Five to vie for Fenwick town council seats


Fenwick Island voters will take to the polls on Saturday, Aug. 5, to elect three new town council members to replace the three incumbents who stepped down this election season.

There are five candidates for the three seats, including long-time committee members and those who have been vocal in their opposition to measures taken by the council in recent years.

Voting will take place between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the town hall on Saturday, with voters deciding among candidates Forrest Boettcher, Gardner Bunting, Todd Smallwood, Diane Tingle and Bill Weistling Jr.

The cast of candidates varies in their opinions on the controversial floor-area-ratio (FAR) ordinance recently enacted by the council, as well as their ideas about a hiring a town manager, controlling town expenses and the town’s future development. Thus, the Coastal Point asked each candidate questions about each of these issues, and more, to help ensure voters can make an educated decision at the polls this week. We offer their responses, in alphabetical order:

Forrest A. Boettcher
Q. What is your feeling about floor-area ratio (FAR)? Do you feel such a measure is an appropriate control on home size in Fenwick Island? Is the current system — enacted in June — appropriate in terms of percentage and what elements are included in the percentage? Is there a better method that could be put in place instead or in addition to FAR, or were old controls enough?
A. I am not a supporter of floor area ratio (FAR). The measure was not very well thought out to see how it would impact the zoning regulations already in place. The old controls need to be reviewed and updated and to also address the FEMA and floodplain requirements.

Q. Do you believe the town followed the best method possible for obtaining public input on FAR before it was enacted by council vote in June? If not, what should have been done differently? How do you feel town council members should vote on an issue when public opinion appears equally divided, as it is on FAR?
A. The majority of the town council supported FAR prior to the public hearings. It was their idea and they did not relent during the public process, which included a survey of the property homeowners that showed an edge for FAR, according to the author of FAR. The minority council member’s count showed the edge was against FAR. Is there something wrong with this picture? Anytime any issue is so devisive, causing a split in the town, it should have been tabled and sent back to an expanded committee for rework or dropped as an issue for consideration by council.

Q. Are you concerned about the town’s fiscal situation in the current slow real estate market? Should the town be as reliant upon real estate transfer taxes and building permit fees as it had been in the past, or should it change its budget to increase revenue from other sources or cut expenses? If so, how?
A. The town needs to develop a three-, five- and seven-year plan that would include alternatives for the cycles of the real estate market, transfer taxes and permit fees. Other sources of revenue and cutting expenses should be thoroughly searched out before considering raising taxes on the over-taxed property owners.

Q. Do you believe the town should hire a town manager or administrator who will take on more management responsibilities than the current town administrator position entails? If so, how should the town change its budget from previous years to pay for the position? If not, what — if any — changes do you think might be needed in the town’s government structure to address the needs that have led to discussion of hiring a town manager?
A. Before making a comment on the need for a town manager (TM), I would meet with the committee who came up with the recommendation. Some of my broad questions would be: What was your process in establishing a need for a TM? Is there a complete job description and/or a position description? Have you developed a new organizational chart? And, where will the money come from to pay for the TM?

Q. Do you feel the town needs to take steps to help preserve its commercial district or protect commercial properties from conversion to residential use? If so, what steps should it take?
A. The preservation of the commercial district or properties from conversion should be included in the comprehensive plan, when it is developed, with input from business and residential owners.

Q. The current council and previous councils have been noted for infighting, problems with openness and complaints about responsiveness to citizens’ concerns. How would you work to change that perception?
A. The majority of current and previous councils have become typical bureaucrats. We know what is best for the people. The minority disagrees with this view. Morale in any organization or community is high when people are kept informed. My belief is the property owners pay the bills. As a council member, I will be responsive to citizens’ concerns.

Q. What — if any — other initiatives or changes would you like to pursue if elected to the council? Also, describe why you feel you should be elected.
A. I would like all standard operating procedures, ordinances, zoning codes, regulations and all department policies to be reviewed and updated once a year. I will bring to council a variety of formal education, learned and developed organizational skills, a problem-solver approach, a proactive approach (not a reactive approach), along with business and government skills, and contacts.

Gardner Bunting
Q. What is your feeling about floor-area ratio (FAR)? Do you feel such a measure is an appropriate control on home size in Fenwick Island? Is the current system — enacted in June — appropriate in terms of percentage and what elements are included in the percentage? Is there a better method that could be put in place instead or in addition to FAR, or were old controls enough?
A. I feel that along with the existing set backs and the floor area ration (FAR) we still do not have the solution we need to building more storm-proof, safer houses. Fenwick Island has four distinctly different flood zones. I believe that the starting point for construction should be above the flood level established by FEMA and that proper roof pitches should be required in order to shed water and withstand strong winds. Council needs to take a serious look at lessons from the hurricanes of last year in the South to guide us to safer construction. FAR, as recently passed by the Town Council, addresses no safety issues, created a serious division among property owners, and added yet another requirement to construction.

Q. Do you believe the town followed the best method possible for obtaining public input on FAR before it was enacted by council vote in June? If not, what should have been done differently? How do you feel town council members should vote on an issue when public opinion appears equally divided, as it is on FAR?
A. The Council held more hearings on FAR than the Town Charter requires, and they attempted to poll the property owners for opinions. I do not think the issue was fully explained, nor were all owners polled the same. Many people who own multiple properties received only one letter. It did not explain whether all owners were eligible to respond or only one person per property.

The letter did not fully explain the issue, which was confusing to many, and I suspect that the 60 percent who did not reply either didn’t understand the issue or did not care. The 40 percent of property owners who responded were evenly divided. This information was not enough to provide a true picture of the publics’ wishes. The vote seemed to be rushed through when two Council members were absent. I believe the issue was too important to vote without representation of the full Council. When there is a poll taken and the public is equally divided, the vote should be tabled until more research is done.

Q. Are you concerned about the town’s fiscal situation in the current slow real estate market? Should the town be as reliant upon real estate transfer taxes and building permit fees as it had been in the past, or should it change its budget to increase revenue from other sources or cut expenses? If so, how?
A. As the real estate market slows, transfer taxes and building permit revenues drop sharply. The situation for the town, as I understand it... does not look healthy However, the budget is still being prepared for a July vote. I am not aware that any cuts have been made, even though it appears that several items have been added. We do not know how long it might take for the real estate market to recover or if it will elevate to its to its previous level of activity. Some budget items may need to be reviewed, delayed, or possibly cut. Insurance and healthcare costs are skyrocketing and need to be addressed, along with other large expenses.

Q. Do you believe the town should hire a town manager or administrator who will take on more management responsibilities than the current town administrator position entails? If so, how should the town change its budget from previous years to pay for the position? If not, what — if any — changes do you think might be needed in the town’s government structure to address the needs that have led to discussion of hiring a town manager?
A. Having served on the Town Manager Search Committee, I am familiar with the issue. On July 20, 2006, the Town Council passed the committee’s recommendation to hire a town manager. We will proceed with advertising and then conduct interviews, and hope to have a town manager on board early next year. The salary will depend on qualifications and experience. While it will exceed that of the previous town administrator, it may not be as expensive as some believe. Our research shows that a good town manager should produce a large portion of their salary through grants from county, state and federal governments, as well as saving in administrative costs.

Q. Do you feel the town needs to take steps to help preserve its commercial district or protect commercial properties from conversion to residential use? If so, what steps should it take?
A. Council should look closely at the commercial district issue having already lost several lots of commercially zoned property to housing. The commercial zone in Fenwick Island is relatively small and any loss impacts the town by loss of revenue. We can look south to our neighboring town of Ocean City and see the loss of many restaurants and shops to residential areas. Eventually, this could become a serious problem. There needs to be a balance between the two.

Q. The current council and previous councils have been noted for infighting, problems with openness and complaints about responsiveness to citizens’ concerns. How would you work to change that perception?
A. Hopefully, the past problems among council members will not continue. One of my goals is to eliminate personality conflicts. Councilpersons are elected to serve the constituents; listen and analyze the issues; and respond to their concerns. Personal agendas have no place in the process.

Q. What — if any — other initiatives or changes would you like to pursue if elected to the council? Also, describe why you feel you should be elected.
A. Implementation of the Town Manager form of government is going to be a large, important task that I feel will put the town on the right track to financial responsibility and it will be operated as a well-organized entity. My past experience as a town council member in Selbyville, as well as emergency services with two fire department and as an instructor at Delaware State Fire Training School have provided me with many leadership experiences. After starting out with my family business, I have operated my own business for over 30 years. I have spent most of my summers in Fenwick Island and have made it my full-time residence since 1990. Fenwick Island is a beautiful, safe place to live. I would like to be a part of keeping it that way for both residents and visitors.

Todd Smallwood
Q. What is your feeling about floor-area ratio (FAR)? Do you feel such a measure is an appropriate control on home size in Fenwick Island? Is the current system — enacted in June — appropriate in terms of percentage and what elements are included in the percentage? Is there a better method that could be put in place instead or in addition to FAR, or were old controls enough?
A. I do not support FAR and I am a strong believer in owners’ property rights. I believe we already have enough restrictions in terms of front, rear and side setbacks not to mention our current height, bedroom and bathroom limits. I believe we should leave the current regulations in place and not have any FAR restrictions. I really enjoy the way Fenwick Island is now, and we have been able to achieve the current look and feel of the town without FAR.

Q. Do you believe the town followed the best method possible for obtaining public input on FAR before it was enacted by council vote in June? If not, what should have been done differently? How do you feel town council members should vote on an issue when public opinion appears equally divided, as it is on FAR?
A. I was very disappointed in the way FAR was presented for vote at the June meeting with only five council members present. If we had a full council present, the vote would have failed to pass and would have been put on hold until the July or August meeting. I believe that the council members who voted for FAR knew this was their best shot at getting this passed before the new council would take over. I believe this was too important of an issue to be decided by seven people, or in this case five. I am not sure that the surveys that were sent out were even effective, because we were given two different sets of numbers at the June council meeting. I have heard from quite a number of homeowners that said they did not even receive the survey.

Q. Are you concerned about the town’s fiscal situation in the current slow real estate market? Should the town be as reliant upon real estate transfer taxes and building permit fees as it had been in the past, or should it change its budget to increase revenue from other sources or cut expenses? If so, how?
A. I believe everyone should be concerned about our impending fiscal situation. I was always taught that you cannot spend what you do not have. It is going to be a long time before we see another real estate boom like the one we have just had the past five years. We are going to lose a great deal in income from the real estate transfer taxes and we must supplement that loss with budget cuts, not a tax-and-spend strategy. I am not familiar enough with our current budget to make any specific suggestions in terms of cuts at this time.

Q. Do you believe the town should hire a town manager or administrator who will take on more management responsibilities than the current town administrator position entails? If so, how should the town change its budget from previous years to pay for the position? If not, what — if any — changes do you think might be needed in the town’s government structure to address the needs that have led to discussion of hiring a town manager?
A. I believe a Town Manager would be a wise move, but at what cost? I have heard various salary ranges but nothing that is set. I believe that we have $40,000 already budgeted and would have to come up with additional monies to make an attractive offer. If the costs end up outweighing the potential benefits, then I believe we may have to table this position for now given our budget shortfalls. I believe that if a Town Manager is not hired, then we need to improve the chain of communication from the council to the Town Hall.

Q. Do you feel the town needs to take steps to help preserve its commercial district or protect commercial properties from conversion to residential use? If so, what steps should it take?
A. It seems that other coastal towns are grappling with this same question. Dewey Beach has had to address the condo conversions, and Ocean City is losing more businesses as residential projects take over. I do not believe there is anything that you can do. When a developer comes in and offers you a price that far surpasses your current rent rolls, how do you turn that down? Commercial landowners are simply making smart business decisions in a very active real estate market. We are not in any type of fiscal situation to offer tax breaks to landowners as an incentive to keep their properties for business use. I know that some towns are increasing their requirements of mixed-use properties but I am sure that would not be a poplar option in Fenwick Island.

Q. The current council and previous councils have been noted for infighting, problems with openness and complaints about responsiveness to citizens’ concerns. How would you work to change that perception?
A. I believe the biggest problems with past councils have been with full disclosure amongst themselves and with the people of the town. I know it is next to impossible to get seven people to agree on anything, but I think it is even harder when small cliques have formed between council members and they battle each other. This is not “Survivor.” There is no need to form alliances with others and pit them against one another in hopes of staying on the (Fenwick) island. I would like to see more of the public participation that we have at the end of our Town Council meetings. It would be nice if we could arrange another session once a month where all we have is that type of format between homeowners and council members.

Q. What — if any — other initiatives or changes would you like to pursue if elected to the council? Also, describe why you feel you should be elected.
A. I really like the Town of Fenwick the way it is, and I do not believe that we need a lot of changes. We have one of the best beaches and dune lines in the area that are patrolled by a great beach patrol. I think our median strips look awesome and our town is maintained by an outstanding public works department. I believe we should concentrate on having a comprehensive plan in place by the end of the year and working out our current budget situation. I would also like to have more public involvement within the Town. I would like to set up a database with the homeowners’ e-mail addresses and increase communications between the council and the homeowners. I have no experience at all with being on a Town Council or any other committee. I have been involved with mortgage banking and real estate investments since I graduated from college 16 years ago. This might not be such a bad thing, because I will not be a bobblehead doll, sitting up there agreeing with everything. I believe the true winners from this election will be the homeowners of Fenwick Island. The other four candidates are well qualified and would serve the town very well. I don’t see how the town can lose.

Diane Tingle
Q. What is your feeling about floor-area ratio (FAR)? Do you feel such a measure is an appropriate control on home size in Fenwick Island? Is the current system — enacted in June — appropriate in terms of percentage and what elements are included in the percentage? Is there a better method that could be put in place instead or in addition to FAR, or were old controls enough?
A. FAR will not make a significant impact on Fenwick Island. Fenwick is already 90-95 percent built out. Of the surveys sent out to property owners regarding FAR, 60 percent did not respond. This says to me that over half of Fenwick Island property owners were indifferent regarding the issue. That being said, why was it so important to vote on this issue immediately? Why wasn’t the issue addressed 10 years ago? FAR, if needed, should have been included in a comprehensive plan, which Fenwick does not have.

Q. Do you believe the town followed the best method possible for obtaining public input on FAR before it was enacted by council vote in June? If not, what should have been done differently? How do you feel town council members should vote on an issue when public opinion appears equally divided, as it is on FAR?
A. There was no systematic procedure conducted by a committee to examine and research the FAR ordinance for Fenwick Island. I believe that on matters that could change any citizens’ property, all council members should vote and no one should assume they know how someone else would vote.

Q. Are you concerned about the town’s fiscal situation in the current slow real estate market? Should the town be as reliant upon real estate transfer taxes and building permit fees as it had been in the past, or should it change its budget to increase revenue from other sources or cut expenses? If so, how?
A. Fenwick should stop spending and make cuts to the budget. Everyone needs to be aware of where and how their tax dollars are being spent. Fenwick has no expanding tax base and the town is already 90-95 percent built out. The budget must be scrutinized and all citizens must be involved in these decisions. We may not always agree, but we can seek solutions that will benefit the residents and businesses.

Q. Do you believe the town should hire a town manager or administrator who will take on more management responsibilities than the current town administrator position entails? If so, how should the town change its budget from previous years to pay for the position? If not, what — if any — changes do you think might be needed in the town’s government structure to address the needs that have led to discussion of hiring a town manager?
A. Fenwick needs a town manager. We need someone who is experienced in this field and can evaluate the town as a whole, without bias. The town manager could then make recommendations for change to the town council and the citizens. The town manager would bring a consistency to the day-to-day management of the town. The position of town administrator has been vacant for some time, and the salary for that position can help to fund the salary for a town manager. A good town manager can bring money into the town through grants, and may also be able to save money by cutting excess expenditures.

Q. Do you feel the town needs to take steps to help preserve its commercial district or protect commercial properties from conversion to residential use? If so, what steps should it take?
A. Fenwick Island has never encouraged new business in town. The town needs the revenues that businesses provide and needs to keep the lines of communication open with the businesses. Hopefully, the town will not lose the businesses now established.

Q. The current council and previous councils have been noted for infighting, problems with openness and complaints about responsiveness to citizens’ concerns. How would you work to change that perception?
A. All citizens should be kept informed. Change is easier when people are involved and they understand the reasons for any change. I believe the council members should always be truthful and consistent. Town government should be responsible to all, not just a few. We need to communicate and listen to each other. We should respect each other’s differences and debate on issues with merit. Committees need to work together as a team instead of being micro-managed by any one member.

Q. What — if any — other initiatives or changes would you like to pursue if elected to the council? Also, describe why you feel you should be elected
A. Any changes should be discussed with the public, and the best interests for the community as a whole, need to be considered. Decisions should be based on facts and research, not personal interests. Changes should benefit the economy and the environment of Fenwick. In my previous experiences, I have helped to develop budgets and five-year plans. I have also worked with many committees while serving as a department chair at Delaware Technical Community College. I have always lived in this area, and now my grandson (a year-round resident) is the fourth generation of our family living in Fenwick Island. We must work together for the best possible future for Fenwick.

Bill Weistling Jr.
Q. What is your feeling about floor-area ratio (FAR)? Do you feel such a measure is an appropriate control on home size in Fenwick Island? Is the current system — enacted in June — appropriate in terms of percentage and what elements are included in the percentage? Is there a better method that could be put in place instead or in addition to FAR, or were old controls enough?
A. I am in favor of FAR. As a member of the Charter and Ordinance Committee, I can state that lots of time and research went into drafting an ordinance that we felt was a fair ordinance for the property owners in town. The original concept of including ground-level spaces, decks at 100 percent, accessory buildings, attics, crawl-spaces, and a maximum of 5,500 square feet was changed over the months to a more simple plan of 70 percent and a maximum of 7,500 square feet. It’s a policy that’s more liberal than other towns, but also allows control over the sizes of houses. The ordinance addresses the issue of large houses maximizing lot sizes, and I feel that no other controls are necessary at this time.

Q. Do you believe the town followed the best method possible for obtaining public input on FAR before it was enacted by council vote in June? If not, what should have been done differently? How do you feel town council members should vote on an issue when public opinion appears equally divided, as it is on FAR?
A. Prior to the passing of the FAR ordinance, two public hearings were held, a mail-in survey was initiated, and C&O meetings open to the public were held. Maximum effort to obtain public input was attempted. The mail-in survey should have been more specific on defining how many people per property could vote, but the end result was satisfactory. With public opinion almost equally divided, I still feel that Council made the right decision to vote. If the ordinance had included all of the original proposals I listed earlier, then I would not have been in favor of a vote. A more restrictive FAR would have needed more work. Also, if the survey results had shown a strong opposition to FAR in relation to those in favor of FAR, I feel that the ordinance should have been defeated.

Q. Are you concerned about the town’s fiscal situation in the current slow real estate market? Should the town be as reliant upon real estate transfer taxes and building permit fees as it had been in the past, or should it change its budget to increase revenue from other sources or cut expenses? If so, how?
A. Our town has been fortunate over the past few years to enjoy the benefits of the real estate and construction boom. It’s time now to look hard at ways to cut costs and expenses. A tax increase will probably occur, but I’d like to see it done in stages over several years rather than an immediate 20 percent as reported in the press. Also, we need to use our budget as a tool help define our future costs and expenses. Priorities, such as a new roof on the public works building, should be addressed now. Any other projects that are not of immediate concern, although budgeted for, should be reviewed before proceeding. Let’s try to think ahead before spending money or proceeding on projects. For example, the highway median strip beautification project is now complete. It’s beautiful, but thousands of dollars will be spent next year on maintaining it. If the Council and citizens want such projects, let’s make sure we consider future expenses.

Q. Do you believe the town should hire a town manager or administrator who will take on more management responsibilities than the current town administrator position entails? If so, how should the town change its budget from previous years to pay for the position? If not, what — if any — changes do you think might be needed in the town’s government structure to address the needs that have led to discussion of hiring a town manager?
A. Fenwick Island needs a town manager. It’s unfortunate that it does. Some councilpersons have tended to micromanage the town over the years. Policies are enacted, that councilperson leaves, and another comes along with more changes. It’s time for a full-time manager. The salary will probably have to be covered now by raising taxes. Hopefully, the town manager can prove his/her worth over the years by running the town more efficiently. Stability in the manager position has to make for more efficient operations.

Q. Do you feel the town needs to take steps to help preserve its commercial district or protect commercial properties from conversion to residential use? If so, what steps should it take?
A. At least until very recently, the current real estate market is presenting a threat to local businesses due to residential conversions. It’s difficult to tell a commercial property owner that he can not convert his property to residential. I don’t believe that the town should attempt to do this. One way we can help is to allow some of our local businesses to expand by easing the parking requirements. Some current councilpersons are working with the businesses on changing sign definitions in our ordinances. Input from our business owners is important and this policy needs to be continued. Also, perhaps if an entire block of commercial is demolished, the town could set a policy that some percent of commercial must be included in the new development. I’d like to see feedback from commercial property owners on these ideas and any of their own.

Q. The current council and previous councils have been noted for infighting, problems with openness and complaints about responsiveness to citizens’ concerns. How would you work to change that perception?
A. Council needs to remember that the Town of Fenwick Island is a council form of government. No one person or persons are responsible for running this town. When infighting, employee complaints, policy changes, etc., occur, the entire council should be involved. No few individuals govern our town. Citizen complaints or concerns should be welcome. Councilpersons should document these concerns, help to solve the problem and follow-up at a later time.

Q. What — if any — other initiatives or changes would you like to pursue if elected to the council? Also, describe why you feel you should be elected.
A. I’d like to see more public participation at council meetings. Any vote, on any issue, should only be done at a monthly council meeting, unless it’s an emergency situation. Any vote taken should also include public input. On Thursday, July 28, Council voted to accept the policy and procedures part of the Town Manager’s search. I’m disappointed that Council could not have waited eight days until the normal monthly meeting to vote on this important issue. A brief description of the policies to the public, some time for questions, and then the vote. The creation of a town manager is a major change in our form of government — 53 years as a town council government with councilpersons as committee chairs is about to change; 53 years deserves at least eight days. To conclude, I’ve been involved with the town for over 15 years. I’m currently a member of the building committee (15 years), charter and ordinance committee (eight years), and building commissioner for about 10 years. I’ve served on several search committees for town employees, and have attended almost all Council meetings for the last 15 years. I’ve seen many changes come to Fenwick, and have participated in our town’s government for a long time. I’d like to continue this work as a council member. I’m fair, open-minded, and not afraid to compromise. Retirement and year-round residency allow me time to serve faithfully. I thank the Coastal Point for giving all of us the opportunity to reach the community. Please vote and participate in your local government.