Fenwick Islanders have expressed increasing concern over the viability of the town’s commercial district in recent years, as the pace of commercial-to-residential conversion has accelerated under the weight of increasing residential property costs.
Lacking any legal restrictions on the process, town officials have focused on trying to encourage owners and buyers of existing commercial properties to keep the commercial use. They’ve found an eager buyer for that philosophy in Andrew Zois of the Polm Companies Ltd., which currently has a contract on the Sands Motel property.
At their Sept. 9 workshop-without-agenda (WWA), Zois addressed council members regarding plans for redeveloping the site, confirming he was open to the idea of a mixed-use development plan that would include both commercial and residential use in the resulting structure or structures and asking town officials and citizens for their input on what the final project will look like.
“I’d like to do what you want,” he told those assembled at the WWA, noting the company’s previous missteps in developing in North Carolina and the lessons they had learned from trying to impose their own thoughts on that area. “We decided the best thing we could do was come down and meet with people.”
Setting a positive tone for interaction with the town, Zois not only asked for input on the project but also said the town should look at it as a way to set an example for future development, including possibly asking developers to pay the costs creating the town’s first comprehensive plan in exchange for incentives such as minor increases in density.
As for the final use of the project, Zois said, “[Mixed use] is not only self-sustaining, it is the next generation in land development,” reflecting previous comments by Council Member Chris Clark, who has been appointed as the town’s first planning commissioner.
Zois said the company had found mixed use particularly appealed to former city-dwellers — especially singles and younger folks — because of its convenience and security. In bringing mixed-use development into projects in the South, Zois said, Polm had found residents and officials skeptical until the projects were completed. Then they “did backflips,” Zois said.
“It has been working beautifully across the East Coast,” Zois said of mixed-use, adding that Polm would prefer to have a “mixed-use component” on the Sands Motel project.
Zois pointed to the planned 800-unit Polm development of Riverwood at the site of an Anne Arrundel County, Md., community airport, Surburban Airpark. He said the effort was intended to create at least 50 percent of its residences in the category of affordable “workforce” housing for professionals such as police and teachers — something lacking both in that area and on Delaware’s coast.
Notably, the Riverwood development has not gone forward without controversy, as local pilots objected to the closure of the airpark and community rallies rejected the notion that the closure or moving of the airpark would reduce noise in what is largely a residential area.
Polm offered an alternative when density objections were raised, suggesting it could instead expand the airport to enhance the existing use and in exchange yielding concerns about noise.
Council members were unaware of the project as of Sept. 9 and did not ask specific questions about it beyond what Zois volunteered.
The bottom line at the WWA was Zois’ offer to take input from all concerned about the Fenwick Island project, via e-mail at Andrew@polm.com or cell phone at (443) 336-1514.
Of mixed use at the location, Zois kept an open mind, saying, “I don’t know if it would be the best thing. I don’t know yet what you and your constituents want to see.”