Changes in Fenwick's commercial district

Part-time home owners and seasonal visitors to Fenwick Island may have a few surprises awaiting them when they arrive in the coastal town with warmer weather. For some, the changes will be a total surprise; for others, they will simply be the visual confirmation that time has passed and the town continues its slow transformation.
Coastal Point • M. PATRICIA TITUS: The site of the former Libby’s restaurant is much more flat now.Coastal Point • M. PATRICIA TITUS:
The site of the former Libby’s restaurant is much more flat now.

Those partial to a particular polka-dotted restaurant will have to preserve that image in their memories. The former Libby’s restaurant site was auctioned off over the winter, closing out a turbulent recent history filled with financial concerns and legal wrangling with the town over a non-conforming second bar and the lack of a current business license.

The town prevailed in the legal arena, and rumors about the potential use for the commercial parcels have bubbled in the town over the winter, since it became apparent that an auction was the inevitable result of the problems with the business. Restaurant Mazat — well received in the area after it took over the lease at the site — was forced out as that inevitability became reality.

Within weeks of the auction, the site was taken down to bare sand, in preparation for future development. New owners the Nichols Development Group (the Lenape Group) haven’t presented the town with any official plans for the site, but Building Official Patricia Schuchman said they’ve already approached her about the parcel’s future.

“They’re considering subdividing and building two single-family homes,” Schuchman confirmed this week.

In all there are three parcels — the two that might soon become home to residential dwellings, plus a third that Schuchman said was planned for, and indeed is currently up for, lease.

Just a few blocks away, directly across Coastal Highway from the town hall at Bayard Street, the former site of a Texaco station has also been leveled. The building had stood vacant for many months, with the front part of the parcel more recently used for seasonal produce and plant sales.

But unlike the former Libby’s property, the Bayard Street parcel has been targeted for a renewed commercial use, with final plans submitted and approved for a new Subway sandwich and TCBY yogurt shop.

Demolition was completed and construction on the project begun over the last few months, with the walls already in place. Schuchman emphasized that the design of the building was specifically said to be non-standard from a franchise point of view — something that was on the wish-list for Town Council Member and Beautification Committee Chairwoman Vicki Carmean, and others, during recent discussions of the commercial future of the town.

With construction proceeding apace, Schuchman also said that town hall employees were already looking forward to the new dining and dessert options — if with some dread for their waistlines.

Barring unforeseen problems, the business should be up and running before the summer season — in time to offer some new options to seasonal visitors as well.

The two projects are a mixed bag for those in the town who hoped to retain its small commercial center: one long-time location lost from commercial use to high-value residential development, following the recent trend; another parcel for possible commercial lease; and another long-time commercial parcel gaining new life with a new business the town is already eager to welcome.