Fenwick pursues storage for garbage trucks

Fenwick Island residents may be a little closer to bidding a fond farewell to some of their neighbors — not human neighbors, but the town’s garbage trucks, which have sparked complaints about odor and unsightliness at their current storage area within the town limits.

The town was unable to find an alternate location to store the trucks during efforts made last year. They could not locate a suitable — fenced — location that was for lease near the town but outside its boundaries. And proposals of a land swap with the state or a temporary storage agreement were not greeted warmly by state officials.

The state-owned land to the northwest of the town had been eyed as a possible solution, especially if the state agreed to trade it for land the town owns within its current municipal limits. But Mayor Peter Frederick and Councilman Harry Haon said the state had “declined to offer that option” during the full year town officials had pursued it. And they agreed there was a low likelihood that state officials would change their minds.

“We all recognize that there is a long-term need for more Public Works storage,” Haon said in leading off a lengthy discussion of the problem and possible solutions at the council’s March 24 meeting.

Haon said he had a lead on a 4,000-square-foot parcel on Route 54, just a couple miles from the town and on the trucks’ usual route to the dump. The property’s owner is its neighbor, he said, and was aware and agreeable to the town’s planned use for the site.

The town would need to install a security fence and lights, 30 tons of gravel and some fill dirt as a base, confirmed Public Works Supervisor Neil Hanrahan, but the site could store the two garbage trucks, lifeguard stands and other beach needs in the off-season, and supplies of materials needed for maintenance, etc. And electricity and water service for maintaining the trucks were already at the site, he noted.

The price tag? Unknown as yet. The fence alone: about $4,500. But the improvement costs would likely be negligible over the long term.

The lease cost Haon set around $800 per month, with discussion of a five-year, renewable lease. That works out to about $96,000 over a 10-year period, Councilwoman Audrey Serio pointed out. She wasn’t sure the town shouldn’t investigate purchasing some property — though perhaps a little farther away, to result in less of a premium price — before potentially investing nearly $100,000 in a lease.

“This is not a problem that is going away,” Serio said. “We need to explore purchasing some land. We could sell it later, if it’s no longer needed.”

More problematically, Haon said he couldn’t at that moment explicitly state the terms he had discussed with the land’s owner. The $800 figure was a starting point in the first year, and there might be increases in the future. He couldn’t say for sure. He was asking the council’s permission to pursue formal negotiations for the lease, and was reluctant to detail the discussions thus far outside of an executive session of the council.

Beyond the idea of exploring a land purchase instead, there was also the issue of committing to a long-term lease, which Frederick said was not a good idea from an administrative standpoint, since future councils could oppose the notion of leasing the land. He favored an annual renewal. But, on the other side, there was the issue of perhaps locking in a lease that would ensure the town wouldn’t have to seek different accommodations in the near future.

On a side note, Haon mentioned that, while the state hadn’t been willing to consider the town’s preferred options involving state-owned land, storage had been offered at Holt’s Landing State Park for beach supplies, as part of the state’s arrangement with the town to provide lifeguard service to the state-controlled beach. That idea, though, was more unwieldy than it seemed — at two lifeguard stands per trip, twice a year, it was a major task to transport the items from the park, Hanrahan said. And that didn’t solve the other storage problems.

Hanrahan noted that his calculation of cost to the town for the proposed lease alone worked out to about a $15-per-residence, per-year fee increase for town garbage collection service. The capital costs for improvements would be separate, he noted, and work out to less than $1 per year per property over 10 years. Serio, though, wanted to make sure that if the town did end up erecting a security fence at the leased property that it owned the fence and could remove it when the lease ended.

In the end, council members were unable to categorically endorse the tentative terms Haon had discussed with the property’s owner. They supported the general idea, if the terms for the town were good enough, but more information on the details and some exploration of purchasing land instead were needed before they were ready to vote on the matter, they said.

Haon said he would pursue additional discussions with the property owner, while Serio’s background in real estate leaves the pursuit of land for purchase squarely in her court.

Also at the March 24 council meeting, the council members gave a consensus vote to requesting a proposal from the Institute for Public Administration of the University of Delaware to help prepare the town’s comprehensive plan. The IPA is now routinely involved in preparing the detailed information required by the state in such plans and could smooth an otherwise tedious task, Haon said in passing along comments from an absent Council Member Chris Clark, who had made the proposal.

The next step of the process will be for the IPA to provide the town with a work proposal, including costs, to help prepare the document. Council members will vote on any such proposal before it moves forward.

Council members also came to general agreement on a proposed sign ordinance change, up for a first reading at the March 24 meeting. The intent of the changes was to allow a bit more flexibility in the use of signage for businesses in the town’s commercial district – specifically those in multi-unit centers and strip malls.

Under the changes, businesses with more than one unit owned or leased would be able to make use of the same amount of signage that would be allowed to individual units, up to a maximum of three signs and the maximum amount of square footage they would previously have been allowed according to their front footage.

That would allow businesses expanding into neighboring units to make use of the additional units’ signage areas — again up to the maximum — and prevent them from having to relocate, remove or leave vacant such signs, as has been a source of complaint in the past.

Additional flexibility would also be seen for businesses with multiple entrances, such as those in the Village of Fenwick, which have both east and west entrances, and in some cases, north or south also. They could spread out their signage over multiple entrances, up to the same maximums.

The lone dissent on the proposal came from Councilwoman Martha Keller, who said she felt it would allow additional signs and more square footage — something she didn’t think had been the original intent of the ordinance, though other council members asserted that it had been. She requested public input, but Frederick opined that she should have been prepared to vote, since the proposal had been in the works for six months. The council reluctantly allowed the break in normal council rules for public input, only to have no one offer any input at all.

Keller held her ground, offering the lone vote against among the six council members present. The proposal will go to a public hearing and second reading before a final vote by the council.

Council members gave a unanimous thumbs-up to having the town’s property assessments done by the same assessor as in past years. The request for an official approval came from Building Official Patricia Schuchman, but council noted the expense was already approved in the annual budget.

Also at the March 24 meeting, Serio noted that budget meetings for the coming fiscal year were being scheduled. The public workshop was set for May 6, at 9 a.m., in the middle of the process, to allow for public input. But all committee meetings are open to the public (if not public input), she noted, unless they are executive sessions.

Town staff issued a request for property owners to ensure they are using their current correct address. With the recent shift to five-digit addressing in the non-incorporated county, Fenwick Island properties are now to use their street addresses, instead of the rural route numbers they once used.

The new addresses should be the ones on record with the county — meaning property owners will have to officially provide the new addresses to county officials. That updated addressing will also mean property owners get correspondence from the town, since it uses the county addressing database. Those wishing mail delivery at Fenwick Island addresses should install a mailbox at the proper streetside location, they noted.

Finally, moving on to beautification issues at the March 24 meeting, mixed reactions were expressed to the new and refurbished beach regulations signs. Some complained the wooden signs were too hard to read and expressed concern they would darken with age and become even less legible. Others praised the idea but agreed that the project hadn’t turned out as well as planned.

Other elements of the town’s beach replenishment efforts were roundly praised, with new benches in place atop the dunes at all but the under-construction ADA-compliant crossing at Bayard Street and garbage-bin containment systems set up at the street ends.

There was a less warm welcome for the smoke and odor created during a recent power outage in the town. The source of the problem was identified as the diesel back-up pump for county sewer systems. Hanrahan said the county had been notified about the problem more than a year prior.

And concerns about garbage bags left on the street concluded the meeting. Schuchman noted that containers are required by the town — and bags do not qualify. They have been proven not to stand up to stalwart birds, and the subject brought council back to perhaps considering a requirement for streetside garbage bin containers, so there would be no excuse for using bags instead of the bins that often blow around if left on the curb.