Fenwick open house attracts crowd

More than 40 people attended an open house in Fenwick Island on Saturday, Feb. 3 to offer their vision and input on how the town should grow moving forward. Officials had hoped that Saturday’s meeting would begin a massive public-input gathering phase of work on the town’s state-mandated comprehensive plan, which will serve as a guiding document for future town land-use and design decisions.

The crowd Saturday was divided between out-of-state property owners — a tribute to the town’s communication techniques — and year-round residents, who normally follow town workings more closely. Most officials seemed pleased with the turnout — especially for early February, when many are out of the area.

“I’m really pleased with the turnout and the cooperation we are getting,” said Audrey Serio, Fenwick Island’s mayor. “I just hope we get more input from folks that don’t come down until summer.”

The town’s comprehensive plan is due to the state for approval by fall of this year. Those working closely on the plan have said they will consider all public comments while drafting the document. Many on Saturday took advantage of specific comment sheets that asked for public opinion on the major planning themes: population, housing, community character and redevelopment,

Town officials plan to send out mailings soon and then surveys to further gauge public opinion regarding future growth and design of the town. They even hope to reach long-time renters by contacting local real estate agents.

Through a comprehensive plan link on Fenwick Island’s Web site at www.fenwickisland.org, anyone can also find conceptual images, digital presentations from previous meetings and dates for future meetings. Comments can also be submitted digitally at the site. The mailers and the Web site, officials hope, will be especially helpful for gathering the opinions of the two-thirds of Fenwick Island’s property owners who live out of town, and their families.

“(We want to reach) all generations,” said Chris Clark, Comprehensive Plan Working Group member and town councilman. “The feedback from an 80-year-old will be different from that of a 10-year-old.”

Conceptual plans to redevelop commercial properties so that they directly front Route 1, with parking in the back, initiated discussion and garnered much attention at Saturday’s meeting. Trees line the sidewalks along the major highway in the conceptual images, and the placement of stores created an inviting and more cohesive streetscape that would encourage more foot traffic along the sidewalk, officials have said.

Implementing the redevelopment strategy would require zoning changes, however. And contrasts in opinion — with some directly aimed at commercial redevelopment — were again on display Saturday.

“You can only do so much with the commercial area,” said Jim Holnick, who calls suburban Philadelphia home most of the year. “I’d like to keep (Fenwick) the way it is.”

“I like the village concept,” added Gretchen Collins, co-owner of Southern Exposure and full-time town resident. “This way you get people walking up and down. You get more (foot) traffic. I think it’s excellent.”

Commercial redevelopment has been a popular issue — or unpopular, depending on the speaker’s perspective — in the early planning stages. Bluegreen consultants, who specialize in urban planning and design and were hired by the town late last year, have suggested mixed-used buildings with commercial space on the bottom and residential space above.

Such properties could solve two current problems, officials have said, by making commercial property more affordable for businesses to stay in the town and owners to continue to rent for commercial use, while also providing affordable housing for a middle-class workforce. Town property values have skyrocketed in the last decade, sometimes by hundreds of thousands of dollars, pushing many commercial property owners to redevelop for high-dollar residential use alone.

Town consultants have made it clear, though, that it is their position to offer suggestions and potential solutions — such as the mixed-use concept — and not to make final decisions for the town.

“It’s not Bluegreen’s role really to take a position,” Bryan Harding, a consultant and architect with Colorado-based Bluegreen, said last week. “What we’re attempting to do there is to guide the working group and the public to make these decisions.”