Fenwick Island OKs outside dining

Despite opposition, Fenwick Island Town Council approved an ordinance on July 27, allowing restaurants within the town to provide outside dining. The ordinance was drafted at the request of Gabriel Mancini, owner of Mancini’s Family Restaurant.

Under the ordinance — which approved with only outgoing Councilwoman Martha Keller dissenting — outside dining areas are limited to a total of 700 square feet.

Much of the controversy about the ordinance surrounds the fact that restaurants would not have to offer additional parking spots for outside dining patrons. Fenwick Island code mandates that a restaurant provide a parking spot for every three seats or every 75 square feet of area where customers are served inside.

Many who opposed the ordinance worried that the ordinance was intended to be exclusive to Mancini’s and could create a precedent in town. Peter Frederick, the town’s former mayor who lost in his re-election bid in Saturday’s council election, worried that business owners would circumvent parking requirements by offering mostly outdoor dining, further exacerbating a parking problem in town.

“I don’t think Mancini’s outdoor dining is going to cause a problem,” Frederick allowed. “What could cause a problem is what happens when somebody buys Libby’s lot or the Atlantic Sands. Most of your seating would be outside. If you don’t have to buy land for parking spots, it’s cheaper than if you do,” Frederick said. “Anybody that comes into town that has to build a new restaurant, it’s going to be an outdoor restaurant. It’s not going to be for old guys that go to bed at 10. It may be for a different crowd.”

Mancini, citing controversy surrounding the now-approved ordinance, refused to comment for this article. He first requested the change three years ago, but former councils largely dismissed the plan. Mayor Audrey Serio confirmed a vocal opposition to the plan but said insinuations that Fenwick Island would morph into a Dewey Beach-type atmosphere, where raucous partying at outdoor restaurants are the norm, are absurd.

Serio has also consistently argued that parking is maxed out in town and, despite more seats, more patrons will already have nowhere to park and will therefore not exacerbate the problem. She said the ordinance’s passage instead represents a change in town policy regarding the necessity for change itself, to help business owners continue to profit in town and other residents prosper.

The mayor said she hoped this change and others will run parallel with the implementation of the town’s first comprehensive plan, which will shape growth policy. The plan has been submitted to the state for approval and officials hope to have it approved by the end of the year.

“You have to come to a point where it is reasonable, where it makes sense or doesn’t make sense. You can always come up with a ‘What if?’” Serio said. “Nobody is going to buy a piece of property (and strictly offer outside dining). Property is too valuable. It doesn’t even make sense.”

Under the ordinance, alcoholic beverages are allowed in outside service areas but music is not, and those areas must close by 11 p.m. nightly. Outside service areas also cannot encroach on areas already reserved for parking or a property’s setbacks. Four businesses in town — Dairy Queen, Charlie’s, Captain Pete’s and The Quail — already offer outside dining, having been allowed under a grandfathering clause. Councilman Chris Clark noted at the July 27 council meeting that there have been no complaints about those restaurants.

Under the new ordinance, the outside service rights of any restaurant “may be suspended or revoked” if three or more violations are found in a year. A motion to change the “may” element of the provision to a “shall,” in an attempt to strengthen the enforcement aspect of the ordinance, was defeated.