Fenwick Island Town Council may put a limit on hotels

When it comes to hotels, Fenwick Island is trying to find a way to make everyone happy.

The town council will consider a new ordinance on Oct. 23 that would allow the Sands Motel to have a higher density than it does now but limit any future hotels to the current, more restrictive code.

Members of the Charter & Ordinance Committee (COC) had discussed the issue for months, starting with the request of the Sands’ new owner to increase the allowed room density (currently one sleeping room per 1,000 square feet of land) to renovate to a more economically viable motel.

In September, the council approved the first reading of an ordinance change to limit the motel to one room per 600 square feet, with a maximum of 65 rooms. But some residents said they feared hotels could pop up on every corner, crowding the beaches and roadways.

On Oct. 6, the COC made a new proposal that keeps the 1,000-foot minimum for all hotels, but allows 600 for the town’s three original hotels: “Each motel/hotel existing prior to [probably 1987, or whenever last hotel was built] shall occupy a lot providing a minimum of 600 square feet of land for each sleeping room, not to exceed a total of 65 sleeping rooms …”

The proposal does not limit the number of hotels in town, and it doesn’t require a moratorium.

However, “I think the fact that any other hotel would have to have 1,000 square feet is going to limit anybody building more hotels because, economically, it’s not feasible,” said Mayor Gene Langan, stating that he liked the proposal.

An entrepreneur could still open a new hotel with 39 rooms.

Some residents still ask what the zoning change will do for Fenwick (although when council members cited the increased room tax revenue, residents also argued that the Town shouldn’t rely solely on motels to fill the Town’s coffers).

Neighbors said they are concerned about the potential for increased traffic on the side roads, should the State require a parking lot without highway entrances.

Fenwick Island could also consider creating a hotel zoning district, although the Town Council was recommended to do that through the Comprehensive Plan process, not through the C&O Committee. Officially, October’s changes would be made to the town code, Chapter 160-2B (Definitions) and Chapter 160-5C(5) (Area Regulations).

In Fenwick, all ordinances must undergo a first reading, public hearing and second reading before the council can vote that they become law.

A public hearing was originally scheduled to precede the Oct. 23 council meeting and a scheduled second reading. But because the proposed ordinance has significantly changed, the council is expected to withdraw last month’s first reading. Then they’ll re-start the process with a new first reading of the revised proposal.

A new public hearing would likely be held just before the November town council meeting and second reading.