Fenwick Island’s Business Development Committee met for the first time in nearly two years on Friday, Nov. 19, with an agenda meant to rekindle a mutually beneficial relationship between town officials and the business community.

The committee last met in 2020, with its last scheduled meeting, in March 2020, canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been re-organized with all new members since the town council election in August.

No business owners commented during the Friday afternoon meeting this week, which was held both live in the town hall and virtually via Zoom, although Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lauren Weaver did contribute input during a discussion about bus service and its potential impact on the town.

The issue of bus services and shuttles from outlying communities has come up numerous times in recent months, and was a rallying point by challengers who swept the recent town council election. The Nov. 19 discussion began with committee chair Paul Breger stating that he “would like to research DART and possibly private bus services that may or may not be coming into town.”

Breger referenced a letter that he said was written by former Town Manager Terry Tieman, stating that the previous council “hadn’t made any decision at all,” on public transportation in the town and that he felt the committee should “find out exactly what DART is proposing.”

Weaver, who serves on a DART advisory board for Sussex County, told the committee that the only current route serving Fenwick Island is the seasonal Route 208. She said there have been discussions “for a long time” regarding a route from the “Route 113 corridor” from Millsboro to Selbyville. Weaver also said there have been discussions of east-to-west routes along Routes 26 and 54.

Some committee members expressed concern about whether such transportation options would make Fenwick Island more crowded.

“I’m sure it sounds good on paper,” committee member David Petersen said, while questioning “whether they are just using [public transportation] to come to the beach” rather than patronize town businesses. “I enjoy the uncrowded beaches” in Fenwick Island, Petersen said.

Earlier in the meeting, Petersen had said he had just bought a home in Fenwick Island last May.

“When we’re talking with the business community, I think we have to be very clear” on what the Town’s goals are,” he said.

Weaver said, “I think there is an opportunity for balance,” adding that, with tourism being such a major economic force in Sussex County, both workforce issues with transportation and visitors wanting more options for reaching the beach towns should be considered.

Weaver also clarified for the committee that shuttles from communities outside of town are privately owned and funded, and are not connected with any DART services.

Breger said he would like to see the Business Development Committee address those issues.

“The business community benefits from having more people come in the door,” Breger said, adding, however, that public transportation should be looked at through the lens of “how it fits into the Quiet Resorts concept” of uncrowded, clean beaches, and that any new services added should be “for the betterment of the whole town.”

“There are two sides to every issue,” Breger said. “We want to make sure both the positives and the negatives are presented.”

Other issues addressed at the reconstituted committee’s initial meeting included the need to bring the business community into discussions about the town’s future.

“I don’t know if there’s a five- or 10-year business plan,” Petersen said.

Breger acknowledged that the past 20 months have been “a very difficult environment for businesses” in Fenwick Island and elsewhere, due to the pandemic.

Both Breger and committee member Ed Bishop expressed the idea that the town’s business community reflects the town’s success as a whole. Bishop said he joined the committee mainly out of concerns about the town’s businesses projecting a positive appearance and would like to see Fenwick Island “remain a quiet town.”

Breger said, “It’s important for the business community and the residential community that we both succeed. Fenwick wants to look like a successful town. We don’t want to see businesses boarded up.”

Committee member Gary Coombs, a retired professor of business at Ohio University, urged the committee members to compile a “needs assessment” for the town and its businesses, which should, he said, address such issues as “desirable” businesses the Town should try to attract, what businesses currently operate in the town and what openings there might be for business development.

Basil Hanlon, another committee member, agreed that the committee should reach out to all town businesses in an effort to find out how the Town can help them succeed. Hanlon also suggested a survey of available business properties be done.

“I don’t see a lot of space here for anything on the commercial side,” he said.

Staff Reporter

Kerin majored in journalism at Ohio University and has worked as an editor and reporter for monthly, daily and weekly publications in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Delaware since 1983. A native of Baltimore, Md., she has lived in Ocean View since 1996.