sidewalks, bay channels, dredging for boater access and safety, input from the public, both business and residents, regarding preferred guidelines for all future improvements to the commercial zone, work with engineers for better drainage possibilities for our town streets, a more restrictive ordinance that continues to prevent outside shuttle service, and to continue addressing the needs of this town in the future with a positive viewpoint while representing all of the property owners.

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.