Fenwick Business Community Opposes Ordinance Changes

Fenwick Business Community Opposes Ordinance Changes
Photo by Bethany Hooper

FENWICK ISLAND – Citing concerns from commercial property owners, two proposed ordinance amendments relating to parking and mechanical equipment will return to a Fenwick committee for review.

In a public hearing held last Friday, several members of the Fenwick Island business community came before the town council to share their opposition to two proposed ordinance amendments.

“The setbacks, mechanical equipment location, parking spaces and delivery zone requirements you are proposing make it nearly impossible for any new businesses to be built in Fenwick Island,” said Kinsley Hazel, whose family owns undeveloped commercial property along Coastal Highway.

Simply put, the first amendment up for public hearing last week establishes setbacks and screening requirements for commercial pools, hot tubs and spas, as well as setback and screening requirements for mechanicals and transformers. HVAC equipment, for example, will have to be placed on roofs and screened from view.

Southern Exposure owner Tim Collins, however, argued the proposed ordinance could impact the residential property located behind his storefront, should it ever be redeveloped.

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“If I had been required to put mechanical equipment on the roof …it would ruin their view, their ability to talk and their ability to enjoy,” he said.  “My point is it’s not an issue for me and it’s not an issue for them. But we are talking about things that are going to affect people in the future.”

Fenwick Shores hotel owner Spiro Buas also questioned if such requirements were achievable.

“Was a study done to understand what the buildable envelope would be once you apply all these setbacks, particularly the transformer being screened and the transformer in the front setback?” he asked. “My understanding from state highway is we have to have movable items within the front setback … and screening around transformers is not even allowed by the power company.”

Town Manager Pat Schuchman said the town had reached out to Delmarva Power to confirm that transformers could be screened, but said she wasn’t aware of front setback requirements established by the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT).

“I didn’t talk to DelDOT,” she said.

Business owners also came before officials last week to oppose an ordinance amendment that would establish delivery zones and new parking ratios for commercial buildings such as restaurants, retail stores and hotels. While the changes would apply to new and redeveloped commercial properties, business owners argued the amendments were onerous and limited redevelopment opportunities.

Attorney Richard Abbott, representing local businessman Joe Balsamo, noted the parking regulations would change parking ratios for restaurants from one per 100 square feet of patron space to one per 50 square feet of patron space.

“By doubling the amount of parking spaces for restaurants, it’s really a death knell to major redevelopment projects, which I think the town would want to encourage,” he said.

Abbott noted the town was looking to launch a Business Helping Business initiative, which would allow restaurants and retail shops to partner with commercial property owners to share parking spaces. He encouraged officials to see if that plan addressed some of the town’s parking issues.

“My client will challenge this if it becomes necessary, if it’s passed in its current form,” he said. “We don’t want to do that, as I think there’s a more cooperative, consensus-building process that can be undertaken … to take a look at the parking situation.”

Collins said the proposed ordinance would limit commercial development.

“The fact is in the last 15 or 20 years, there have been only two commercial properties built in this town from the ground up …,” he said. “This has got to be reasonable. It can’t be overkill, and this is overkill. This is going to stop development in the town of Fenwick Island because we can’t do anything with the properties.”

Councilwoman Natalie Magdeburger, chair of the town’s charter and ordinance committee, argued the proposed parking changes were less stringent than in decades past.

“It’s actually less restrictive than in 1995 and less restrictive compared to Sussex County,” she said.

Resident Ann Riley agreed, but noted that some changes could be made.

“Perhaps changing or dropping the delivery area requirements should be further considered,” she said. “I think there also needs to be language added for natural disasters. If a building suffers a fire or flood and builds back in the same footprint with the same patron capacity and same use, there should be no additional parking required in my opinion.”

Warren’s Station owner Scott Mumford also asked the charter and ordinance committee to work with business owners.

“This doesn’t solve the parking problem as it stands now …,” he said. “We ask that you work with us, work with me. Don’t pass this ordinance.”

In a town council meeting later that day, a motion to bring the two ordinances back to the charter and ordinance committee for review passed unanimously.

“We applaud businesses for coming forward,” Magdeburger said. “We want your input, we want to hear what you need, and we want to have dialogue.”

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.