County planning officials deferred again last week a decision on a proposed revamp to the 20-year-old Viking Golf Amusements and Thunder Lagoon Waterpark at the intersection of Routes 1 and 54, just outside Fenwick Island town limits.
Dansk LLC, owners of the business and property since 1987, have applied for a required conditional use from the county, since all amusement uses require special permission, even in the C-1 commercial district in which the property lies.
The plan calls for modernization and improvement of the site west of alley-like Virginia Avenue, to the west of the existing mini-golf and go-cart track. The 1.35-acre parcel currently houses the water park, with its slides and Viking-themed children’s pool, and 18 paved parking spaces, as well as a parking for 15 vehicles on gravel and room for seven more in a grassy area designed for overflow parking.
Dansk LLC is asking to change the facility to not only make improvements to the existing water park — which was built in 1977 or 1978 — with taller, more modern water slides, but also to add an additional miniature golf course along the front and west side of the parcel. The plan also calls for 39 parking spaces, with relocation of the existing parking area from Route 54 to the rear of the site. The parking spaces, they said, might also be improved with GeoBlock pavers, which are not impervious to rain and runoff, rather than solid paving.
The project has netted support from the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce. Chamber Executive Director Karen McGrath told the Coastal Point this week, “(Dansk’s) Tor (Anderson) requested our support for the improvements that they were planning, and we talked to them about whether they had the necessary land. Their goal is to improve the current slides, which are outdated, so that they can remain competitive.
“I absolutely support it,” McGrath added. “There are not that many things to do in the Bethany-Fenwick area. This is an important component of what the place has to offer.”
McGrath said she recognized that some opposition to the project had been raised, particularly over the Fenwick Island’s area’s perpetual worry: a lack of parking for commercial customers and visitors.
“They say they think they will have adequate parking,” McGrath said. “And the goal isn’t to attract more customers — it’s not to lose customers who might think their kids are getting too big for the old slides.”
The project has also garnered letters of support or non-opposition from the Delaware Department of Transportation and the Town of Fenwick Island.
However, Scott Fornwalt, who owns the Fenwick Island Crab House, just across the existing parking lot from the water park, has formally stated his opposition to the plan, citing an existing shortage of parking in the area that already has his employees and some customers parking distant from the restaurant.
Residents Patricia Riggin, Joseph Reed, Betsy Mitchell, V.M. Hall, Freddie Mitchell and Virginia Cunningham also spoke in opposition to the application at an Aug. 9 public hearing before the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission and expressed their own concerns about such things as water runoff and the lack of need for another miniature golf course in that immediate area, which already sports three such businesses.
They also spoke about existing parking problems in the area, saying that the proposed parking is not adequate and that customers park on properties owned by others.
The opponents further stated their concerns about problems with noise, late-night hours, a lack of striping on the streets, the height of the miniature golf displays, night lighting, safety concerns, fencing heights, debris and trash, what they said are inadequate toilet facilities, as well as Dumpster locations, the nearby wetlands, the capacity of the pools on the water park and congestion.
Dansk LLC’s Anderson, attorney Dennis Schrader and Ken Christenbury of Axiom Engineering rebutted most of the complaints, emphasizing that the plan was intended to, along with modernizing the water park, improve traffic and parking concerns, with 21 spaces being provided for the water park and 18 for the mini-golf, and the relocation of the parking lot designed to improve traffic flow.
They told commissioners they believe the parking proposed will prove adequate and that they will post signage to designate parking areas for the customers.
The water park is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, seven days per week from mid-June to Labor Day. Water park activities peak between noon and 4 p.m., they said, and the water park is closed during inclement weather.
The new proposed golf course will be open for limited hours from April or May to September or October, and full-time during the summer months. They estimated that 85 percent of the volume for the golf course will be during July and August. It would be open from 10 a.m. to midnight, with golf course activities expected to peak after dinner.
The Dansk LCC representatives said that 10 years ago the water park had received some complaints about music volume, and that since they reduced the volume there have been no complaints.
The water for the water park is recycled. Less than 1,000 gallons are backwashed into the county sewer system to which it is connected, according to the owners. While no additional restroom facilities are proposed, county sewer engineers questioned whether existing 6-inch sewer mains on both properties would be adequate. They requested the right to further comment on the issue, as well as a concept plan and a further voice as a detailed plan is presented to the county.
Concerns about wetlands in the area were rejected by the applicants, whose engineers asserted that the drainage swale and the small shallow depression observed on the site appeared to result from uncontrolled surface water runoff from adjacent properties and that the wet areas would therefore not be federally regulated.
They further said that there have been no security problems on the site and that no alcohol is permitted there.
The new water slides are planned to reach no more than 42 feet at the top of the tower, with a platform at 33 feet above grade. Privacy fencing is to be erected for screening. Finally, they said they have no objections to a Town of Fenwick Island suggestion that a stop sign be erected at the parking lot entrance to ensure vehicle and pedestrian safety.
Commissioners weighed the concerns expressed by the opponents of the conditional use at the Aug. 9 hearing, along with a large booklet of information provided by the applicants, before deferring action. They said they were still pondering the issues when the conditional use appeared on the commission’s Aug. 23 agenda for further action.
They deferred action again last week, with the conditional use application expected to appear on another future P&Z agenda before some kind of final word is given by the county planners.