Six of the eight candidates running for a seat on the Fenwick Island Town Council participated in a candidates forum on Saturday, July 17.
The forum was held outdoors at the Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce, just outside town limits. The Chamber hosted the event.
Participating in the forum, which was moderated by Coastal Point Executive Editor Darin McCann, were incumbents Eugene Langan, Richard Mais, Mitchell “Mike” Houser and William Weistling Jr., and challengers Janice Bortner and Natalie Magdeburger. Two other candidates, Jacqueline Napolitano and Paul Breger, did not participate.
Questions posed to the candidates during the 90-minute forum addressed issues such as town government transparency, outdoor dining, flooding mitigation, public safety and a proposed offshore wind farm.
There were no direct questions from the audience of about 70 people who gathered in the shaded area behind the Chamber building for the event. Instead the Chamber’s membership and communications manager, Fred Thomas, facilitated the question-and-answer format from resident questions submitted prior to the event and, during the last portion of the forum, drew two names from among the candidates to answer each of a series of questions. Otherwise, all questions were answered by all six candidates in attendance. A two-minute time limit was set for each candidate’s answer.
With town council meetings held virtually for more than a year, some Fenwick Island citizens have expressed frustration with what they said they see as a lack of transparency within the Town government, and several questions addressed that.
Answering a question about whether the Town needs to enact new ordinances, current Vice Mayor Richard Mais said that, while he is “only in favor of changing ordinances if necessary,” sea-level-rise issues could bring with it the need for new ordinances in the future. Mais also said the Town is also looking into possible code changes in the areas of subdivision signage, utility construction and zoning.
“There’s probably some things that we will need to do on the flooding on the west side of the highway,” Langan, Fenwick Island’s current mayor, said. He also said he could see possible changes to building restrictions regarding “parapet walls” around mechanical units on roofs of buildings. “I don’t think there’s a lot of changes to be made. We can improve on a lot of the things, and we’re doing that constantly,” Langan said.
“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room,” said Magdeburger, “because that’s why some of us got energized to be candidates. We have not enforced our ordinances,” she said. “We have not enforced our ordinances. We have an ordinance that says no outdoor bars. It is critical that we enforce that ordinance.”
Magdeburger said that it doesn’t matter what type of bar it might be, “Once you have one, you’ve opened the door.” A lawyer herself, Magdeburger said, “That’s why it’s important to have legal advice when you’re making those types of decisions.” She said she had offered to help the Town deal with the outdoor bar issue, but “I was rejected. I wasn’t allowed.”
On the issue of beach shuttles, which are currently not allowed within town limits, Mais said that when he helped draft the town’s Comprehensive Plan in 2007, “We made it a priority that shuttles would not be permitted to drop off in town. Our town is already too congested” to bear the additional traffic and crowds shuttles would bring, Mais said.
Magdeburger pointed to plans for shuttle services from outside of town, picking up passengers on Route 54, and asked why those plans would be made “if there’s no bus line” planned. “We need to make sure there are no shuttles inside or outside Fenwick Island in order to protect our beaches.”
On the issue of the proposed wind farm, for which the developer, Ørsted, had proposed an onshore substation to be located in Fenwick Island State Park just outside town limits, Weistling said he would only support the project if the turbines are located farther offshore than the currently planned 19 miles and the substation is located in non-wetland areas. He said Fenwick should continue to work together with other area towns, DNREC and other state officials to monitor the project and “get that point across.”
Bortner, the other candidate chosen to answer the question about the wind farm, said “as long as environmental impact studies are conducted on fish and wildlife,” the turbines are not visible from the coastline and Delaware residents can receive electricity from the wind farm, she is not opposed to the idea of a wind farm. She also said she opposed the placement of the substation at the state park, which was subsequently withdrawn by Ørsted. “I’m so happy that that didn’t happen,” Bortner said.
On the subject of outdoor dining, Mais said he favors continuing to allow it in town, which relaxed its regulations on outdoor restaurant seating last year when COVID-19 regulations limited indoor dining.
“I wish the virus was over, but I don’t think it is,” Mais said, adding that, in his 35 years as owner of McCabe’s Gourmet Market in South Bethany, he found that customers enjoyed sitting outdoors to eat.
Langan, who also was chosen to answer the question, said he also supports continuing to allow outdoor dining.
In response to a question about support for the town’s businesses, Houser said, “a strong retail community, good restaurants and strong educational system,” help attract new people to the area.
“The restaurant scene in Fenwick Island has never been better, and we want to encourage that to continue,” Houser said. “Balance is the key to a good community, a growing community,” he said.
Madgeburger, also chosen to answer the business question, emphasized the importance of balance, which she said means growth “should be in keeping with the environment in which it is. “I don’t believe our businesses need to be three stories high,” she said.
She said the council should focus on the impact of growth on the quality of life in the town.
“I want to make sure that when they come here, that they embrace our culture and our character and our ordinances,” and that businesses don’t “try to move the ordinances a little wider so that there can be more income.”
Bortner said she has documentation showing the town council “was not on board” initially with stopping the Ørsted project and credited “grassroots” efforts led by herself and others with stopping the state park substation proposal.
“I am trying to do what every American should be able to do — voice their opinion,” she said.
The Fenwick Island Society of Homeowners (FISH) will hold its own candidates’ forum at 9 a.m. Saturday, July 24, at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 99901 Coastal Hwy, Ocean City, Md.
The Fenwick Island Town Council election will be held Saturday, Aug. 7, from 1 to 5 p.m., at Fenwick Island Town Hall, 800 Coastal Highway, Fenwick Island. Absentee ballots are available for any registered voter not able to vote in person on election day. Ballots can be obtained by mail by calling Town Hall at (302) 539-3011. Ballots must obtained no later than noon on Aug. 6 and must be filed no later than 5 p.m. on Aug. 7.
For more information on election qualifications, go to the town’s website at www.fenwickisland.delaware.gov.