Fenwick voters to elect four town council members


Fenwick Island voters will select more than half of the town council when they take to the polls on Saturday, Aug. 1, from 1 to 5 p.m. at town hall. Four seats on the seven-member council are up for election this year, with six candidates in the race.

Two of the candidates — Gene Langan and Roy Williams — are running for re-election to their current seats, while Richard Mais is running for a full term after having been appointed recently to complete remaining weeks of the term of former councilman Todd Smallwood. The three challengers are Lisa Maria Benn, Ann Louise Christ and Julie Lee, who are running in an informal slate with Williams, known collectively as the “Fenwick Four.”

The fourth seat up for election this year is the one that has been held by outgoing Council President/Mayor Audrey Serio, who is leaving the council after 12 years — including nine years as mayor.

Voters must have registered with the Town of Fenwick Island before July 8 to be eligible to vote in the election. Absentee ballots are available for those who cannot vote in person on Aug. 1. An affidavit must be filed with the Town no later than noon on the day prior to the election, and absentee ballots must be received prior 5 p.m. on Aug. 1. Identification is required for anyone who wishes to obtain an absentee ballot and for voters at the polls.

The Town plans to have a notary public on-site for voting on Saturday, in an effort to address concerns aired at the July 24 council meeting about the voting eligibility of those voting on behalf of trusts and other artificial entities. Under state law passed in 2008, those voters must now have a notarized, executed power-of-attorney indicating that they have the voting authority for the property in question.

As is customary, the Coastal Point has posed a slate of questions to the six council candidates, to help voters make an informed choice at the polls on Saturday. Their answers are below, in alphabetical order.

Lisa Benn

Q. What is your position on freeboarding? Discuss your position on mandatory or voluntary freeboarding and the idea of an allowance for additional building height based on freeboard.

A. I believe that “freeboard” should be voluntary. Let homeowners make their own decisions. The Town Code puts other restrictions on building a home — the number of bedrooms and bathrooms and the floor area ratio. In addition, Sussex County has numerous rules about changing the grade of your lot. The Town Code only allows a single-family home to have two living levels. Almost all, if not all, of the lots in Fenwick Island can incorporate “freeboard” and still build two living levels. I would like to see Fenwick Island remain a low-profile community.

Q. What, if anything, do you feel the Town should do to address issues related to flooding and sea-level rise?

A. Sea-level rise is beyond the control of our small community. Minimizing the effects should be our main goal. We should work with state and federal authorities to determine what resources are available to us to accomplish this goal. Localized flooding can be controlled through better drainage. The Town needs to continue to pursue all available options to lessen the flooding problems we face here in Fenwick Island.

Q. Do you feel the Town should look at making changes to regulations on parking, signage or commercial property? If so, what kind of changes would you favor? Are there other changes or programs you would want the Town to explore or support?

A. The Town currently charges non-property owners for parking, and I see no reason to change this policy. The parking problems we are experiencing are those for commercial properties. There needs to be careful planning and discussions before a commercial property is developed.

Regarding signage, the Town Council just approved a 50 percent increase in signage. I think we should monitor how this increase is implemented and make adjustments as necessary. The Council should work with the business community to address their needs while actively seeking input from the citizens to make sure their concerns are also addressed.

Crosswalk safety, speeding and how to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety along Coastal Highway should be a priority. U-turns are also a problem. We should work with the Delaware Department of Transportation to see what changes can be made as they control speed limit, street markings and signal timing along Coastal Highway.

Q. What are your qualifications to serve on the council? Discuss whether and how full-time residency, council meeting attendance and location of a potential council member’s property should impact their qualifications.

A. I have served on the Board of Directors for the Pasadena Junior Chamber of Commerce in Pasadena California, the Board of Trustees for Flint Hill School in Oakton, Va., and I was the president of the Parent’s Association for Flint Hill School, as well. Serving on a governing body is not new to me, and I know what the commitment is.

I was also the accounting manager for a manufacturing firm and the business manager for a nonprofit health policy organization. Using my organizational and technical skills, I feel I have something to offer to the Town Council, as well as bring a new perspective to the Council. I, along with over 80 percent of property owners of Fenwick Island, am considered a non-resident although I have resided here full-time from June to September for the past 15 years and plan on residing here full-time when my son graduates from high school next year. If elected, I plan on attending all council meetings and working on various committees, as well.

Q. Why should voters vote for you on Aug. 1? Is there anything else you feel they should know about you?

A. The voters should know that, as a council member, I would work to preserve the Fenwick Island I fell in love with over 25 years ago. We have beautiful beaches and are considered one of the “quiet resorts.” I believe that the Town Council works for the people. As a member of Town Council, I would listen to them and they would always know where I stand on any issue.

Ann Louise Christ

Q. What is your position on freeboarding? Discuss your position on mandatory or voluntary freeboarding and the idea of an allowance for additional building height based on freeboard.

A. In order for new home builders to receive a reduction in NFIP premiums, the lowest floor of a structure built must be 1 foot or more above the BFE. However, there is no need to raise the roof height to meet this new standard. Existing homes will not be penalized with increased insurance rates.

I am not aware of a property in town where this cannot be applied in order to build a two-story home using the 30-feet-from-the-center-of-the-road restriction. Thus, I am in favor of voluntary freeboarding up to 18 inches with no height increase. Adding height to a building will do nothing to mitigate a foot of floodwater on the ground. Most existing homeowners, including Council members, have already incorporated freeboarding in their homes without adding on to the building height.

Q. What, if anything, do you feel the Town should do to address issues related to flooding and sea-level rise?

A. When the ocean washes over the dunes and the bay waters go over the bulkheads, there is nothing that can be done except evacuate. Homeowners understand that this type of flooding is part of living along the coast. However, when we have stormwater runoff that floods the ground on the bayside, then there are some steps that can be taken.

• Work with the State and County to adopt some feasible stormwater management plans.

• Re-evaluate the outdated drains installed by the Town over a decade ago since they do not work and only intensify flood damage.

I do not believe that we are under immediate pressure to make decisions on sea-level rise. I think we should make educated decisions based on studies made by Delaware’s Sea Level Rise Committee and not be rushed into making possible unnecessary changes at this point.

Q. Do you feel the Town should look at making changes to regulations on parking, signage or commercial property? If so, what kind of changes would you favor? Are there other changes or programs you would want the Town to explore or support?

A. Unfortunately, the town council has already made changes increasing the commercial sign sizes and commercial property setbacks without much input from residents. Parking requirements should also be thoughtfully made so we do not have another situation such as Ropewalk, where there is not adequate parking for their customers.

Some years ago, the Charter and Ordinance Committee recommended changes to the restaurant parking rules so that the square footage of the business determined how many parking spaces and tables were allowed. This has caused problems not only for restaurant customers, but also for homeowners in the immediate area. All commercial properties should have ample parking in the building plan submitted for approval. I also think there should be more concern for pedestrian safety, especially along Coastal Highway, where a priority plan to improve it needs to be made.

Q. What are your qualifications to serve on the council? Discuss whether and how full-time residency, council meeting attendance and location of a potential council member’s property should impact their qualifications.

A. I have had many leadership positions in local, state and national organizations. I feel any homeowner should be eligible to be on council as long as they are able to meet the requirements of a council member as spelled out in the Charter. I find it peculiar that after more than five uncontested elections, some property owners are upset by the candidates who volunteered to run this year, describing us as a “derision.” I want to serve this town because it is the honorable thing to do. I am not a career politician, but rather a responsible and diligent person who has the time to give back to the community I love.

Q. Why should voters vote for you on Aug. 1? Is there anything else you feel they should know about you?

A. Like most of the voters in this town, I want to see Fenwick remain a small family-oriented community. I believe in thoughtful commercial development. I also believe in open, transparent communication with homeowners, allowing them to have a voice in making important decisions, such as height increases, possibly doubling motel density and allowing elevator shafts built above the height restriction, all of which have recently been brought up to the council.

I am saddened by those who want to keep part-time residents off the council. Past council history points out there have been excellent members, such as Harry Haon, who claimed full-time residence elsewhere. About 70 percent of the town consists of part-time residents, and these folks should have a voice in how the town is run. In fact, many of the full-time residents are happy to be snowbirds in the winter. Vicki Carmean’s statement is so true. “It is time for some fresh ocean air to sweep through the Town Hall.”

Gene Langan

Q. What is your position on freeboarding? Discuss your position on mandatory or voluntary freeboarding and the idea of an allowance for additional building height based on freeboard.

A. I have proposed that the Town Council send a survey to all the property owners in Fenwick Island for their opinion about freeboarding. There are 814 houses and lots in Fenwick, and we have had no input from approximately 665 of these owners. The results of the survey will determine my position. As a Council member, I have a fiduciary duty to support the majority.

Q. What, if anything, do you feel the Town should do to address issues related to flooding and sea-level rise?

A. Sea-level rise is a reality and Fenwick is one of the lowest-lying areas on the East Coast. The Town and the State have completed studies with recommendations. We now need to work together to develop plans implementing those recommendations to mitigate the effects of sea-level rise, particularly on the vulnerable bay side properties.

Q. Do you feel the Town should look at making changes to regulations on parking, signage or commercial property? If so, what kind of changes would you favor? Are there other changes or programs you would want the Town to explore or support?

A. The Town convened an Ad Hoc parking committee (2013-2014) that addressed the parking issues and subsequent solutions. I was a member of that committee, and we were able to create more parking spaces on bayside streets. We worked closely with businesses in town and were able to help them find solutions for staff parking. Like all Delaware beach towns, parking is always going to be a problem, and we will continue to seek answers. The current Council has worked very closely with business and commercial entities in Fenwick Island, and if I am on Council, I will continue to work in close cooperation with this important part of F.I.

Q. What are your qualifications to serve on the council? Discuss whether and how full-time residency, council meeting attendance and location of a potential council member’s property should impact their qualifications.

A. Citizens should vote for me because I have been on the Council for six years, and have been vice mayor for three years. I serve on six committees, and I founded and chair the Technology Committee. That makes me more than qualified to continue to serve on the Council. I have more experience, I have great leadership qualities and I have a complete working knowledge of Fenwick Island, more so than any of the new candidates. I believe it is preferable to be a full-time resident of Fenwick Island. Serving on Town Council and on the requisite Committees requires many, many hours of dedicated commitment. Frequent trips in the off-season to Fenwick Island to fulfill these obligations would not be easy.

Q. Why should voters vote for you on Aug. 1? Is there anything else you feel they should know about you?

A. Voters should vote for me because of my qualifications listed in Question 4. In addition, I co-founded two health care service companies which were subsequently sold to public companies, and I served on the Boards of Directors of 10-plus entities. My major issues are sea-level rise and pedestrian safety.

Julie Lee

Q. What is your position on freeboarding? Discuss your position on mandatory or voluntary freeboarding and the idea of an allowance for additional building height based on freeboard.

A. Freeboarding makes sense. Whether mandated or voluntary, I cannot imagine anyone building or remodeling a home in a coastal area without incorporating freeboard into their plan. It protects property and helps with insurance costs. Most homes in Fenwick Island already have freeboard. It can be done within the current height limit. The height limit in Fenwick Island is an emotional issue. I support maintaining the current height limit. Any discussion about height limit changes must include the entire community. Any decisions must reflect the desires of the property owners.

Q. What, if anything, do you feel the Town should do to address issues related to flooding and sea-level rise?

A. The Town should provide residents with the information available, and coordinate with local, state and federal agencies. We must effectively address drainage issues. Larger issues must be addressed cautiously. Some manmade attempts to “control” water have caused more damage than good. There is no fooling Mother Nature. We must continuously update our safety and evacuation plan.

Q. Do you feel the Town should look at making changes to regulations on parking, signage or commercial property? If so, what kind of changes would you favor? Are there other changes or programs you would want the Town to explore or support?

A. Fenwick Island is, first and foremost, a quiet residential community. We should encourage small-business owners to come to our town. We also must preserve our unique character. Any changes to regulations and zoning need to be done thoughtfully and carefully, and with community input. The Council’s primary focus must be on public safety and residential impact. The community must have trust in the decision-making process of their elected officials.

Q. What are your qualifications to serve on the council? Discuss whether and how full-time residency, council meeting attendance and location of a potential council member’s property should impact their qualifications.

A. I served on the F.I. beach committee for several years. I served on the Honolulu Council commission that administered over $10 million in federal HUD grants annually.

I have a degree in economics from UVA. As a military wife, I have spent my life serving as a volunteer, chairing or presiding over more than a dozen civic, school and church organizations. I am an experienced leader, organizer and fundraiser with strong budget and managerial skills. I am a consensus builder.

Discussions about full- and part-time residency and property location are nothing more than silly and divisive distractions to draw attention away from the true qualifications of the candidates. It has been going on for years. Important qualifications are the willingness and ability to serve. After many years with no elections, it is good that we have candidates committed to serve. All of the candidates are qualified and available to fulfill the obligations of the office.

Q. Why should voters vote for you on Aug. 1? Is there anything else you feel they should know about you?

A. There is no place on earth that I love more than Fenwick Island. I have been coming here almost 60 years and have had my home here over 15 years. I am eager, willing and qualified to serve in this important position of leadership and responsibility. I understand the concepts and issues at hand. I will communicate with residents and will be responsive to the community. I am serious about my commitment to Fenwick Island. Together we can preserve the best of it and work carefully to improve it.

Richard Mais

Q. What is your position on freeboarding? Discuss your position on mandatory or voluntary freeboarding and the idea of an allowance for additional building height based on freeboard.

A. I support voluntary freeboarding and an allowance for additional building height. The recent flooding, most notably during Sandy, illustrates the need for addressing the issues of future flooding and rising seas. Freeboarding and an increase in the building height are the best ways to provide for the safety of our property owners and their guests and to decrease the damage to our properties. Most of our neighboring towns and communities have already allowed freeboarding and raised building heights as appropriate. There have been no adverse effects from this as far as I know.

Q. What, if anything, do you feel the Town should do to address issues related to flooding and sea-level rise?

A. As mentioned in the answer to the first question, I think freeboarding and a corresponding increase in the building height is one step we can take. The Town also should continue exploring the elevations of our streets and possibly raising them where appropriate to help mitigate severe flooding. I think the continuation of beach replenishment, as needed, will greatly help the Town prevent damage from rising sea levels.

Q. Do you feel the Town should look at making changes to regulations on parking, signage or commercial property? If so, what kind of changes would you favor? Are there other changes or programs you would want the Town to explore or support?

A. I think the Town has done an excellent job of addressing issues on parking, signage and commercial property as they have come up. I agree with all the recent changes that provided a balance between the needs of our residential and commercial property owners. I am satisfied with the regulations we have in place now, however, as new issues and concerns arise, I would work for reasonable, fair changes for the common good of us all.

Q. What are your qualifications to serve on the council? Discuss whether and how full-time residency, council meeting attendance and location of a potential council member’s property should impact their qualifications.

A. I am a year-round full-time resident of Fenwick Island since 1992 and property owner since 1983. I have served three different times on the Town Council and held the positions of treasurer and commissioner of beach safety. I have owned and operated a small business, McCabe’s Gourmet Market in South Bethany, Del., with my wife, Rebecca, for 30 years. We raised two children here in Fenwick Island.

I have extensive involvement and experience with the community as a life member of the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company (which has a Station No. 2 located in Fenwick Island), president-elect of the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, member of the Fenwick Island Planning Commission, the River Soccer Club and Friends of the South Coastal Library.

With all of these different experiences and living here full-time for 30 years, I feel that I have the qualifications to represent all of the residents of Fenwick Island. As I know from previous terms on the Town Council, it is important that our Council members be here full-time to address the issues and problems facing out Town as they come up. Our Town operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Q. Why should voters vote for you on Aug. 1? Is there anything else you feel they should know about you?

A. I am a candidate with an open mind to the issues and changes facing out Town. I want to maintain Fenwick Island as a friendly, safe town for our families. I am committed to maintaining the quaintness and family atmosphere of Fenwick Island. We own two of the oldest remaining “cottages” in Fenwick Island. My sister-in-law, Dr. Kimberly Grimes, is the president of the Fenwick Island Historical Society. My wife’s grandfather, Vance McCabe, was on the original Town Council that incorporated and founded the Town of Fenwick Island.

Roy Williams

Q. What is your position on freeboarding? Discuss your position on mandatory or voluntary freeboarding and the idea of an allowance for additional building height based on freeboard.

A. I would support an 18-inch voluntary freeboard with no increase in building height.

Q. What, if anything, do you feel the Town should do to address issues related to flooding and sea-level rise?

A. The Town paid for studies on flooding and sea-level rise. After hearing the results, I feel a lot more discussion is needed by council and residents on what can be done. Some people have already raised their lots to street level or higher with fill dirt before they build. Living on a barrier island has risks, and everyone who lives here made the choice knowing the risks.

Q. Do you feel the Town should look at making changes to regulations on parking, signage or commercial property? If so, what kind of changes would you favor? Are there other changes or programs you would want the Town to explore or support?

A. I support no changes to parking regulations at this time. The Town made recent changes to signage and flag displays and commercial property regulations. I would like the voter registration procedures revised.

Q. What are your qualifications to serve on the council? Discuss whether and how full-time residency, council meeting attendance and location of a potential council member’s property should impact their qualifications.

A. I served on the council for two years. Also, I have been on five committees (Charter & Ordinance, Budget, Parks, Beach and Environment). I owned and operated a small business in McLean, Va., with up to 20 employees for 30 years. In Fenwick, four council members must live within 50 miles of the Town. The other three can live anywhere. All committed council members will make their pledge to attend meetings and participate, so where they live should make no difference to their qualifications.

Q. Why should voters vote for you on Aug. 1? Is there anything else you feel they should know about you?

A. I would like people to know that I’d like to be part of the future of Fenwick Island and try to keep it family-oriented, safe and a place where people still want to spend their time in one of the few remaining oases along the East Coast.