Fenwick comp plan work now under way

Roughly two-thirds of Fenwick Island’s property owners do not live in the Delaware coastal town full-time. Updating those taxpayers with meeting dates and comprehensive plan progress was a primary concern — among many — of the mostly full-time residents who attended the comprehensive plan kickoff meeting Saturday.

“The more people we have involved in this, the better the product is going to be,” said Chris Clark, a Fenwick Island town councilman, chairman of the comprehensive plan working group and one of the town’s nearly 350 full-time residents. “It is all of our responsibilities to get the word out. Spread the word.”

Clark was responding to several area residents who implied Saturday that the town was not doing all it could to inform out-of-town property owners about meeting dates and times. Town officials said that they will not send out individual letters to notify those taxpayers of meetings but will use other mechanisms to do so.

The town newsletter, which officials plan to send to owners of all of the town’s 800 properties, will contain information about the plan and meeting dates, a new page on Fenwick Island’s Web site will be dedicated to the plan and the local press will be used to “spread the word,” officials have said.

“We can’t make people participate,” Clark said Saturday to a group of about 40 residents who attended the initial meeting for the long-awaited plan. “We can inform them to the best of our ability. We as council will do that.”

Saturday’s meeting was used primarily as an introductory one. Sheri Sanzone, the owner and principal of the town’s Colorado-based consultant, Bluegreen Aspen, and daughter of Fenwick Island property owners, explained the process to residents and media in attendance, and introduced the primary players. She said she hopes the plan, which will include a design element for the Route 1 corridor and the town’s residential developments, will be approved by the summer of 2007.

“I have spent a lot of time here in Fenwick Island,” Sanzone said after introducing herself. “Part of my heart is here. This plan is not law. It serves as a starting point,” she added, echoing recent comments made by Clark. “(The plan) allows you to create regulations and policies you feel are important into preserving your community.”

Issues concerning communication, environmental issues, potential annexation, disappearing commercial property use along Route 1 and coinciding plans — primarily the Sussex County land-use plan, which is due for an update by the end of next year — dominated the question-and-answer portions of Saturday’s three-hour meeting.

Bryan Hall, a state planner who praised town officials for starting work on the state-mandated plan, said that pending Fenwick Island decisions should affect what Sussex County does in surrounding areas.

“They take your word as gospel,” Hall said Saturday. “This will give you a stronger voice in impacting the county plan. Your voice will be heard.”

Harry Haon, who first brought up the issue of the Sussex County plan on Saturday, also expressed concern with decisions about whether to give town officials the option to annex land through the plan. He said that decision should be made early in the comprehensive planning process.

“Because if we want to annex, that will require a great deal of effort,” Haon said, adding that officials need to weigh pros and cons of the town and the prospective taxpayers who would potentially be annexed. “I recommend you do that very early.”

Resident Joyce Chaconas raised the issue of residential property values on Route 1 bullying the existing commercial property uses. Chaconas implied there is need for an outright commercial zoning district along Route 1 to preserve commercial properties.

“We’re losing all of our commercial property,” she said. “I don’t want to have to go four, five miles to get something because (all of the) commercial property has been changed to residential.”

The next, undoubtedly lengthier, meeting on the comprehensive plan is scheduled for Feb. 24, when town officials, residents and Bluegreen representatives plan to discuss, in detail, comprehensive plan and design decisions. Another meeting is preliminarily scheduled for March 3.

Sanzone said she hopes that a vote on the plan will come by summer 2007. Town officials had been discussing a comprehensive plan for months and approved Bluegreen’s $49,000 consultation proposal last month, partly because it included a much-desired design element the others did not.

For more information, visit the town’s Web site at www.fenwickisland.org.