Fenwick open house scheduled Saturday

An open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at Fenwick Island Town Hall will begin what officials hope to be a massive public-input-gathering phase of work on the town’s comprehensive plan.

The state-mandated plan — and the town’s first — will, as one councilman put it, “lay the groundwork” for future town ordinances, land use and design decisions. The plan is due to the state for approval by this fall.

“We would really like to get as many people from the public on Saturday to get as many opinions as possible,” said Bryan Harding, a Colorado-based consultant and architect working on the project. “The goal is to gather public input.”

As was the case during a recent teleconference, officials plan to discuss ideas related to population, housing, redevelopment, community character and infrastructure. After a Friday-afternoon working-group meeting that will essentially serve as a “dress-rehearsal,” officials plan to present the information and ideas gathered in recent weeks to the public through digital presentations and stations, which will be manned by officials working on the plan.

Sheets for public comment will be available on Saturday. Officials noted that all public comments will be considered before drafting a plan to best meet the wishes of the majority.

“If you’re able to talk to people one-on-one, you will find about 90 percent of the things people want are the same,” said Chris Clark, a town councilman, working group member and long-time proponent of the plan. “(But) I totally expect the feedback to run the full spectrum from people. That’s going to be part of the whole learning process.”

Contrasts in opinion have especially been on display recently with relation to redevelopment of the town. Rising property values in the last decade and what some call “anti-business” town ordinances have translated into a lack of recent commercial investments. The town is showing signs of strictly becoming an upscale residential haven – something that worries some but not others.

While some argue that a town needs commercial base to attract visitors and affordable housing to attract a workforce, others contend that the Town of Fenwick Island was founded as a beach resort and have said that that vision should remain. Such differences in opinion will undoubtedly make drafting the document more difficult, but are not unusual, according to Harding, who works with Bluegreen Aspen, the town’s planning consultant.

“Anything involving the public process is going to have that difference of opinion,” Harding said. “What we’re looking for is to create a plan that meets the needs of the most people and keeps everybody happy.”

Harding and Sheri Sanzone, another Bluegreen planner working closely with town officials, have suggested mixed-use buildings; placing commercial space on the bottom of a building with residential space on top could make the property easier to afford while still helping property owners turn a profit. Such solutions could also solve an affordable-housing problem, mainly that there is none within limits for a middle-class workforce.

Affordable housing — not government subsidized low-income housing, officials noted — could help attract nurses, teachers and others necessary to the positive growth of a community and its practical workforce.

Harding noted, though, that Bluegreen – a firm hired late last year despite competition two local organizations because Bluegreen also plans to assist with implementing a design plan for the town – will merely make suggestions, leaving town officials and residents to make ultimate decisions.

“It’s not Bluegreen’s role really to take a position. What we’re attempting to do there is to guide the working group and the public to make these decisions.”

Given that roughly two-thirds of Fenwick’s property owners live elsewhere, public participation was an early concern surrounding the work on the plan.

Town officials hope to send out a newsletter to all town property owners to update them on work and future meeting dates and times. The public can also submit comments through the comprehensive plan Web page at www.fenwickisland.org.

The working group and Bluegreen plan to consider all comments before drafting the plan, officials have said. The public comment phase will likely end a couple weeks prior to the consultants’ next visit to the town, Clark said, giving them time to prepare a document the public will have another chance to comment on later.

Bluegreen officials will return in late March to present an initial draft of the plan. Public hearings to consider changes and the ultimate adoption will follow.