Fenwick Island homeowners brought concerns about a proposed pool bar in the new hotel being built in the town, as the Town Council held its first meeting by conference call since state-ordered restrictions on meetings went into place as safety measures in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The Friday, March 27, meeting began with Mayor Eugene Langan giving a brief update on town operations during the current crisis.
“Non-essential businesses are closed, the beaches are closed, the playgrounds are closed,” Langan said. He told the council and those residents listening in that “the governor and his staff have been very open and have been sharing information with all the towns. Langan said Gov. John Carney has had “at least two conference calls with all the mayors” since his first emergency proclamation was issued on March 13.
Langan also announced that parking passes for the summer season would be mailed out this year since the town hall is currently closed to the public. He said a drop-box would be installed on the outside of the town hall building where checks can be dropped off. “We know we still have to conduct business,” he said.
He then turned to addressing what he called a “wild rumor” that the town council had changed its ordinances to allow the new hotel, which is replacing the old Sands Motel on Coastal Highway, to install a bar next to its outdoor pool.
Langan said the claims are “absolutely not true.” The town had received notice of hotel owner Spiro Buas’ application to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) for a pool bar earlier in March, he said.
The mayor said the town had “gotten in writing from (Buas) that he will not have live outdoor music without approval from the council and the town. The town does not get involved in liquor licenses. It’s a state issue.”
Council member Bill Weistling said that when the council received notice of the application, “I asked (Town Manager Terry Tieman) to review our ordinance.”
Tieman reiterated what Langan and Weistling said. “The liquor license is not the jurisdiction of Fenwick Island.” The town, she said, approved Buas’ plans for a hotel with “amenities,” which include things like a restaurant, a bar and a gym.
“There have been no ordinances changed,” Tieman said.
“Everything that has come up on this hotel, we have passed it by our attorney,” Weistling said. “We have to accept her interpretation of the town code.” He admitted, however, that the town code may have to be updated to address situations such as the one concerning the pool bar. “The code needs to be reworked and we will certainly consider that,” Weistling said.
Several residents who had been listening in expressed concern that the town had been given bad advice by town attorney Mary Schrider-Fox.
Natalie Magdeburger, who identified herself as an attorney, urged the town to petition the ABCC to deny the liquor license including the pool bar. “To allow it to go without any sort of opinion is a slippery slope,” she said, adding that she would like to see the town “get a second opinion” on the matter.
Former council members Julie Lee and Peter Frederick also lent their opinions during the meeting. Frederick said there is precedent in past decisions the council has made regarding other businesses, including a decision not to allow Mancini’s restaurant to have an outside bar.
“You have violated what has been the code of Fenwick Island for at least 20 years,” Frederick said.
“This idea that the town’s attorney has made the interpretation that it doesn’t apply to all bars and hotels…it’s just mind-boggling that you are going along with this,” Lee said. “It’s malfeasance.”
Resident Christine Kiestling said “the town should be upholding ordinances and residents’ wishes and steering attorneys, and it shouldn’t be the other way around.”
Several residents expressed concerns specifically about the possibility of music, either recorded or live, being played at the pool bar. “If he wants to have live music, he’s going to have to get permission from the town council,” Tieman said. Any other type of music, Tieman said, would be covered under the town’s noise ordinance and complaints would be addressed by the police department.