Fenwick approves farmers’ market changes, oyster festival

Fenwick Island is taking steps to ensure the town’s farmers’ market can remain in the town going into the future, even if the property where it is currently held is sold. At their March 28 meeting, the Fenwick Island Town Council voted unanimously to change the ordinance that dictates where the market can be located to include improved vacant lots, as well as unimproved ones.

Previously, the town ordinance stated that a farmers’ market could only be located on a vacant unimproved commercial lot. With the lot the market uses at PNC Bank up for sale, council members said they needed to ensure the market could stay in town, including the possibility of moving to a paved lot that has been used for parking.

Council members said they didn’t feel they needed to address the parking requirements of a farmers’ market, because it is only held in the mornings, when most businesses in the town aren’t yet open, and because market masters could arrange parking area sharing with nearby businesses, as well.

With those who like fresh fruits and vegetables taken care of, the council also moved on March 28 to do something for those who like fresh oysters. They voted unanimously to approve an exception to town restrictions on outdoor events for the April 26 Oysterfest, being hosted by Ropewalk restaurant.

Organizers said the event will encompass the entire restaurant property from 1 to 9 p.m. that day, offering the namesake oysters, as well as fresh barbecue, a moonbounce and more.

Ropewalk is already working with the Oyster Recovery Partnership’s oyster shell recycling program to put its shells to good use after customers are done dining, but they said they plan on stepping up their environmental game to a year-round endeavor by joining the Center for the Inland Bays’ “Don’t Chuck Your Shucks” program. The CIB program will use the shells in the Inland Bays, for living shoreline projects, restoration of “bay bottom,” its oyster gardening program and research projects.

Bids accepted

on beach rentals, trash, but no shuttle

The council on March 28 also voted unanimously to accept Steen’s Beach Service’s bid on the town’s beach chair and umbrella rental concession. Steen’s was the only bid on the concession this year and had only bid this year after the concession was opened back up for rebidding due to a lack of any bids.

Mayor Audrey Serio praised the family-owned, local business, which was founded in 1963, and noted that they had already paid the $3,212 concession fee in full. She said she felt the newness of the beach concessions in Fenwick had resulted in less business in 2013 than might be expected in the future.

“Once people know…” she said. “Most people didn’t know it was there last year.”

The town also accepted a bid for its solid waste service, from current provider Chesapeake Waste, which bid a low price of $11.70 per unit from among five bidders. Town Manager Merritt Burke noted that the contract was for the unusual period of 16 months, owing to the fact that the council had asked him to bundle its curbside recycling contract with its solid waste contract beginning with the summer of 2015.

There were, however, no takers on the Town’s offer to create a new municipal limousine/shuttle service. The council and its parking committee had discussed the idea extensively over the winter, with some doubts as to whether anyone would be interested in operating the service. Those doubts proved to be well founded, without a single bid made.

Council rescinds

anchoring requirement, urges it be done anyway

The council on March 28 approved the first reading of an ordinance rescinding a requirement to anchor freestanding items on a property to prevent them floating away in the event of storms or flooding. The requirement was set to take affect this month, but Weistling said the Town had found it difficult to define “freestanding” to make it clear what was impacted and how it should be anchored.

He said decks, walkways, sheds and trash enclosures were examples of the kinds of items that were meant to require anchoring. The Town instead plans to add a definition for “fixed items,” including those specific elements, and require anchoring for properties undergoing new construction.

Weistling emphasized, however, that the Town was strongly recommending people anchor any such existing items. “Anything we can do to prevent them” floating or moving, he said. The potential for damage caused by such free-floating items was noted after Hurricane Sandy.

The council also on March 28 voted unanimously to approve a change in its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) information request form and the related schedule of fees. Burke noted that the Town was essentially adopting the State of Delaware’s version of the form, revised slightly for Town use, as well as its fee schedule. The Town had previously been charging for the FOIA requests only what had been charged for normal document collection — something he said had “slipped by the cracks all these years.”

Beach signage gets

reviewed, wood signs out

The council weighed aesthetics against practicality in deciding which kind of beach signage it wanted to use for the 2014 season. With hand-carved wooden signs used last year and a set of painted metal signs also in the Town’s stores from prior years, the question was whether the wooden signs offer enough nighttime visibility and long-term durability to be practical.

Public Works Director Bryan Reed said cleaning and painting of the wooden signs would likely cost more and take more time than cleaning up the metal signs, or the Town could opt to purchase new metal signs for around $115 per sign for the 13 large signs, and reuse the 13 smaller signs.

“I’ve always been against the wood signs,” he noted. “If you paint them so you can read them, you have to keep redoing it — eventually, every year.”

Reed said some residents had requested the return of the wooden signs, which were created for the Town by the late local legend Charles W. “Shorty” Slagle at Shorty’s Woodworking Shop just north of Bethany Beach. But, he said, they were hard to read when they were wet, or at night.

“I don’t object to the wooden signs,” he emphasized. “They’re just hard to read.”

Councilman Todd Smallwood said he liked the aesthetic of the wooden signs and suggested the Town get a quote for similar signs made out of a wood composite material. Councilwoman Diane Tingle said she, too, liked the natural wood, “But what good is it if you can’t read it?”

The council voted unanimously to use the existing metal signs for the summer of 2014.

Resident Edward “Buzz” Henifin said his biggest concern with the signs was a litany of “no, no, no” of which his grandchildren had particularly taken note. If the council wanted to change the signs, he said, he supported a wood composite material, “But please don’t use the no-no’s. It tells everyone we don’t want them.”

Council members also opted (with Smallwood abstaining) at their March meeting not to approve a request from two local water-sports companies to permit them to launch paddleboards and kayaks from the launch at the new Cannon Street Park.

Councilman Bill Weistling said he felt the facility was for the use of the public, not commercial ventures, noting that the park was on a parcel zoned as parkland, not in the commercial zone, and that he didn’t think commercial activities would even be permitted there as a result.

Serio said she wasn’t necessarily against the use but was concerned that, in the first year of the park’s operation, the Town didn’t know yet what parking issues it might have with park users or whether heavy usage might even prevent people from launching kayaks or parking there at some point. She said that, if the Town was to allow such use, it would have to be after the first year.

Council members also found consensus that it was too early to draft rules and regulations for the new park, not knowing yet what problems they might find during its use. Burke said standard town park rules would apply, prohibiting swimming and diving and limiting hours. He said that specific prohibitions on uses such as crabbing would have to be added later, if desired. Smallwood said he felt crab pots and boats needed to be prohibited there. The park was set to officially open this week.

Burke also noted that striping of parking spots in the town was in progress, a change from the previously unmarked, freestyle parking along Fenwick Island streets that was recommended by the parking committee and approved by the council.

A landscaping grant, he said, will be used to remove existing shrubs on Town property and add new trees, mulch and shrubs, as well as replacing a diseased blue spruce.

Building Official Pat Schuchman reported the recent passage in Congress of a bill that aims to address the negative consequences for property owners of a 2012 law that impacts flood insurance. She said the new legislation limits overall premium increases to 15 percent and individual increases to no more than 18 percent, as well as restoring grandfathering for existing properties.

It also calls for refunds in premiums when dramatic increases resulted after a change in ownership, she said, advising property owners with questions to contact their flood insurance agent.

Council concerned

about dune conditions

Smallwood said at the March meeting that he was concerned about the state of the town’s dune crossings. “Anyone over 50 can’t get over the dune,” he said, noting concerns about claims of ADA accessibility at the beach when the crossing can be hard for many to traverse. “The State has to do something,” he said. “You have to basically get on all fours to get across some of them.”

Councilman Gardner Bunting said he was also concerned about the fact that the State hadn’t yet moved to replace the town’s missing dune fence and was still working in Bethany Beach. “I don’t see them getting here in time,” he said of the impending summer season. “They didn’t last year.”

Weistling said he felt there was skepticism among DNREC officials that the fence helps trap sand for the dune protection scheme. Reed said he’d been in constant contact with DNREC about the fencing and had expressed a concern about people slipping on the accessibility-enhancing Mobi Mats because of the current height of the dune.

“I was told not to touch it, because it is natural growth,” he said.

The Environmental Committee announced at the March 28 meeting plans to possibly host a speaker series prior to town council meetings. Town staff also announced that the March meeting was the last time that copies of meeting documents would be provided on paper to those attending town meetings.

Finally, Councilman Gene Langdon said the Technology Committee has been looking into systems to notify residents and property owners of important information, having looked at both the system currently used in Bethany Beach and one that could be used on the Town website.