Fenwick aims for green light on plan

With a colorful planting plan in hand, and discussions with landscaping consultants and Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) representatives behind them, members of Fenwick Island’s Beautification Committee have been raring to break ground on the town’s planned median project. That is, until DelDOT representatives threw a hoe into the works at a recent meeting.

While Beautification Committee Chairwoman and Town Council Member Vicki Carmean admitted she had found that February meeting with DelDOT representatives “very discouraging,” she told members of her committee Monday, March 7, that she believes a revised plan has the project back on track, with some additional flexibility to help the town meet the more stringent demands given by DelDOT.

Concerns expressed last month by that wider group of DelDOT representatives focused on safe line-of-sight for traffic, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the interaction of plantings with underground cables installed for traffic control.

The line-of-sight concerns were seated on a desired restriction of all plantings to a maximum height of 3 feet, citing the 200 linear feet it takes an average vehicle to come to a stop from 35 miles per hour.

Despite having chosen the original trees and other planting elements from a list of DelDOT-approved plantings and equivalent species, the town was told at the February meeting that height was a real safety concern for the department. The newly suggested 3-foot height restriction would eliminate all trees from the plantings, as well as requiring a more compact variety of the planned shrubs.

Carmean chalked up the apparent misunderstanding to communications failings.

After a second February meeting with DelDOT representatives and consultations with Chuck Hauser (who designed the original plantings) the town developed a new plan, with some built-in flexibility should DelDOT not approve that new design as is.

In a sort of compromise, the new plan calls for an open line of sight running between the requested 3-foot maximum height and the 6-foot height mark in the median planting beds.

Instead of the fringe trees originally called for by the landscape consultant’s design, the revised plan uses a maximum of two or three Cleveland pears per median area. The pear trees are a flowering variety with a more upright growth than the fringe trees and are also reported to thrive in the coastal areas better than that original tree recommendation. Additionally, they are compact and can be restricted to branching above the 6-foot height.

Underplantings in the medians will still focus on crepe myrtle but will instead use a more compact variety that should keep the shrubs below that magic 3-foot mark. The new plan also includes daylilies and a hardy variety of azaleas to provide spring flowers, as well as winter interest through winterberry and spirea.

The hardiness of the azaleas was of concern for the committee members, but with the state signed on to maintain the plantings for the first year as part of the project, their worries were eased.

While DelDOT’s line-of-sight concerns called for the maximum 3-foot height, the landscape designer and Carmean are hopeful the new plan’s 3-foot view space between the underplantings and the lowest tree branches may assuage those concerns.

If it doesn’t, though, not all is lost.

Carmean said that with only two or tree trees planned per median area, it should be a simple decision for the town to make at the last moment — even with planting under way or nearly so — to replace the trees with other compact shrubs that would strictly meet the 3-foot height restriction.

That means the project still has a target completion date in May of 2005, prior to the kick-off of the summer season. Advertising for bids on the project has already begun, with requests for prices on both variations — with and without the trees.

In the end, Carmean said, her biggest goal is simply to have the concrete centers removed from the town’s medians. That will not only move the project forward by clearing the way for some planting to begin, it will also allow the town to confirm where any underground utility or traffic lines run below the medians.

That was a second concern expressed by DelDOT representatives at the February meeting with town officials, focusing on possible negative impact of the roots of trees and other plantings on the “tripping” devices that help control the traffic lights. That impact is far from concrete, and getting a better look exactly where the lines lie could help determine whether trees would pose a real threat to the system.

Finally, though improvements to pedestrian crossovers are planned only for a later stage of the project some years down the road, DelDOT representatives expressed concern about the project’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Specifically, the plan currently lacks a sloped curb style at pedestrian entries and exits from sidewalks and the median to better accommodate the visually-impaired. Carmean emphasized that the renovations to pedestrian crossovers were in the earliest of planning stages and could easily be altered to meet any ADA requirements, as well as other practical and aesthetic issues.

Carmean told the committee members that she had also submitted to the town a work order for renovations to the men’s restroom at the town hall, to be completed — hopefully — in 2005. The recent renovations to the ladies’ restroom came in under budget, costing only $2,100, compared to the $3,000 budgeted.

Carmean said the men’s-room project would be pushed into the 2006 fiscal year budget, with discussion of the budget due to begin in the coming weeks, approval scheduled for June and the fiscal year to begin in July. She also recommended that renovations to a small office restroom in the rear of the building be considered in conjunction with the men’s-room renovations.

Efforts to reward the town’s businesses for their own moves toward beautification and consumer friendliness will continue in March with another installment of the committee’s Star Business Awards.

Carmean said the awards had been due to be presented in February, but most of the business owners who the committee had intended to honor were out of town at the time. Instead, Carmean will endeavor to have the owners present at the town council’s scheduled March 18 meeting to present the awards.

The businesses to be honored include the Seaside Country Store, Southern Exposure, Shore Peddler and the entire Village of Fenwick, all cited for a variety of beautification and clean-up efforts at their locations.

Carmean described the reception of the town’s Commercial Liaison group to the Beautification Committee’s proposal for uniform commercial trash bins as “polite” but “not enthusiastic.” Liaison chairman and Town Council Member Chris Clark said such efforts would have to be part of long-term efforts by the businesses, with immediate focus being put on the town’s planned “visioning” workshop for its businesspeople.

Clark said his current efforts were toward getting at least 30 of the town’s approximately 60 businesses to be represented at the planned workshop. The expectation is that review and possible renovation of the town’s signage ordinances will top the priority list for the business owners, but Clark said efforts toward beautification could also find their way onto that list, with clean-up efforts being something the businesses might take ownership of over time.

Proposals to create a fence on Bayard Street adjacent to the town’s recycling area were also addressed at the March 7 meeting. With approximately $2,700 in funds remaining in the committee’s budget for the year, estimates for a wooden fence were within reach, but concerns about the maintenance and lifespan of a wooden fence led the committee in other directions — first to a vinyl fence and then to a “living fence.”

The primary purpose of the fence is to screen the recycling area and prevent any debris from flowing onto Bayard Street. But Clark noted that with mandatory recycling on the horizon across Sussex County, the focus of the project might be better served if the eventual removal of the recycling bins were also considered. He championed a living fence for that reason.

Committee members agreed, with Carmean noting that she had already questioned Public Works Supervisor Neil Hanrahan on the advisability of Leyland cypress for just such a use (with Hanrahan’s approval).

Carmean noted that she had recently sent out the required letters of support for the town’s bid to become a Tree City USA, something that could bring additional availability of grants for tree-related projects in the town.

She said she would work to obtain both information on any possible grants for such a project and early estimates from landscape contractors on how much the project could cost. Committee members voiced support for a full planting in the location, involving both evergreen trees and underplantings of shrubs. The advisability of retaining the handful of existing pines in the location will also be considered.

The last two planting pots remaining unadopted in the town’s previous beautification project are still seeking benefactors, but Carmean noted she was following a few leads toward finding the pots a home. For $300 each, businesses or residents have been able to adopt the large planted pots, contributing toward the cost of their purchase and the committee’s town-wide beautification efforts.

Committee members voiced support for holding off on the sale of additional crepe myrtle plants in 2005. The 2004 sale helped raise funds for the committee, but a new supplier is being sought. Combined with the committee’s focus on the median project and several others, it was deemed wiser to wait at least until the summer and likely until the spring of 2006, when the 2004 crop of plants would be well established as a benchmark.

Committee Member Joyce Chaconus requested the health of the “sculptured” evergreen trees in the town’s park be examined. She said she had noted brown areas on several of the trees in recent weeks and was particularly concerned that the valuable large trees were not weathering well in their first years in the park.

Again crossing into topics on the agenda of the town’s Commercial Liaison group, Carmean also noted that she was concerned about the aesthetic impact of constraints on commercial signage in the town.

Several business owners are known to want to make signage changes that Clark said he would consider an improvement, but restraints on the signage prevent that or impose penalties should they choose to do so. Signage ordinance changes and accommodations will be a primary focus of the liaison group in the coming year.

The next meeting of the Fenwick Island Beautification Committee is set for Monday, April 4, at 10 a.m.