Typically, the name “Bora Bora” evokes images of calm, tranquil beaches and relaxing comfort. But in Fenwick Island, the name is currently at the center of discontent and controversy. On Wednesday, May 29, the town council voted unanimously at a public hearing to approve the subdivision of two lots into three on Bora Bora Street, much to the dismay of some surrounding property owners.
According to the Fenwick Island Town Code, the area of a dwelling on residential property must be a minimum of 5,000 square feet, with a minimum width of 50 feet at the front building line. The proposed subdivided lots at 1401 Bora Bora Street, acquired by Frank Sherman earlier this year, all fall into those required dimensions.
However, the waterfront property overlooking the Little Assawoman Bay has many area residents fearing that building on the undeveloped land would take away from the town’s aesthetics and safety, and pose environmental issues. The 20 homeowners who own property around the proposed subdivision were notified of the May 29 hearing, and may offered opposition.
“My concern is that not only are we going to have three houses instead of two,” said Fenwick Island homeowner Lynn Andrews, “but are we committed to protecting our bay? It’s going to be two more docks. It’s going to be at least two more boats, and I don’t know how many [personal watercraft], but that’s what happens when this gets subdivided and broken up. It just pollutes more.”
Hans Siemers voiced his opinion, citing that his view of the bay would not only be obscured, but would affect the reselling of his home in the future.
“Clearly, from the square footage, it seems to fit the town council requirements,” he noted. “However, there are other things that come into play. First of all, when you look at the east side of Bora Bora Street, our view from our house and those homes [around us] will disappear. With the disappearance of that view, our property value will decrease. Also, I fear that Bora Bora Street will become an extension of Coastal Highway.”
He recommended a traffic light be put up at the corner of Bora Bora and Houston streets, to regulate traffic.
“I think it’s very unfortunate that we forget that we call ourselves the Quiet Resorts and change it willy-nilly... for profit’s sake,” he added.
Ginger Thomas was also concerned with the increase traffic that development would bring in, as children frequent the area.
“We’ve had our house for some years,” she said. “We played there, our children play there and our grandchildren play there, because it is Fenwick Island. Kids run across the streets. They play basketball. This is the place we want our children to grow up. This is going to add more traffic. I’m concerned about the youngsters and grandchildren that play there. We kept the same cottage structure. New houses are going up and can’t look out at the bay now, and we can’t stop the progress. I would ask that the council think about our children, the bays and traffic.”
Fenwick Island homeowner John Walker made some renovations to his home in the past and said he chose to keep the style the way it had been around town.
“I redid my home years ago,” he said. “People asked me why I didn’t tear it down and put up [a new home]. I wanted to maintain the atmosphere and character of the community that has been here for decades. Even if this has been allowed before, I think it is a bad thing to continue to allow, and I’m adamantly against it.”
David Shumate said he fears the maximum build-out on the three lots would take away from the town’s aesthetics.
“You’re taking a small house on picturesque street,” he said. “They’re going to build the maximum footprint. That’s changing the character at end of the street. It will diminish property values, increase traffic. I know it will bring in tax dollars to the town, which is a big deal sometimes, but we need to think about keeping the scenic beauty of that area.”
Members of the council sympathized with concerns from property owners, noting that over the years, they, too, have had development take away their views. Mayor Audrey Serio noted that lot joining and subdividing has occurred a number of times within the town limits, assuring opponents that the proposed subdivision was not an exception to the town’s regulations.
“I understand where people are coming from with their comments and opinions,” said Councilman Chris Clark, “and I understand the town ordinances allow for this subdivision to take place. I do sympathize with what everyone is feeling, as far as environmental issues and size of houses. I encourage people to get involved with the town’s committees. The bottom line is the time to work on these issues is in the proactive fashion and not a reactive fashion. The town does specifically allow for this to take place.”
“My main concern was to make sure that each one of the proposed divisions contained the 5,000 square feet, which is mandated by our ordinances,” agreed Councilwoman Vicky Carmean. “And it’s obvious to me that each of the proposed lots meets that mandate.”
She noted that the town would face legal and financial challenges if the council voted on emotions and not by the rule of town code.
“I understand what people are saying,” said Councilman Todd Smallwood, “but it fits in with our current ordinances. It would be different if they were asking for something that’s not written in, but, at this point, I must support what’s on the table.”
The council then unanimously voted to approve the subdivision of the lot from two to three separate lots.
Building designs for the subdivision have not been confirmed or submitted to the town, but the lots, situated in a residential district, would allow for single-family homes to be built on each of the three new properties.
Frank Sherman, who was attending his child’s high-school graduation on the day of the public hearing and was thus unable to attend, was represented at the hearing by Greg Hook of Simpler Survey and Camilla Conlon, a family friend and sales agent with Jack Lingo Realty in Rehoboth Beach.