Fenwick Council Amends Commercial Parking Legislation; Public Hearing Set For January

Fenwick Council Amends Commercial Parking Legislation; Public Hearing Set For January
Photo by Bethany Hooper

FENWICK ISLAND – In an attempt to reach a compromise with the town’s commercial property owners, officials in Fenwick Island this week voted to introduce an amended parking ordinance.

On Monday, the Fenwick Island Town Council voted unanimously to introduce an amended ordinance that would address parking ratios in the town’s commercial district.

While the council was expected to pass a parking ordinance on second reading, Mayor Natalie Magdeburger said concerns voiced from Fenwick’s business owners prompted three significant changes to the legislation, which was brought back as a first reading on Monday. A public hearing on the amended ordinance will be held in January.

“I think this represents a good compromise,” she said.

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 to December after hearing complaints from members of the business community. Since that time, business owners have been working with town officials and residents within the town’s ad hoc parking committee to reach some sort of compromise.

As originally 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 designated delivery zones for commercial buildings and prohibit parking in setbacks.

“This proposed ordinance will not solve the problem today but will prevent these problems from increasing in the future …,” Magdeburger said. “The ordinance change will require businesses to have parking on their properties for their guests.”

From the outset, town officials have argued new parking ratios would address a growing parking problem in Fenwick.

In a presentation this week, Magdeburger noted that legislative 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.

“We’ve heard numerous complaints from residents that included illegal parking, use of residential parking for turnarounds, garbage and public urination,” she said. “We’ve been hearing about parking problems for the better part of the year.”

Magdeburger told community members this week that police officers have issued 580 parking tickets this year, 78 of which being issued within a one-mile radius of a restaurant. She also highlighted parking issues at Matt’s Fish Camp, the first commercial property to be developed since ratios were changed nearly a decade ago. The parcel has 29 onsite parking spaces for the 212-seat restaurant.

“We’ve had subjective complaints from residents and objective documentation for the town’s parking problem,” she said.

To that end, town officials have proposed new parking ratios that are similar, but less stringent, to those found in Sussex County. Magdeburger reiterated that the new ratios would only apply to new or redeveloped commercial properties.

“The proposed ordinance will not be applicable to any existing businesses …,” she said. “This is designed to plan for the future.”

Magdeburger noted, however, that the legislation introduced this week featured three changes. The ordinance will no longer restrict parking in the commercial setbacks or require designated delivery zones.

“You have to have a place to fit a tractor trailer, but it can be anywhere, in the aisles of the parking lot or on parking spots,” she said. “They just have to have space to come onto the property. That’s all we’re asking.”

Magdeburger said the proposed legislation would also include accommodations for shared parking.

“If you need a certain amount of spots, for 15% of those spots you can make an agreement with someone else to have spots on another property, so long as it’s within 500 feet the property it is intended to serve …,” she said. “It allows for another compromise for the business community.”

During council comments, Councilman Richard Benn said he supported the ordinance and the proposed changes.

“I think there are compromises here,” he said. “I’m still not sure we have enough parking, but I’m willing to go with it.”

Councilwoman Jacque Napolitano agreed.

“I’m not excited about the setback part of this, but I’m willing to do it,” she said.

Councilman Bill Rymer said his goal was to ensure businesses had more parking spaces on their properties. He said the proposed ordinance offered some compromise.

“This ordinance is clearly not the most restrictive …,” he said. “It doesn’t even take into account parking for employees.”

Councilman Paul Breger agreed.

“I believe what you outlined here is a fair resolution to the town’s limited parking,” he said.

Business owners, however, have argued the proposed changes were onerous and limited redevelopment opportunities on commercial lots. A letter of opposition signed by the owners of 27 commercial properties in town was also submitted to the town council outlining their disagreements. Those sentiments continued to be shared at this week’s council meeting.

During public comments, Warren’s Station owner Paula Mumford voiced her objection to the ordinance.

“This ordinance upsets me to no end,” she said. “I feel like businesses are being punished because one restaurant has a parking problem. I’ll go on record saying there is no parking problem in Fenwick Island.”

Attorney Richard Abbott, representing local businessman Joe Balsamo, agreed.

“Most of what was given in the presentation is an excuse, not backed up by any comments at any meeting …,” he said. “This ordinance is anti-development, anti-commercial.”

Resident Jay Ryan, however, argued parking issues do exist in Fenwick Island.

“The summary of what I’ve heard is the commercial district wants to remain status quo …,” he said. “It’s very strange no one thinks there’s a parking crisis.”

While he acknowledged the town’s efforts to compromise, Southern Exposure owner Tim Collins said the proposed parking ratios did not account for the different types of food service operations.

“There doesn’t seem to be any consideration being made for the different types of restaurants that can come along …,” he said. “The so-called formula doesn’t fit all. I think it needs more finetuning to not make it so universal across the board.”

Commercial property representative Chuck Shorley added that the proposed ordinance did not account for a change of use within mixed-use buildings.

“I’m still not clear on what happens if there’s a change of use, say if a clothing store becomes a bagel shop,” he said.

Following public comments, the town council voted 7-0 to introduce the proposed parking ordinance on first reading.

Magdeburger noted the town council will hold a public hearing on the parking ordinance in January. In the meantime, she encouraged commercial property owners to address the town’s acute parking problems by establishing a Business to Business initiative, in which business owners would work together to share unused parking spaces.

“I really think we can get this resolved today if businesses were willing to help each other …,” she said. “We have 800 business spots. I want to see businesses helping businesses.”

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.