On Friday, Aug. 27, the Fenwick Island town council held its regular monthly meeting, and Councilman Gene Langan presented a brief update on the preliminary design phase of the town’s future Public Service Building.
Soil bearing tests were completed on two sites by Salisbury, Md., based company Hillis-Carnes Engineering and Associates Inc, and the town is currently awaiting the results. The two potential sites for the building include one next to the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company substation and the other on an adjacent lot, next to the town’s Public Works building.
“Initial schematic drawings have been done for one site, and they are being refined,” explained Langan. “What we’re going to be doing for the next several weeks is meeting with the architect again and refining the drawings so we can get it down to a place where we can complete Phase 1. Phase 1 is when we determine the cost of what the building might be.”
Councilman Bill Weistling Jr. added the town is also considering whether the building should be one or two stories tall.
At last Friday’s meeting, one resident questioned what the constant is, when it comes to the planning for the future building. Lagnan plainly answered, “The constant is cost. So there are different options for different costs. We’re just trying to budget the thing so it’s feasible.”
Weistling noted that the town council hopes to put the project out to bid in such a way that contractors will submit multiple bids, for both the one- and two-story designs the town will have drawn up.
Town officials have met with Police Chief William Boyden to discuss what his department’s needs are, with plans to try to design the building to those specifications.
“We started with Chief Boyden. That’s really been the first phase, is getting with him and deciding what his needs are – the sizes of the rooms, the floor plan that he needs. The architect has drawn out preliminarily what’s on the first floor,” said Weistling.
The council is also considering creating an area for the Fenwick Island Beach Patrol within the building, which could potentially place them in second-story offices or on the first floor, with the police department, but with separate entrances – all depending on room availability and costs.
“This should be interesting as we go along,” concluded Mayor Audrey Serio.
Code revisions could address commercial use in residential zone
Town officials spent a good deal of time at the Aug. 27 meeting discussing zoning and residential-use requirements.
Weistling, who is also a member of the Charter and Ordinance Committee, reported that the committee discussed the possible revision of Chapter 160-4, with “the purpose being to improve our existing ordinance in regard to the commercial uses allowed in a residential zone.”
The question of permitted commercial uses in a residential zone arose after the town became aware that a residential structure was being advertised and leased as a location to hold events.
Weistling went on to inform council that he had researched what other municipalities have in their town codes regarding gatherings at residential properties. He said he found that some towns are extremely strict, limiting residents to four gatherings per year, with the guest count at 100 people or less. He noted that such a strict code would be difficult to enforce and goes beyond what the town is trying to accomplish.
“We ran the whole gamut. What we decided to do… Our goal is to try to allow events in a residential area, to not be too restrictive on the property owners or renters. But we also wanted to consider the issue of troublesome properties or parties, in regard to noise, parking, security, etcetera,” he explained.
Serio added, “We need to know what we’re trying to accomplish, not just write something that wasn’t really accomplishing what we were setting out to do.”
Town officials repeated last Friday that they had no problem with residents having gatherings at their homes, for special events or otherwise; council members stated their concern was the use of residential properties for large-scale events.
“This is not just about rental properties. If somebody has 150 people and there is problems from that 150 people, do we have that in the code? We’re not just targeting rental houses. This is large events. What we’re trying to do is look at our code, see if we need to put in anything conditional. Again, when this is all said and done, there may not be any changes, but we’re looking to make sure that we are protecting our residents,” said Serio.
Residents commenting at the Aug. 27 meeting said they were concerned that residential properties could be used as commercial properties, outside of renting the homes for residential uses.
“We have residential, and we can accommodate our residents, but we don’t want any business in that residential, is what it boils down to,” said resident Lynn Andrews, arguing that large one-time events should be brought to the attention of the town by the resident or host.
“It’s all implied, but it’s not in writing,” responded Councilwoman Vicki Carmean.
Carmean, who is also a member of the Charter and Ordinance Committee, stated that the town needs to “strike a balance.”
“We don’t want to infringe on anybody’s rights as a property owner or as a person who’s renting a property for vacation. It was an effort to maintain that balance between what we want in a residential area and what a businessperson might visualize in a residential area,” she said.
Council requested that any interested residents submit comments prior to or attend the Charter and Ordinance Committee meeting, at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 7, at town hall.
Also at the Aug. 27 council meeting, Beach Patrol Capt. Tim Ferry informed council during his report that Fenwick beaches would be fully staffed for Labor Day weekend and the lifeguards would be vigilant in tracking storms, with recent rough conditions from Hurricane Danielle’s presence off the coast and anticipated impacts from Hurricane Earl’s expected brush with the coast this weekend.
He also reported that, since the third week in June, the town’s three beach wheelchairs and ATV [all terrain vehicles] have been used approximately 160 times by beachgoers.
Wesitling asked if the increased number of wheelchair and ATV usage was due to abuse of the availability or was truly based on need. Ferry said the equipment privileges have not been abused but were by beach visitors who had actual need.
“We have other people who have undergone recent surgery — back, leg, ankle, those sorts of things. So they’re legitimate concerns that people have of not being able to walk in the sand and being able to get up and over those dunes,” he said. “What’s happening is word of mouth. We get phone calls all the time, ‘What does it take to reserve them?’ Word has spread – especially the last couple of years.”
In a recent public works report, Carmean said, she had read that some lifeguard stands needed to be repaired and replaced.
“Are you having problems with vandalism or is it just age?” she asked Ferry.
“I would probably say it’s more on the side of vandalism,” Ferry replied. “Some is just wear and tear — needing new boards and things like that. But a couple of the cases during the summer we had some stands thrown into the water. One of them – I guess someone tried to light it on fire. It was charred when we came out in the morning.”
With each occurrence of vandalism Ferry said he has notified and worked with the police department to make them aware of the situation. However, he said, the vandalism “isn’t anything regular.”
Council congratulated Ferry on the combined Sussex County lifeguard team placing second in the national lifeguard championships in California this year. Beating teams from Hawaii, San Diego and Daytona Beach, Sussex County came in second only to Los Angeles County.
“It was a phenomenal effort, not only by our guys that went out but when we compete at the nationals, it’s as Sussex County. All the lifeguards from Rehoboth to Fenwick Island, and we did this, pretty much on their turf, against the best in the country, and we had less than 40 lifeguards,” said Ferry, adding, “We really appreciate all the help from the town and the Chamber of Commerce and the businesses.”
Donations and fundraising helped put together the funds to pay for the travel costs for the county lifeguard team to get to California and back.