Billboard proposal alarms residents

Some residents and property owners in the Fenwick Island area hope their opposition to a county variance request couldn’t be any plainer if they put it on a billboard.
Coastal Point • M. PATRICIA TITUS: Residents do not wish to see a parade of billboards along this stretch.Coastal Point • M. PATRICIA TITUS:
Residents do not wish to see a parade of billboards along this stretch.

In recent days, they have worked to organize a letter-writing campaign and in-person turnout for a scheduled Sept. 19 hearing on the special-use exception and variance request from Anthony Crivella regarding his property bordering Route 54 and Little Assawoman Bay and adjacent to the bridge that allows that highway to cross the bay.

Crivella’s request, if granted by the Sussex County Board of Adjustments, would allow him to place a lighted billboard on wetland property. Being wetlands, the property could not house any other type of construct, according to Board of Adjustments Member Ronald McCabe.

In addition to the exception that would allow the billboard in the first place, Crivella has further requested a variance for the project. With that variance, it would be taller than otherwise allowed, exceeding the 25 feet of height normally permitted by as much as 10 additional feet, according to McCabe.

The reasons for the opposition to the project vary, from concerns about the environmental impact on the wetlands, to concerns about light pollution, to fears that property values of neighboring residences will plummet with their views of the bay obstructed by the sign.

There are also fears that allowing the billboard will set a precedent that could lead to a flurry of such advertising in the area, thereby changing its character.

Those concerns have brought a wide range of local residents together in opposition to the variance request and kick-started a series of letters-to-the-editor as the week prior to the hearing arrived.

And those organizing in-person turnout for the hearing are aiming to make the room in which the Board of Adjustments meets burst at the seams, figuring that the need to bring in additional chairs for the hearing will emphasize for the board members how seriously the neighbors take the issue of the billboard and their wetlands.

Among those opposing the billboard is Fenwick Island Town Council Member Vicki Carmean.

The councilwoman noted at both the council’s Sept. 10 “workshop-without-agenda” and the Sept. 12 meeting of the town’s Beautification Committee that the state has recently aimed to renew the wetlands of the Little Assawoman Bay, spending significant funds to raise Route 54 above them to help preserve the view and natural habitat.

Carmean said she felt it would run against such a goal to allow a billboard in the requested location.

Marguerite Bunting, who owns and resides in a condominium unit in the East of the Sun development across Route 54 from the property in question, has already voiced her opinion to the Board of Adjustments in a letter and has been organizing other residents of the area to oppose the requested variance.

Bunting said she had hoped to get other property owners in East of the Sun to attend the Sept. 19 hearing, or at least sign similar letters of opposition, but most of the condominiums are occupied by renters at this time of year, she said, with their owners out of town and not generally reachable in time to attend the hearing or sign a petition.

Instead, she has sought the support of other Fenwick Island residents and businesspeople.

Members of the town’s beautification committee voiced wholehearted support for Bunting’s cause Monday, foremost on an appropriately aesthetic basis, and vowed to work to raise further awareness of the issue with their own neighbors.

McCabe said Tuesday that he had also received one call opposing the request.

The hearing is set for 7 p.m. at the county administrative building in Georgetown, on Monday, Sept. 19.