Fenwick Island approves first floor-area reading

Fenwick Island Town Council voted 4-2 on Jan. 27 to approve the first reading of a floor area ratio ordinance, legislation that would limit the size of new homes built in the town.
The council said it will look to the community for feedback and wouldn’t take a final vote on the ordinance until May at the earliest.

“The first reading draws the picture,” said Mayor Peter Frederick. “It’s to draw a line so we can determine where we are going. It’s important we establish what we’re talking about.”

If passed, the square footage of floor area in new Fenwick Island homes would be limited to 70 percent of the lot’s total square footage. On a 10,000 square feet lot, for example, the floor area could only total 7,000 square feet.

In the proposed ordinance, the floor area of a home includes decks, pool areas, porches, balconies and all livable area inside the home.

It does not include unlivable attics, ground-level storage areas, entries, foyers and any other area that isn’t at least 12 inches above ground.

According to a set of documents presented by Council Member Harry Haon, Fenwick Island’s Charter and Ordinance Committee chairman, council has introduced the legislation to maintain the “traditional character” of the town.

More than 150 property owners attended a 2004 workshop and complained that new and over-sized development has overcrowded Fenwick Island. Of the town’s 700 homes, only three exceed the 70 percent limit that might be enacted with the ordinance.

Council said that those three homes would not be affected if the floor area legislation is passed.

“This is not a new concept,” said Haon. “It’s been around for many years around the country.”

A study attached to Haon’s documents stated that 28 Florida cities and towns have passed similar ordinances, along with 78 others across the nation — including local towns such as South Bethany and Rehoboth Beach.

South Bethany’s legislation, passed in 2004, states that the floor area in a new home must not exceed 70 percent of the lot’s size, and Rehoboth Beach set a 60-percent mark.

Bethany Beach has recently begun to consider an 80-percent floor area regulation, but the future of that legislation is considered doubtful, since other controls are in place.

“We’re just copying South Bethany,” Haon said of Fenwick Island’s proposed legislation. “It is less stringent than what Rehoboth Beach has and more stringent than what Bethany is considering.”

Martha Keller and Audrey Serio — the only council members to vote against the proposed ordinance last Friday — questioned the timing of its first reading, saying that out-of-state property owners might not know of its existence.

“This is a major change,” Serio said at the meeting. “I don’t know why we have to do this in such a hurry. It’s a situation that affects everyone’s properties, and I want people to know about it and understand it.”

Haon assured her that the town will send letters to all of its residents, notifying them of workshops on the issue in coming months. He said the council will hold two workshops — probably on Saturdays in February and March — so that all of the town’s property owners can come to discuss the proposed legislation.

He reiterated the fact that he wants everyone affected be able to voice their opinion before the ordinance — or possibly an amended version — goes to a vote in May.

“The key is to make sure that all property owners have lots of opportunities to come and express their points of view,” Haon said. “But the process has to start with the first reading.”