Business Owners, Officials Debate Parking Ratios

FENWICK ISLAND – Setbacks, delivery zones and on-street parking are among the issues business owners say they want addressed as a Fenwick Island committee continues to work through legislation aimed at parking in the commercial district.

On Wednesday, members of the Fenwick Island Ad Hoc Parking Committee met to discuss a proposed ordinance amendment pertaining to off-street parking in the town’s commercial district.

While the proposed changes would allow for new, more stringent parking ratios on new and developed commercial properties, officials last month agreed to defer a vote after hearing complaints from members of the business community. Since that time, business owners have been working with the parking committee to reach some sort of compromise on parking ratios, delivery zone requirements and more.

“I’m committed to solving this, but at the end of the day we have to be rational with what we’re dealing with,” said Mayor Natalie Magdeburger, chair of the committee. “And what we’re dealing with is not enough parking for our businesses, and our businesses will fail.”

As written, the proposed ordinance amendment would change, among other things, restaurant parking ratios from one parking space 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. The amendment would also require delivery zones for commercial buildings such as restaurants, retail stores and hotels.

During this week’s discussions, Magdeburger noted the new parking ratios would address the growing parking problems in Fenwick. She noted that changes made in 2013 had eroded the town’s parking space requirements to the point they no long met the needs of the business community. She also highlighted parking issues at a nearby Fenwick restaurant, which had 29 parking spaces for a 212-seat facility.

“At the end of the day, I wouldn’t think the town would be doing its job if it didn’t look to protect its businesses and residents …,” she said. “If we can’t agree that a restaurant that seats 212 and has employees and 29 spaces is not an adequate ratio, I think we are at a crossroads.”

Warren’s Station owner Scott Mumford said he couldn’t speak for the decisions of other businesses but noted that members of the business community did not want to see the current parking ratios changed.

“Speaking on behalf of businesses, they are concerned with that ratio,” he said. “They don’t want the ratio changed right now as a community.”

Kinsley Hazel, whose family owns undeveloped commercial property along Coastal Highway, added that commercial property owners were hesitant to discuss parking ratios until other elements of the proposed ordinance amendment were addressed.

“I think a lot of concerns with any compromise is understanding where this proposed ordinance is at,” she said. “We’re so focused on the ratio, we haven’t talked about other things.”

With no further discussion on parking ratios this week, Hazel and Mumford laid out the business community’s concerns pertaining to other elements of the draft legislation. They noted that business owners wanted to address parking in rear, side and front setbacks, the elimination or alteration of required delivery zones, and change of use.

“These multi-use buildings, if one tenant moves out and another moves in … the [parking] numbers aren’t there to support it,” Hazel said.

Business owners said they also wanted the town to revise its definition for substantial renovations and address parking requirements for accessory uses. They also requested consideration of town hall parking, two-sided residential street parking and potential changes to the town’s height restrictions.

“If you are looking at these ratios, there’s only so many places [commercial property owners] can go …,” Mumford said. “In some cases, going up will give you more room.”

Magdeburger, however, said she was not in favor of any changes to the height ordinance.

“You will never get my vote on that one …,” she said. “The whole reason they put in a height requirement was to avoid over-commercialization. They wanted Fenwick Island to be a residential community that had a business district that was distinctly zoned … It protected Fenwick.”

Mumford also asked that the town address street parking along side streets. He noted that larger residential driveways, expanding from one property line to the other, had reduced the amount of available on-street parking in town.

“I think side street parking needs to be addressed,” he said, “to make sure we have more accessible parking.”

The committee ultimately agreed to continue discussions at its next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 9 at 1 p.m.

“We feel like this ordinance is taking, but giving nothing back to the commercial sector,” Hazel said.

As the committee continues to work its way through commercial parking concerns, Mumford told officials this week efforts are still be made to implement a Business to Business initiative, in which business owners would work together to share unused parking spaces.

“We’re getting good feedback …,” he said. “And they are willing to do it.”

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.