The Fenwick Island Town Council has sent a proposed ordinance regarding parking regulations back to the Charter & Ordinance Committee for further discussion following a public hearing during which business owners voiced their opposition to the proposed changes.

Richard Abbott, an attorney representing Joseph Balsamo, who owns the property that was once the site of the Dairy Queen in Fenwick Island, said the Town’s proposed parking regulations are a “death knell” to redevelopment projects, such as the one on the Balsamo property.

Abbott said the Town’s current parking requirements are “very stringent” and that the plans to require businesses to provide as much as double the number of parking spaces now required sends an “anti-business message.”

He said the proposed requirements are vastly different from those of nearby beach towns, but added, “I’m not sure Dewey and Rehoboth are where you want to go,” as there are many businesses in those towns with no dedicated parking spaces at all.

Abbott said his client “will challenge this if it’s necessary, if it’s passed in its current form.” He called the proposal “doing surgery with a meat cleaver,” “just flying blind” and “picking numbers out of thin air.”

Nick Caggiano, owner of Mancini’s restaurant in Fenwick Island, said that, although the restaurant has “provided me with a nice little income,” if he were to tear it down, he would not be able to replace the current building with one that has the same seating capacity.

“I feel that I’m being persecuted,” Caggiano said.

Tim Collins, owner of the Southern Exposure clothing store and a Fenwick Island resident, said the revisions to parking requirements should “be reasonable. It can’t be overkill. This is going to stop development in the town of Fenwick Island.”

“You’re going to end up with a ghost town,” Collins said, adding that, with his own business, if his son wanted to expand the business or change it to another type of business, his options would be limited under the proposed regulations.

He said he feels customers in Fenwick Island are “extremely savvy” when it comes to finding parking.

“They figure it out,” he said. “It’s not really an issue that warrants stepping in.”

Collins also questioned the council’s commitment to the town’s business community, citing the shelving of the former business development committee and the lack of progress on a proposed study of the town’s business community.

Ann Riley, a member of the Town’s Planning & Zoning Commission, said there “doesn’t seem to be many things Fenwick Island agrees on these days … except that there’s too much trash and not enough parking.”

Riley said she feels part of the reason for parking issues in the town is that “kids don’t ride their bikes to work anymore,” creating a need for more employee parking.

Sussex County, Riley said, is “one of the fastest-growing communities in the country,” citing a recent DelDOT report that shows 9,207 building permits in the area just to the west of Fenwick Island in the Route 54 corridor.

“All these new residents are going to want to come here,” she said.

Having experienced similar issues with businesses in New Castle County, Riley said, she believes the regulations could be improved without causing hardships on existing businesses.

Matt Patton, representing Matt’s Fish Camp, called the proposed regulations “arbitrary” and said that he if they had been imposed last year, “Matt’s Fish Camp would not have opened.” Patton said he feels the attitude of some — “Don’t worry, existing businesses are grandfathered” — is not helpful.

“Don’t punish the businesses that are creating jobs and serving the community,” Patton said.

Fenwick Shores Hotel owner Spiro Buas asked, “Where’s the study that says we have a parking problem?”

Kinsley Hazel said her family owns both residential and commercial properties in Fenwick Island. The commercial property was previously the PNC Bank, as well as adjoining vacant lots.

“Our main concern with the proposed code change is the impact it will have on our undeveloped land located in your town,” Hazel said. When her family purchased the property in 2016, she said, “The main attraction was the future development opportunity.” Such property is “rare” in Fenwick Island, she said.

“Our first thought was to demolish the existing building and maybe build a hotel or a restaurant,” Hazel said. The family decided to rent the building and not immediately move ahead to develop the vacant parcels “until we decided our next move.”

She said, “Once we received the proposed changes, we immediately regretted our decision, knowing these changes directly impact and restrict our rights to commercially develop our land.”

She said proposed code changes in setbacks, mechanical equipment placement, parking spaces and delivery zone requirements “make it nearly impossible for any new businesses to build in Fenwick Island.”

Hazel said she feels the council should not pass its proposed hotel moratorium without conducting a study of the impacts of or need for such legislation.

“The businesspeople owning and operating in this town do not want to build seven-story-high commercial buildings with parking garages. We’re very aware of the current requirements and plan on following them, as we have for many years,” Hazel said, adding that in the proposed code changes, “The right to commercially develop our land is deliberately being taken away from us through regulations.”

“From my experience, a town is only as successful as the businesses it is made up of,” Hazel said. “With these proposed changes, the town will not see any new business growth and will make it difficult for existing businesses to survive long-term.

“The minute these proposed changes pass, my property value decreases 30 to 40 percent,” Hazel said, asking the council to table the changes until further study can be done and input sought from the town’s business community.

Warren’s Station owner Scott Mumford echoed Hazel’s request.

“We are a financial lifeline for this town,” Mumford said. “We ask that you work with us, work with me. Don’t pass this ordinance, please.”

Residents who spoke at the public hearing said they sympathize with business owners but feel the residential properties in Fenwick Island should be the Town’s first priority and should be protected.

“I encourage the town council to continue with their plans and pass this ordinance,” Gail Warburton said, noting that the Town’s most recent comprehensive plan “talked about green space, a quiet, family-oriented town.”

“I support the businesses,” Warburton said, “even though they infringe on my rights as a resident.”

At the town council meeting later the same day, the council did as the business owners requested and tabled both the proposed hotel moratorium and the parking changes.

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.