Letters - February 10, 2006

Property owner hopes for vote against ordinance
Editor’s note: The following letter was addressed to the Bethany Beach Town Council and forwarded to the Coastal Point for publication in advance of the scheduled Feb. 10 hearing on zoning issues in the town.

I hope the Town Council will vote down the proposed ordinance amending Chapter 245 of the Zoning Code that would authorize four amendments to the existing code. The four changes involve: (1) flights of steps into front yard setbacks, (2) an increase in the existing height limitation, (3) a minimum of two wall planes for walls facing streets, and (4) the covering of perimeter pilings. These extremely modest efforts to improve the aesthetics of the homes being constructed in Bethany Beach today do nothing to address the real problem in our town, especially on its eastern side.

First and foremost, the size of these new structures must be addressed. Recent new structures in residential areas of town are entirely too large for the standard Bethany Beach lot. While nearly all of these buildings are huge, focusing on whether some are marginally more attractive than others is a big mistake. It would be a shame if the Town Council addressed fringe design issues and left the size issue untouched. By approving these incremental changes in the zoning law, the council will only make the size issue harder to deal with.

Council also will consider a moratorium on new construction, renovation, or remodeling of the exterior of commercial buildings. The Council should approve the moratorium for commercial properties, after it is amended to include a moratorium on residential demolition, new construction, major renovation and major remodeling.

The arguments being advanced in favor of a commercial moratorium apply equally and even more cogently to homes. It is said that proposed exterior changes in a handful of downtown businesses could result in a drastic change in the commercial zone’s overall appearance. The Council must see that the town’s overall appearance is being drastically altered by what is happening with Bethany Beach’s residential structures.

Bethany Beach’s older residential neighborhood is already changing rapidly, but it is not too late to make substantive changes to the zoning code to prevent further erosion of community character. Fringe tinkering with aesthetics and design features is the wrong way to proceed. Just as virtue has its own reward, so also does good architectural design. Developers do not need to be encouraged to adopt good design. The Town has a right to insist on it. But before you take on design issues, you must first take on the issue of the dramatically increasing density in the older, residential neighborhoods.

If you adopt a moratorium on residential demolitions and new construction, you will have time to consider and adopt major changes in the Town’s zoning law. You could consider a reduction in the height limitation, a reduction in maximum lot coverage by buildings, a floor to area ratio limit of perhaps 3,000 square feet or so, landscaping requirements, permeable walkways and parking, and other creative ways to keep the look and feel of older Bethany in tact. You can encourage and reward renovations and appropriately designed additions. You can establish a local historic district and enact zoning overlays.

The Council has ample guidance and direction in the Town’s Comprehensive Plan, and most especially in the excellent 2004 Public Participation Project Report. The voice of Bethany Beach’s home owners spoke eloquently and clearly in the survey. The Bethany Beach Planning Commission developed statements of policy that captured the spirit of the public’s responses.

With respect to future development, the Commission agreed that residents value a traditional, town-like atmosphere provided by less dense, single-family housing types. The new mini-motels in older Bethany’s residential neighborhoods that existing zoning apparently permits are certainly not the less dense housing types citizens said they wanted to see.

The Commission also declared, as a policymaking principle, that community ambiance and character are directly relatable to the look and feel of the town, and future design and improvement of all structures should reflect this idea. The McMansions and mini-motels being built today do not reflect the principles Bethany residents said in 2004 they hoped would guide development.

As I reread Bethany Beach’s recently adopted Comprehensive Plan Update, I was struck by a reference to the adverse effects of over-development that fail to respect a community’s sense of place and result in resentment and eventual destruction of the very attributes that attract people to Bethany Beach. I believe this is precisely what is happening today.

References to a saturation point for residential development, especially considering the preferred density and housing types in the town, suggest that it is a high priority for Bethany Beach to preserve and protect its community character by maintaining the residential density and style desired. I believe that the very large and looming homes being built in Bethany today directly threaten that priority.

The Plan says that the Town recognizes that its ambiance and character are directly related to its physical structures, their style, density, and spatial arrangement. The plan’s primary housing recommendation is the creation of an architectural review board, a very sensible recommendation already specifically rejected by the Planning Commission.

The Plan also recommends a close review of existing zoning and building codes in order to assure that future property improvements mesh appropriately with the existing community. The time has come to conduct such a thorough review, especially in view of the adverse impacts on more traditional homes caused by the increasing number of very large, very tall, very dense homes being built today.

We do not have to accept an inevitability that monster homes will define Bethany’s future. They directly conflict with the Town’s stated desire for a less dense atmosphere. They do not mesh with existing community character. They are drastically changing community character and are a direct, but unintended, consequence of zoning and building codes that the Plan says ought to be reviewed. Tinkering with aesthetics is not what the Plan calls for, and it is certainly not what the Town needs right now.

Amend the moratorium to include residential construction, revamp building codes to bring about residential density more in keeping with existing community character, create the architectural review board and empower it to set and enforce design standards, and put off permanently the small, inconsequential design changes that fail to lower the mass and density of the new structures.

We may be able to replenish our beach, but we will not be able to replenish Bethany Beach’s historic look and feel and its sense of place. When that is gone, it is gone forever.

Dan Costello
Bethany Beach

Governor’s bill would grant unneeded rights Charles N. Valenti
Rehoboth Beach

Senator calls for some creativity with energy

Back in 1999, when I was the lone member of the Delaware General Assembly to vote against electric utility deregulation legislation, it almost seemed as if I was a member of an independent party with a membership of one person. The lobbying effort for that legislation was probably one of the most intensive and most expensive during my years in the General Assembly. You were treated like some kind of uneducated fool if you were opposed to the idea.

The late Dr. Robert McMahon, then chairman of the Delaware Public Service Commission (PSC), supported me in my opposition to this legislation. A native Californian, he had been CEO of a major company and had broad experience in these issues. He argued that there would be no companies competing to provide electric power to Delaware’s residential customers at reasonable rates, which was one of the claims being made by those in favor of the legislation. For his strong stand with me against electric deregulation, he was replaced as PSC chair.

The legislation allowed Delmarva Power to divest itself of its low-cost electric generating plants at Indian River and Vienna, Md. One other result is that the company’s then-CEO and other top executives who had guided the deregulation bill through to passage were able to take millions of dollars in so-called “golden paracutes.”

Delmarva Power is now a small part of one of the nation’s largest electric utility conglomerates headquartered in Washington, D.C.

I spoke last week with an official of NRG, the company that now owns the Indian River Power Plant — a completely separate company from the plant’s former owner, Delmarva Power.

NRG is now studying the possibility of spending up to $1 billion at Indian River to convert the plant to a new process whereby low-sulphur coal is converted to gas. This conversion would be right in line with the need to wean the U.S. away from its dependence on foreign oil, as President Bush discussed in his recent State of the Union Address. It would also have the great advantage for the environmental quality of Sussex County of reducing by some 90 percent the plant’s emissions of air pollutants and help to stabilize the energy source for the Delmarva Peninsula.

NRG officials also expressed interest in a proposal I have been working on for new legislation to partially re-regulate Delaware’s electric utilities. I believe that the state also needs to encourage DP & L to explore the possibility of long-term contracts with NRG to buy electric power from the Indian River Plant at a cost saving over what DP & L would have to pay on the open market, as they are doing now.

I hope that we in state government can work to make this conversion of the Indian River Plant, with its possible long term savings to Delaware electric customers and its dramatic improvements in our environment, a reality.

The whole future of electric rates and overall energy costs is very uncertain right now, but one thing is abundantly clear: we must be a lot more innovative in the years to come than we have been in the past with the whole issue of how we meet Delaware’s and America’s energy needs.

Sen. George H. Bunting Jr.
20th District

Property owner against raising roofs in Bethany

On Feb. 10, the Bethany Beach Town Council will consider a recommendation to raise the maximum allowable building height to 34 or 35 feet. I believe the recommendation should not be enacted.

The current building height maximum of 31 feet has served Bethany well and should remain unchanged. It has helped facilitate a generally interesting and architecturally diverse building stock. I have seen this in the eight years our family has owned a home in Bethany Beach and in visits each year for over 20 years.

A reason cited for the recommendation to increase the height limit to 34 or 35 feet is that it will improve the curb appeal or character of Bethany Beach. I am not persuaded. An additional three feet of height will place new buildings even higher than their neighbors, promoting a size and scale less in keeping with the character of Bethany buildings.

The actual height of the top of the roof from the street has already increased by several feet in recent years, when the town allowed the zero elevation to be measured from flood elevation rather than the (lower) crown of the adjacent street. This was probably necessary, based on updates in federal regulations related to flood plane.

There is no such reason to change the current height limit. The proposal was initiated during discussions with builders and architects, both in a meeting that was publicized and open to the public and in a subsequent meeting. Gaining knowledgeable input was impressive and the process will result in beneficial changes. However, increasing the height limit is not one of them. A concern expressed by some is the unknown consequences of a change in height limit, as architects look specifically at all possible ways to interpret and utilize the regulation.

The proposed ordinance states the increase in height limit includes the requirement that the roof pitch on 60 percent of the area facing the street be at 7/12 (verses the current 5/12). I am not persuaded that possible benefits of a slightly increased roof pitch will offset the visual impact of the increase in height, especially as the roof may be well over 30 feet above street level.

For many years, numerous Bethany Beach property owners have successfully complied with the current height limit in designing and building their homes. They have every reason to expect that homes built near theirs will not suddenly be several feet higher than they were allowed.

My opinion comes after considerable thought. It is based on attending all open meetings of the Planning Commission and of the ad hoc committee that discussed and developed the recommendations.

My opinion is also based on recently designing two homes — one a traditional design, the other a more current design on pilings. Both houses on Central Boulevard are now under construction. I wrestled in depth with the issues posed by the current height limits. There were times I might have liked more height, but I do not believe an increase to be in the best overall interests of the town and its citizens.

There are other recommendations from the committee that I agree with. One relates to allowing front steps in setbacks, the other to requiring two planes on the street facing walls of residential buildings. The idea of enclosing perimeter pilings may be feasible, but it is unclear from the wording whether current buildings must be retrofitted.

In summary, I urge that the otherwise good work by the Planning Commission and the ad hoc committee not be marred by adopting an unnecessary height limit increase that will reduce rather than enhance the appeal of Bethany.

Tracy Mulligan
Bethany Beach and Silver Spring, Md.

Education is needed with administration

The Emperor George has struggled to maintain a 40 percent approval level in the national polls. I find it amazing that his support is so high. It appears that large segments of the American public are totally unaware of the high level of incompetence of this administration and this Congress. Here are 10 reasons supporters of the Emperor and his court continue to maintain blind loyalty:

1) They believe that the “tax cuts” affect them. That’s true only for families in the top 1 percent of the taxpayers. As a result, 25 percent of all federal expenditures since 2001 have been made with borrowed money.

2) They believe that the war in Iraq is retribution for the 9/11 attacks. The Emperor admits that we have killed 30,000 Iraqis. How many more do we need to kill?

3) They believe that Congress is doing their job by holding hearings on steroid abuse by baseball players, but no hearings on healthcare cost, no examination of the CIA leaks, no probes on the proper use of the FISA court, no debate on energy, but tens of thousands of earmarks for special projects.

4) They believe that the American economy is sound because there are plenty of low-paying jobs. The Emperor has taken no action to replace jobs that created the prosperity of the last 60 years. A third-rate educational system will not be able to sustain a first-rate economy.

5) They believe that the Emperor’s view of enforced democracy in the Islamic world will bring a quick resolution to the clash of religious beliefs that is dividing the world. The spread of democracy and freedom is our most noble aspiration as a nation, but democracy is evolutionary and may take 30 or more years to achieve. It will not succeed through military occupation. Elections in Iraq, Iran, Egypt and most recently Palestine all suggests that premature elections will result in a victory for terrorism.

6) They support the Emperor’s anti-choice agenda, but ignore the fact that the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancy is intelligent sex education and access to birth-control products. This administration has not prevented one abortion.

7) They believe that the Emperor should be able to intercept domestic communications without a warrant. What good is a war on terrorism, if we loose our own freedoms? Why is the administration monitoring the Quakers and animal-rights organizations? The Emperor is not above the law.

8) They believe the Emperor when he tells them that he is their protector. Yet, neither he nor the Congress has protected us from the tens of thousands who walk into our country every month along our Southern boarders.

9) They place their trust in the Emperor who believes that oil and gas interest will free us of our dependence on fossil fuels. Only a national commitment to science can save us from the dependency of the narcotic of oil from unstable nations.

10) They believe that being well informed on missing teenagers, the latest Hollywood gossip, or sports achievements makes them qualified to pass judgment on the Emperor. They need to turn off talk radio, put down the tabloids, stop watching the cable “news” shows and read books, newspapers and Internet sources that will reveal that this Emperor and this Congress do not represent the real values of the American people.

Now is the time for all Americans to become better educated on the deception that the Emperor and his court have been playing on the fears of the American people. Fear combined with ignorance produces a weak democracy. America’s strength has always been a democracy based on knowledge and trust.

Dennis Cleary
Bethany Beach

Community rallied for family in mourning

My family and I would like to personally thank the community for the outpouring of support we received after the passing away of my father. It has been a great tribute of his life hearing from so many people. I would also like to thank the Dagsboro Town Council for the fruit basket, card and moment of silence at the last board meeting. As you know, I served on council for 15 years and my father was very proud of my accomplishments as mayor. I know he greatly appreciates your kindness. Again, thank you all for your generous spirit. It’s what makes Delmarva a special place to live.

S. Bradley Connor

Castle’s record must be studied closely

Delaware voters have a tradition of splitting their tickets. And their vote for Rep. Michael Castle while voting in the majority for Democratic leaders is typical. The rationale voters give for sending Rep. Castle to Congress is that he is a “moderate” Republican. This assumes that, as a “moderate,” he is in tune with Delaware voters. But is he truly a “moderate”?

On Feb. 1, the House of Representatives passed a reconciliation budget bill that makes draconian cuts in Medicaid and student loans, among other things. The bill passed by two votes — one of which was from Rep. Castle. If he had voted against the bill, it would have failed because of a tie vote and would have been returned to conference between the House and Senate for additional deliberations. The reconciliation bill, passed with Rep. Castle’s support, has been accurately characterized by many as “reverse Robin Hood,” taking from the poor to give to the rich.

When approached by a voter to ask him to vote against the bill, Rep. Castle replied that student loans were a big problem — a rationalization on his part since student loans in fact do not break the bank. It is the huge deficits caused by an imbalanced budget that are breaking the bank and sending this country into record-setting deficits.

Thirteen Republicans from across the country (Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Iowa, etc.) voted against the bill. They are the true “moderates” — not Rep. Castle.

If this is not convincing, watch Rep. Castle’s vote on making the Republican tax cuts permanent. lf the tax cuts are made permanent, annual deficits will be about $334 billion per year. If Rep. Castle votes for them, he is not a “moderate” — not even a conservative. True conservatives believe in spending within one’s means. When an elected official votes for tax cuts when the country has to finance a war and rebuild a major metropolitan city, that action is profligate spending undeserving of any characterization as moderate, forward-thinking or even sound economics.

The question then is: Are Delaware voters well represented by Rep. Castle or are they being shortchanged? Votes for or against him in November 2006 will answer that question. We need to consider our votes carefully.

Mary K. Ryan