Committee Advances Fenwick Parking Changes To Council; Business Community Opposes Ordinance

FENWICK ISLAND – Proposed changes to the town’s commercial parking ratios will return to the Fenwick Island Town Council with a favorable recommendation from a resort committee.

Last Friday, the Fenwick Island Charter and Ordinance Committee voted 5-1, with member Ben Waide opposed, to accept the December first reading of proposed commercial parking changes and to recommend the town council adopt the changes as written.

While he acknowledged ongoing parking concerns, Waide said he couldn’t support an ordinance that was not supported by members of the business community.

“When you have a business community that is vehemently against it, something is wrong and there is some work that needs to be done moving forward,” he said.

Last month, members of the town council had before them a proposed second reading of an ordinance amendment pertaining to off-street parking in the commercial district. However, officials ultimately agreed to refer the ordinance to the town’s charter and ordinance committee for further review.

In last week’s special meeting, Mayor Natalie Magdeburger, committee chair, said the proposed changes would address a growing parking problem in Fenwick. She 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.

“When this change was made in 2013, it ultimately became a 65% reduction of required parking from the ordinance that existed from 1973 to 1995 …,” she said. “A restaurant that would have had 59 parking spaces required in 1973 to 1995 only has to have 29 parking spaces now. And that’s how you can get a restaurant that has a capacity of 212 people and 20 employees and only 29 parking spaces.”

Last spring, officials introduced an ordinance amendment that would allow for new, more stringent parking ratios on new and redeveloped commercial properties. 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. New ratios are also being proposed for hotels.

Magdeburger said the new parking ratios were similar to ratios found in Sussex County and Ocean View and would restore some of the town’s past parking requirements.

“I think these changes we are proposing in the ordinance will prevent future difficulties,” she said, “and I believe they are absolutely necessary.”

For his part, however, Waide said he did not want to see the proposed ordinance affect redevelopment in Fenwick Island.

“I’m a big proponent of Fenwick Island being a quiet resort, but I don’t want it to be a sleepy resort,” he said. “I think continued reinvestment is an important part of our growth.”

Waide argued against parking ratios that would restrict businesses.

“A restaurant in our town is not going to build a restaurant where customers can’t find a place to park …,” he said. “It’s not the council’s responsibility to put a constraint on a businessperson. They need to put that constraint on themselves.”

Committee member Jay Ryan said he supported the proposed changes, as they would address a parking problem in town. He also pointed to the Fenwick Shores hotel, which recently purchased a residential property in Fenwick to accommodate their parking needs.

“The hotel paid $525,000 for that cottage at 2 West Houston Street,” he said. “If a business is going to invest over a half million dollars in a residential district to resolve their parking problem, they have an acute parking problem. We need to address it.”

Councilwoman Jacque Napolitano, committee member, agreed. She said she not only supported the ordinance changes, but a proposed Business to Business initiative, in which business owners would work together to share unused parking spaces.

“I think going forward this is the best way to handle it …,” she said. “Something has to be done.”

Committee member Ann Riley said the proposed ordinance amendment represented a compromise, as it would no longer restrict parking in the commercial setbacks or require designated delivery zones and would include accommodations for shared parking. She noted, however, that the proposed parking ratios did not address the different types of operations, particularly in mixed-used buildings.

“I do think we could do something for strip or multi-use centers that would make sense,” she said.

Magdeburger noted that commercial property owners seeking a reduction of required parking spaces for operations that do not generate as much parking use could come before the town’s board of adjustment.

“Any of our ordinances or requirements for residential or business, they have a right to go to the board of adjustment with what they think is a hardship,” she said.

During public comments, commercial property owner Tim Collins came before the committee to oppose the legislation. He highlighted a real estate company’s efforts to redevelop the former Dairy Queen property to make his point.

“It’s on three commercial lots,” he said. “When you can’t take that building and rehab it using the footprint that is there, and do that under this ordinance, then something is wrong,” he said.

Commercial property owner Kinsley Hazel said she not only had concerns about the proposed ratios, but accommodations within the ordinance that would allow for shared parking. She argued the ordinance amendment would not solve the town’s current parking problems.

“I don’t see how this is going to do anything but diminish the commercial district in Fenwick Island,” she said.

Warren’s Station owner Scott Mumford agreed.

“If this was a good ordinance, the business community would be more supportive, because we would see the bigger picture,” he said. “But the business community is against this ordinance, plain and simple.”

After further discussion, the committee voted 5-1, with Waide opposed, to accept the proposed ordinance amendment and to recommend the council adopt the changes.

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.