The Fenwick Island Town Council voted 5-2 in favor of a resolution Friday to allow alfresco jazz concerts on Tuesdays and Thursdays through Aug. 25 at the Village of Fenwick.
The first of the eight performances, featuring an acoustic soft-jazz trio playing from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., will be Tuesday, Aug. 2.
Though Fenwick Island law prohibits outdoor concerts, a provision in the town’s noise ordinance permits the council to grant special approval for “recreational sports and musical activities.”
Pointing to this proviso and citing past dispensations, Council Member Chris Clark, the council’s commercial liaison, presented the request on behalf of Shelly Roberts, the Village of Fenwick complex owner.
“I do think music is something people in the town would appreciate. I would like to use this opportunity to allow patrons to enjoy this and give feedback as to whether this is something they would like or this is something they would consider allowing the council to evaluate when it comes to the next season,” Clark said.
“This will be a test for seeing if this is a way to proceed in the future to allow something like this for other businesses,” he added.
Council Member Harry Haon, who opposed the resolution with Mayor Peter Frederick, said the town should not approve a variance without first notifying Fenwick Island retailers and restaurateurs of the possibility for exemptions.
“The next people that might want to do this, if they had only known of the opportunity, would have to wait until the end of August,” Haon said, noting the busy summer season would be nearly complete by Aug. 26, when the council next convenes.
“They perhaps could ask for September. At least for the month of August, all other businesses are exempted from getting the town’s permission,” he said.
Haon also said he feared that deviating from the town’s doctrine could open a floodgate of concert requests or of claims that the council was playing favorites.
“The problem is one of discrimination,” Haon said. “If you say to this particular group, ‘You can do something in variance of the law,’ but at the same time you say to someone else, ‘You can’t,’ you’re just asking for trouble.”
Issuing an all-inclusive waiver, added Frederick, could incite a litany of complaints from serenity-seeking residents and vacationers.
“If we say that everyone that has commercial property can have live music, there’s bound to be at least one resident that’s going to be upset, if not more,” Frederick said. “If everyone in town is allowed to do it, somebody is going to be upset.”
During a five-minute public-participation segment, one local business owner affirmed the mayor’s concerns.
“This resort is known as a quiet resort. That is what we bring tourists on. Loud music, outdoor music, bands: I don’t think that’s improving our image,” said Jack Childers, owner of Sea Shell City, a seashell and souvenir shop next to the town hall.
“I don’t like it because, No. 1, that’s going to draw customers from me,” Childers added. “Those Tuesday and Thursday nights, I’m going to lose money. They’re going to be down there seeing where all the action is. I’m not in favor of it. I’m not in favor of having a band myself.”
Clark countered, saying the only precedent being set was for a three-piece soft-jazz band. And Council Member Vicki Carmean argued that the ordinance committee could alleviate any concerns by tightening noise rules before the next council meeting.
“If we need to rework this ordinance, that’s something we need to look at through the winter months. But right now, we can do it,” Carmean said. “And I think jumping through any more hoops is just going to create barriers to getting this done.”
Further noting previous one-night exemptions granted to Fenwick Island eateries Warren’s Station and Charlie’s Bayside Grill, Clark contended the allowance would not be unprecedented.
“Every other business in town knows this can happen,” Clark said. “I am fully prepared to take the brunt of any other business that has a problem with this. Shame on them for not asking.”
Jeff Goldberg, owner of Hula Hut, an ice cream shop in the Village of Fenwick, and the only commercial proprietor in the audience aside from Childers, agreed with Clark.
“I think it would attract people to Fenwick. I don’t see it as taking business from you or any other restaurants around here,” he said, directing his comments toward Childers. “Maybe they’ll come to us this time, maybe next time they’ll stop at your shop.”
The resolution ultimately passed. It will go into effect at the beginning of business Tuesday, pending a “non-objection” from Fenwick Island Town Solicitor Tempe Steen.
Roberts, who also owns Fenwick Hammocks & Kites in the Village, said she was waiting for final confirmation before selecting a specific band.
“We’re just doing it for the enjoyment of the community and for the patrons in the village,” she said.
Other action and announcements from the Fenwick Island Town Council meeting included:
• In cooperation with the National Weather Service, Fenwick Island is now operating a 24-hour hurricane alert system. Residents can call 539-3011, ext. 5, for the most up-to-the-minute updates on advancing storms. Anyone needing assistance in the case of an evacuation should notify town hall as soon as possible, since the block captain network has been disbanded.
• Frederick announced that equipment for the Fenwick Island beach replenishment project will arrive Aug. 1, and sand will begin pumping Aug. 16. The replenishment could be completed in as few as eight weeks, with crews working on 1,000-foot stretches at a time. The final product, a 250-foot-wide beach and 75-foot dune, will resemble the coastline in Dewey Beach, Frederick said.
• Next week, the town council will issue opinion surveys asking property owners about concerning docks and boat lifts. Feedback is due by the end of August.
• Fenwick Island will hold its first concert of the summer, featuring the Nautical Sounds barbershop chorus, on Saturday, July 30, starting at 5:30 p.m.
• The Ms. Susies’ storytime for children were scheduled to gather five times this summer, up from three last year. The next sessions, held in the park at town hall, will be Saturday, July 30, at 10 a.m., and Saturday, Aug. 13, at 10 a.m.
• Letters explaining new salary and benefit packages have been sent to town employees.
• The county will reimburse Fenwick Island $13,000 for lifeguard services administered on unincorporated beach south of Atlantic Street. The town has already received $50,000 from the state toward covering the swath of sand. But that amount is less than was expended for the service during the summer of 2004 and less than the amount requested by the town for providing the service in 2005.
• The Sussex County Council will award the Fenwick Island Police Department a $25,000 allowance for capital improvements. Police Chief Colette Sutherland said the force plans to use the money to upgrade its squad-car cameras from VHS to digital format.
• The Fenwick Island Police Department also asked for volunteers to help with vehicle maintenance, and, in light of several automobile break-ins last week, warned residents to lock their car doors.
• Fenwick Island will spend $8,800 on a study to examine the feasibility of expanding or replacing the existing town hall building.