Fenwick Island Businesses Offer Parking Ratio Concerns

FENWICK ISLAND – As a vote to change commercial parking regulations nears, members of a Fenwick Island committee gathered this week to discuss business owners’ concerns and recommendations.

On Wednesday, the Fenwick Island Ad Hoc Parking Committee met to discuss proposed legislation aimed at parking in the town’s commercial district. While the Fenwick Island Town Council voted to defer a second reading of the proposed parking amendments to its December meeting, business and commercial property owners this week said they first want officials to address their concerns before a vote takes place.

“We’ve proposed several suggestions, comments and concerns with the setbacks, change of use, delivery zones and all of that,” said Warren’s Station owner Scott Mumford. “And my understanding is you are going to address that at the December council meeting.”

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

“I think at the end of the day, there needs to be a compromise …,” said Mayor Natalie Magdeburger, parking committee chair. “It can work, and it can be a good thing.”

As written, the proposed ordinance amendment would change, among other things, restaurant parking ratios from one parking space per 100 square feet of patron area to one per 50 square feet of patron area, 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, Mumford noted that the business community had presented the town with a list of recommendations that call for parking in the setbacks, the elimination of proposed delivery zones,  a new definition for substantial renovations, and a consideration of building height requirements and residential driveways. Business owners have continually stressed that they do not support any changes to the existing parking ratios.

“The ratio issue is scary,” said Kinsley Hazel, whose family owns undeveloped commercial property along Coastal Highway. “It’s what we are locked in on.”

Magdeburger said that the business community’s recommendations would be presented to the town council at its December meeting. She also noted that the council had plans to vote on the proposed legislation.

“We have a vote coming up on Dec. 2, but we will provide whatever you would like the council to consider,” she said.

Magdeburger argued 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.

“We saw that in 2013 there was a change in the ordinance,” she explained. “What it did was reduce required parking ratios in Fenwick Island by 60%.”

Magdeburger added that the proposed legislation would restore previous parking ratios to match those found in Sussex County.

“While the business community says we’re doubling parking ratios, we’re really just bringing them back to what they were,” she said.

Mumford, however, recommended the council delay its vote until the business community’s concerns could be addressed. He also called for a parking study to be done.

“There’s just too many questions,” he said. “We really want those questions answered.”

After a lengthy discussion, the committee agreed to reconvene on Nov. 30 to discuss the proposed parking ordinance, as well as the business community’s plans for a Business to Business initiative, in which business owners would work together to share unused parking spaces.

“We’re willing to work on this,” Magdeburger said, “but we need concrete solutions.”

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.