Discussions On Fenwick Parking Ratios Continue

Discussions On Fenwick Parking Ratios Continue
Photo by Bethany Hooper

FENWICK ISLAND – Discussions on parking ratios and commercial development highlighted a public hearing this week on proposed off-street parking amendments.

On Monday, Fenwick Island residents and business owners gathered at town hall to share their concerns pertaining to a proposed ordinance amendment that would, among other things, change parking ratios in the commercial district.

Citing concerns from the business community, the town council agreed to hold a second public hearing this week to gather input and ideas.

“We need to solve the problem,” Mayor Natalie Magdeburger said. “The only way to do that is to work together and hear each other.”

In July, several members of the Fenwick Island business community came before the town council to share their opposition to a proposed ordinance amendment that would establish new, more stringent parking ratios for new or redeveloped commercial properties.

As written, the amendment would, for example, change restaurant parking ratios from one per 100 square feet of patron space to one per 50 square feet of patron space and retail parking ratios from one per 300 square feet of floor area to one per 250 square feet of floor area.

But Southern Exposure owner Tim Collins told council members this week the proposed changes would only hurt commercial development.

“We have some deep concerns about what Fenwick Island will look like in terms of commercial development in the future …,” he said. “I will tell you a majority of the commercial property owners in this town are deeply concerned and opposed to any proposed changes in this ordinance, which are very restrictive.”

He said an informal survey conducted on a busy Saturday evening in August showed that 300 parking spaces were not being utilized within a one-block radius, with 159 spaces being located at restaurants. He noted that the town’s Business to Business parking initiative, in which business owners would work together to share unused parking spaces, would be a first step in addressing the parking shortage that exists in town.

“It shows you if we come together and work on this to come up with a parking plan, spaces are there to be used …,” he said. “We can sit down and work this out.”

Magdeburger, however, told Collins that while the town was eager to see the Business to Business initiative begin, it had yet to receive any plans.

“Because it was the summer season, the dialogue had paused …,” she said. “The council has yet to see a plan, and that’s something the ad hoc parking committee is looking for.”

Collins said commercial property owners were looking to meet with the mayor, council and ad hoc parking committee to resolve the parking issues.

“This cannot be done singularly by the Fenwick Island business community,” he replied. “We’ve got to work together.”

For her part, Magdeburger told community members this week the proposed ordinance only sought to address eroded parking ordinances in the commercial district.

She said an amendment implemented in 2013 had reduced parking requirements by 62%. As a result, required parking for a restaurant with 3,500 square feet of patron space, for example, had decreased from 70 spaces in 1995 to 35 in 2013.

“We have to come up with a solution,” she said. “If there’s not enough parking, then our businesses won’t be successful … People will come to eat at a restaurant, won’t find parking, and leave.”

Warren’s Station owner Scott Mumford, however, argued the proposed ordinance addressed parking issues that only existed during the summer season.

He asked the council to hold off on approving the ordinance amendment and work with businesses to implement the Business to Business initiative.

“This problem lasts six to eight weeks,” he said. “And you are talking about imposing regulations for a six- to eight-week problem, not a 52-week problem … It’s a slippery slope.”

Resident Roy Williams said he was in favor of the proposed ordinance amendment, as it protected the town’s residential property owners.

“The business community has a responsibility to create enough parking for their business. I don’t think that’s been happening lately, and I would like to see that happen in the future …,” he said. “The council, in my opinion, has a responsibility to the residents, and I think this ordinance being proposed would cover that.”

Resident Betsy Patten agreed, noting that her neighbor had witnessed business patrons parked on their street littering and urinating.

“Think of the side effects we residents have to deal with,” she said.

Resident John Nason, a member of the town’s charter and ordinance committee, said he had heard nothing new from the business community at Monday’s hearing. He said the proposed amendment would reverse changes the town council had made in 2013.

“The real genesis of this came from the dramatic changes that took place in 2013 that placed Fenwick Island as an outlier among coastal communities in terms of parking requirements …,” he said. “That’s really the turning point that brought us here today.”

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.