There was once a time when conversation about Bethany Beach focused on beach crowds, traffic, parking and development. Though the other topics are still alive and breathing, discussion over roof pitches and maximum house heights are now all the rave.
But this is probably a case of much ado about nothing.
Under the old height restrictions in the town, homes could be built to a maximum height of 31 feet, with a 5/12 roof pitch. The new height rules say that a house can be built to 35 feet, with a 7/12 roof pitch. Yup, a grand difference of 4 feet is causing all this discourse.
But here’s the rub.
The former rule allowed houses to be built at 31 feet above base flood elevation, according to Bethany Beach Town Council Member Harry Steele. Under R-1 zoning, that base flood elevation could be anywhere from 0 to 5 feet, depending on where FEMA establishes base flood elevation, meaning a house could be built to 36 feet high. The new rules limit the height to 35 feet.
So, technically, the new rule, if anything, restricts the maximum height allowed for a house in Bethany Beach.
People have a right to challenge the decisions of their governing bodies, and it is exactly that passion that creates change — either through a rethinking of policy or by the powers of a public election. However, one has to pick one’s battles, and this does not scream to us that Bethany Beach officials are condoning more development or the elimination of people’s scenic views.
It’s about the appearance of the town’s architectural personality, and it’s about an additional 4 feet in height, if one were to strip this to just the numbers.
Steele is upset about the categorization by some that the Bethany Beach Town Council is trying to overdevelop the town.
“We are not allowing three-story living quarters,” said Steele. “We are not allowing more than one house per lot. We are not allowing 12 units per acre in the commercial district, as the county is doing.”
The notion that the 4-foot increase is a 12-percent increase also bothers Steele.
“To say that this is a 12-percent increase is misleading,” said Steele. “That statement would be correct if it were to apply to the whole house. It only applies to 60 percent of the roof. And, it does not have any living quarters in that space.”
Those are the numbers. Make your own decisions from there.