Citing an increase in traffic, and environmental and related concerns, Fenwick Island residents have formed the Fenwick Protection Project, in hopes of blocking construction of a new 70-room hotel with restaurant, proposed for construction near wetlands on Route 54.

Planned by Carl M. Freeman Companies, which built the Bayside community west of Fenwick Island, the hotel is expected to be situated on Route 54 near Lighthouse Road, in the vicinity of Treasure Beach RV Park & Campground, and the Papa Grande’s and Catch 54 restaurants.

A hearing on the matter was on the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission’s agenda for Thursday, June 10, (after Coastal Point press time). Once a recommendation is made by the commission, it will go before the Sussex County Council, tentatively at their Tuesday, July 27, meeting, for approval or denial.

Kirsten McGuigan-Kleinstuber, whose family owns Captain Mac’s Fish House, started the Fenwick Protection Project with her friend, Samantha Danaher; but McGuigan-Kleinstuber said her concern isn’t that the new restaurant will take business away from the Fish House.

“No, not at all. That may be the way it comes off, but that is not a concern of mine. There are a lot of restaurants and plenty of people visiting here and living here, and everybody wants to eat,” said the Frankford resident, who said she would testify at the P&Z Commission meeting.

“My concerns are traffic and the infrastructure. I am also concerned about the impact on the community, the general quality of life. We all live here because it’s ‘the Quiet Resorts.’ We enjoy the natural beauty, the kind of a slower way of life. In Fenwick, we only have a few hotels. This is not a big hotel town. I think that’s why people live here and like it here,” she said.

“Wetlands are in that whole area. I’m sure a buffer zone will be required before they can build, but even just putting in impervious surfaces — pavement — and developing that area will have a major impact on the whole wetland area,” she said.

She and others who live near the site received notices about the pending project, proposed to be on 9.2 acres, but she said 70 single-family homes are also in the works in that area, although they are not on Thursday’s P&Z Commission agenda.

Jeff Evans, who handles marketing for Freeman, wouldn’t answer specific questions, citing the upcoming P&Z hearing and telling the Coastal Point this week, “I cannot provide any additional information that wasn’t in the [provided] statement. There is an official public hearing on June 10, and we would like to honor that process and our appointed and elected officials, as it provides an open and fair opportunity for everyone to ask questions and for the developer to address and assuage public concerns.”

The statement he provided was signed by Joshua M. Mastrangelo, senior vice president at Freeman, stating, “The proposed hotel and restaurant will be a beautiful addition to the existing commercialized area.”

“Carl M. Freeman Companies is recognized for our attention to both the environment and design aesthetics. That said, here are a few key characteristics of the project,” the statement reads. Those characteristics include that the company has more than 120 acres of land, but only plans to develop 30 to 40 acres there.

“Always cognizant and respectful of the environment, we are clustering the development towards the road and preserving the most sensitive areas of the site. The total preserved wetlands on this site is more than 82 acres. The hotel will have 70 rooms. The proposed restaurant and hotel will be adjacent to existing commercially developed areas,” he stated.

“Our company is making significant investments in the infrastructure in the immediate area, specifically aligning the intersection and making it safer for pedestrians, cyclists and all vehicles. We are also installing a traffic signal,” he stated.

He and those who run Freeman understand, he said, “that sometimes growth and change can be tough for people to embrace, so we appreciate the opportunity to share information about this exciting project.”

“We have been standard-bearers of innovation and excellence in real estate development since 1947. Today we are guided by our CEO Michelle Freeman’s philosophy that the well-being of society is as important as the success of development itself. The impact our company has made on Southeast Sussex County fills us with pride.”

But members of the Fenwick Protection Project say the development doesn’t belong in that area.

“This happened quickly,” McGuigan-Kleinstuber said.

“We became aware of the plans to build a hotel and restaurant after notices of the public hearing were sent to surrounding neighborhoods. I heard about it, and we were opposed right off the bat. Is the infrastructure equipped for the influx of so many visitors? It will have an impact on traffic, on the roadways. A big concern is, since we have a lot of older people and retirees in this area, what if an ambulance needs to respond? How quickly could they get there?” she said.

McGuigan-Kleinstuber and fellow Fenwick Protection Project members planned to testify at the P&Z Commission hearing and said they are writing letters to commission members, Sussex County Planning & Zoning Director Jamie Whitehouse, Sussex County Council members and local newspapers.

They also might plan a protest march, she said.

Staff Reporter

Veteran news reporter Susan Canfora has written for many newspapers and held positions ranging from managing editor to her favorite, news reporter. She joined the Coastal Point in June 2019. She teaches college writing, tutors and professionally edits.