Fenwick officials still struggling with wedding house

Fenwick Island is still grappling with the “wedding house,” one of two houses inside town limits that is currently being advertised as a wedding reception facility. Town Council Member Todd Smallwood informed the council at their June 25 meeting that it was still being “advertised as of today.” The advertisement was still online on Tuesday, June 29.

Smallwood said he did not even know that there had been wedding receptions at the house, and that Fenwick Island police officers had been providing security there, until he was told my a member of the community.

“That hurt me as a council person,” he said. He also said he had no problem with police officers working other jobs, but said the problem he has is that the officers are being used by a company that is consistently non-conforming to town ordinances.

Town Manager Win Abbott reported at the May council meeting that the property management company had been asked to pay for extra-duty police officers at such events – something some of the council members questioned because of legal and insurance reasons.

“If Warren’s [was doing it] they are recognized business in town with a business license with us,” said Smallwood, adding that, if police officers were needed there, it would be different. “At this reception hall, it looks like we are condoning a non-conforming use.” He also asked Abbott if he knew that there had been another wedding last week. Abbott said he would refer it to the town attorney.

“That’s not what I asked,” said Smallwood, to which Abbott replied that he didn’t know about every “backyard barbecue” in town. Mayor Audrey Serio said she was “in conversation with our attorney about this specific issue right now.”

She explained that the issue is that the house, located at 38 W. Atlantic Street and managed by Resort Pointe, is being advertised as a reception hall.

“The situation of having a wedding reception on my porch or yours is fine, but the problem is you cannot advertise for a specific enterprise in a residential area, and he is doing that, and it’s not the first time,” said Serio. “It’s a big problem, but that’s it in a nutshell. We are not targeting a specific house but a problem of commercial advertising in a residential area. This is the problem that has to stop.”

Serio said she had plans to check with the town attorney on any repercussions if the town were to allow the facility to continue with two fall events they know are already planned.

Councilwoman Vicki Carmean added that she thought the issue had been resolved several years ago. She said that, after reading the code book, she could find nothing specific about what can and cannot happen in a residential area.

Carmean also said she was under the impression that the house had already received two citations for violating town code – three would warrant loss of its rental license – but she said she found out recently that there had been only one citation.

“Where does that leave us for security for the two fall weddings?” she asked.

Serio answered that the only thing on the books for police officers performing extra duty was that they could’t work in a bar or tavern.

“If it’s an area of concern, our policy manual needs to be addressed and it needs to be done immediately,” said Serio.

Abbott said the police officers who provided security at the facility were paid directly, without any involvement from the town. Councilman Gardner Bunting added that if they were using a Fenwick Island police car, the town should be compensated for the use of that car, and Councilman Bill Weistling Jr. added that providing security should not be allowed, as it could be a possible conflict of interest.

The mayor said she would appoint an ad hoc committee to work with the chief of police on the Extra Duty Policy for officers. She said was in the process of speaking to the town solicitor about how to effectively stop the advertising. She also expressed concern about allowing the fall events that were planned.

“What about a very strongly worded letter that says, ‘No way,’ and be very open that this is not an acceptable practice,” suggested former mayor Pete Frederick.

Abbott said later that the proper way to consider the issue was through due process, and if the town planned to revise the policy or the law, they would do it thoughtfully and in conjunction with the solicitor.

In other news from the June 25 council meeting:

• The Fenwick Island Town Council approved the Public Safety Building Committee’s recommendation of French and Ryan of Georgetown for architectural and engineering services regarding a Public Safety Building. French and Ryan have experience in the area and in public safety architecture, said the mayor. They were the firm that worked on the South Bethany town hall and public safety building.

The town will initially be looking at a preliminary design cost estimate for the project and the council is still considering whether to join it to the existing building leased to the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company or to build a free-standing building.

Frederick asked if they had looked at modifying town hall and if they had considered the “total needs of the town.” Serio said, yes, they had, and when the feasibility study was complete, “we’ll know exactly why we went the route we went.”

“We’ll look at whatever is out there, the best route for the money,” she added.

• The council also approved a first reading of an amendment to Chapter 127, Sanitation, which adds definitions, as well as recyclables and yard waste the wording. They also approved a second reading of Chapter 131, Sewers, with new subsections to make it “less wordy” and to add violations and penalties.

• The annual Fenwick Island bonfire is set for Saturday, July 3, from 6:30 to 10 p.m., at Dagsboro Street, on the beach.