Fenwick Parking Ratio Talks Stall

Fenwick Parking Ratio Talks Stall
Photo by Bethany Hooper

FENWICK ISLAND – Discussions on proposed commercial parking ratios came to a standstill this week as business owners continue to seek changes to a new ordinance.

Business owners came before the Fenwick Island Ad Hoc Parking Committee Wednesday with a letter of opposition to proposed legislation aimed at parking in the town’s commercial district.

With the Fenwick Island Town Council set to vote on the changes at its next meeting, committee members this week ultimately concluded business owners and town officials had reached an impasse in their negotiations.

“You see it your way and I see it mine,” said committee member Kinsley Hazel, whose family owns commercial property along Coastal Highway. “And I think we are at a crossroads.”

Earlier this year, officials introduced an ordinance amendment that would, among other things, allow for new, more stringent parking ratios on new and redeveloped commercial properties. In September, however, the town council voted to defer a second reading of the proposed ordinance after hearing complaints from members of the business community.

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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.

In this week’s meeting, however, committee members shared their frustrations over the lack of progress being made.

“I’m disappointed,” said Mayor Natalie Magdeburger, committee chair. “The business community asked us to delay, and we did. They asked us to continue to meet, and we have. But the one issue, the parking ratios, seemed to have stopped all other discussions to find a compromise.”

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.

For months, town officials have argued the new parking ratios would address a growing parking problem in Fenwick. Magdeburger noted that changes made in 2013 had eroded the town’s parking space requirements to the point they no longer met the needs of the business community. The proposed ordinance, she said, was meant to restore some of those parking requirements.

“If we don’t have enough parking, our businesses will fail,” she said.

Business owners, however, argue the proposed changes were onerous and limited redevelopment opportunities on commercial lots.

“The business community is simply saying we don’t want this ordinance and we don’t need this ordinance …,” said committee member Scott Mumford, owner of Warren’s Station restaurant. “If this ordinance passes, the business owners will most likely continue to fight.”

Mumford and Hazel said the business community had shared its concerns with committee members and had suggested changes to the proposed ordinance in an effort to reach a compromise. They noted, however, that nothing had been done.

“It is not possible to meet the ratios on these small lots with all of these requirements …,” Hazel said. “It’s just not possible. We don’t have the land mass for it.”

Magdeburger, however, argued that officials were willing to work with business owners to reach a compromise. She said certain issues, including the prohibition of parking in the setbacks and the requirement of established delivery zones, would be reconsidered when the ordinance is brought to the town council in December.

“The town is willing to compromise,” she said. “When this gets to a vote, I think you will hear a lot of that.”

Councilman Ed Bishop, committee member, said he was disappointed that the committee had not reached a compromise and argued that he was willing to revisit the issue of parking in the setbacks. He noted that something needed to be done to address the town’s parking problems.

“These problems haven’t solved themselves,” he said. “There are 9,000 new homes being built off Route 54 … Those people are going to drive here. The aren’t going to walk.”

Business owners at Wednesday’s meeting ultimately argued that the proposed parking ordinance was unreasonable. The letter of opposition they presented to the committee was signed by the owners of 27 commercial properties in town.

“We don’t want to be the bad guys in all of this,” Mumford said. “But we feel like we’ve been dealt a bad hand.”

Magdeburger reiterated that the proposed ordinance amendment would not affect current parking in town but would establish new parking ratios for future commercial projects. She said current parking problems could be solved with a Business to Business program, in which business owners would work together to share unused parking spaces.

“To me there are two issues,” she said. “One is the parking ratios. The second is the Business Helping Business initiative to fix acute issues now.”

Hazel, however, said the business community had not prepared any plans for implementing an initiative at this time.

“Everyone is focused on this ordinance and the proposed ratios,” she said.

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.