Contractors working in Bethany Beach now have a little more time to get work done during the off-season, with the town council’s unanimous approval this week of extending permitted work hours on Saturdays by four hours — but only from Oct. 1 through May 15.
Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer told the council at their Feb. 17 meeting that a number of contractors have found problems with the existing Saturday construction hours, which had been from 8 a.m. to noon.
“Most of their subcontractors, it’s not worth it for them to come out,” he said of workers having to set up no earlier than 8 a.m., perform their work and then be gone again before noon. He said the addition of four more work hours on Saturdays was intended to be more reasonable. “It gives them more opportunity to not lose a whole day.”
Killmer’s initial proposal was to extend the Saturday work hours from Oct. 1 through May 30, but Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman said she thought May 15 was a better stop date for the extended hours, citing the number of people who come into the town for Memorial Day weekend and the traditional start of the paid parking season on May 15.
Hardiman said she’d inquired about the number of complaints that had been made about construction on Saturdays in recent years, and they had ranged from a single complaint to as many as four per year.
“There haven’t been many,” she said, suggesting that the limits of the four-hour window might be one reason why there had been so few complaints.
Killmer said he found May 15 to be a “reasonable compromise,” and the council voted unanimously to extend the Saturday construction hours to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays between Oct. 1 and May 15.
The council this week also voted unanimously to add a section to its alcoholic beverages code regarding hotels. Killmer noted that the move was essentially to update the existing code by taking language directly from state code and applying it to a new section of town code regarding hotels.
While the Bethany Beach Ocean Suites contains a restaurant that serves alcoholic beverages, Killmer noted that the hotel itself is a separate entity and isn’t governed by the town code on alcoholic beverage sales in restaurants.
“We never had a hotel before that did this,” he said.
Lighting ordinance aims to prevent spillover
Also approved unanimously on second reading last Friday was an ordinance designed to reduce problems with residential outdoor lighting by regulating its intensity and location. Hardiman said the change had grown out of complaints about outdoor fixtures and security lights from neighboring properties shining onto people’s properties.
In order to reduce light trespass and glare on nearby properties, the new ordinance requires outdoor lighting to be shielded and focused within the property lines, so as to minimize spillover. A cap of .2 foot-candles at the property line was established in the ordinance, so that if complaints are made to the Town, code enforcement officers can verify with a light meter that the lighting exceeds the limit and fine the property owner, if needed.
Hardiman emphasized, though, that the hope was that the Town wouldn’t need to get involved in such situations, but that, instead, neighbors could use the ordinance as something to point to when working out any problems directly with their neighbors.
“We hope in giving them a standard that they can work it out between themselves, rather than having to go to the code enforcement officer,” she said.
Should anyone be unable to work things out directly with the neighbors, a violation would be subject to a fine of between $25 and $100 per incident.
Resident John Gaughn said he had questions about the resulting enforcement process, including how long a property owner would have to remedy a violation and what the appeals process would be.
Town Manager Cliff Graviet noted that it is the Town’s practice to warn ordinance violators a number of times before a citation is issued, and any appeal would go through the Town’s Alderman Court.
Hardiman emphasized that conversations with code enforcement officials in Ocean City, Md., and Fenwick Island had led the Charter & Ordinance Review Committee to establish a measurable limit in the proposed ordinance, and that Ocean City officials had said that while neighbors generally worked out the issues between themselves, when code enforcement officials had gone out to measure, they often offered suggestions for remedying the problem.
The ordinance covers only the Town’s residential zones, though resident Sherwin Winestock said his issues were with light from streetlights. In such cases, Killmer noted, residents can request that streetlights be shielded.
“Some people like to have them shaded or moved,” said Graviet. “We try to accommodate that as Delmarva Power allows.”
That’s one reason that the Town has requested new streetlight fixtures for the boardwalk, Mayor Jack Gordon noted. With a number of such complaints lodged each summer, the Town has been requesting an updated fixture for the lights for a while, Graviet reported last week, but has only recently been offered a down-lighted LED fixture that uses less energy.
He offered kudos to Public Works Director Brett Warner for having continued to pursue the issue with Delmarva Power, which only recently added such a fixture to its catalog of fixtures available for municipalities. The Town is hoping to have the new fixtures installed this spring.
However, Graviet noted, there is at least one thing that has to be done first — 3,000 feet of conduit under the boardwalk that runs power to the streetlights needs to be replaced. The conduit under the boardwalk has open and frayed wires at present, he said, and the Town will be working to replace the conduit so that the new lights can be put in.
Town looking to repair damage from winter storm
The conduit isn’t the only part of the boardwalk that is in need of repairs after this winter’s storms. Graviet reported on Feb. 17 that January’s nor’easter, while “very, very brief” had done a significant amount of damage, moving a lot of sand off the beach, which was already short on sand after prior storms.
The nor’easter destroyed the dune steps at Parkwood Street and the handicapped access ramp at Ocean View Parkway, both of which had been recently constructed after storms last year, Graviet noted.
He said parts of them had been found in Middlesex Beach after the storm, and that any sections that could be re-used in rebuilding the structures would be.
However, “We cannot do anything until we have another build-back of sand,” Graviet said, emphasizing that it will be “a long, long time before the summer season is on us,” which offers not only the time for sand to accumulate on the beach but additional opportunity for more storms to do more damage.
Graviet said Warner has been working to set 4-by-4s in the sand to support some of the steps that had been left hanging after the storm but hadn’t washed away in it.
“Our experience has been that, in all likelihood, they will wash away,” he acknowledged.
Graviet said the Town had heard nothing yet about a possible beach replenishment this year, saying that he felt such a possibility would be dependent on the president’s budget.
“It’s anyone’s guess at this particular time,” he said.
Killmer said he had been asked whether the area from Parkwood south, which currently has no dunes, could possibly have some kind of dune created by the Town.
“There isn’t enough sand on the beach to do that,” Graviet said. “DNREC continues to say they don’t want to take sand off the beach” and move it to the dune line because they would rather have the sand on the beach head, where it can absorb the energy from any storms before it gets to the dunes.
Meanwhile, the Town has been assessing the stability of the banks of the Loop Canal, after concerns that they were eroding.
The Town is currently in the process of stabilizing the island and southern shore with bio-logs, as they are considered most at risk. He said they plan to have a dialogue with residents on the north side of the canal about the possibility of having rip-rap installed there. He said those property owners had said in the past that they were willing to have the work done and bear the cost, and the Town is waiting to get an idea of what those costs might be.
Graviet also announced last Friday that the Town will be adding two additional beach webcams to its arsenal of views in the next month or so, facing north and south down the boardwalk.
And, having been asked for a handicapped access button on the front door of town hall, he said, that has already been installed.
With the Town moving from bi-weekly to weekly curbside recycling in the coming weeks, due to an increase in recycling volume, Graviet said he would use the opportunity of that official announcement to reinforce for users of the service what is and is not recyclable and what should and should not go into the blue recyclables cans.
Resident Sue Baxter had inquired about more extensive instructions, saying, “Recycling to me is very dear. … What I see in the recycling bins is amazing — trash, yard waste. … No one seems to agree on what is recyclable and what is not.”
She requested the Town provide a more complete list on its website or send out a list for renters, “so people realize the blue cans are for recycling and not for garbage.”
Building inspector could grant small variances
The council held a public hearing on Feb. 17, on an ordinance that would allow the Town’s building inspector to grant administrative variance for setback encroachments of 12 inches or less.
The administrative variances would be available only for existing encroachments or for people planning to retain an existing (encroaching) building footprint while renovating. Issues involving larger amounts, new construction or expansion of an existing footprint would still have to be heard by the Board of Adjustment.
Killmer noted that the move was intended to simplify such cases for property owners, as well as to spare them the $500 fee involved in having a hearing before the BoA. He said the administrative variances are permitted under state law, but the function has to be adopted by ordinance by a municipality before it can be used.
Vahan Moushegian Jr., chair of the BoA and a member of the board since 2011, said that during his time on the board, the BoA has heard 18 cases total — three of which involved dimensional variances of less than 12 inches for existing structures. Two of those, he said, required that a survey be signed off on by the building inspector, “And she could not do so” because of the encroachment.
“I fully support this, as do the board members,” he said, noting that it would save property owners $500, or possibly more — as, in one of those cases, the property owner had hired an attorney for the board hearing, “because they wanted to ensure the strongest possible case was being made.”
The ordinance will be up for a vote at the March council meeting.
Also at the Feb. 17 meeting:
• The Budget & Finance Committee reported that they expect the Town to end its fiscal year in March with revenue at least $800,000 over the budgeted amount, mainly due to building permits and transfer taxes. Expenses, they reported, are expected to come in a few percentage points under the budgeted amount. A public hearing on the budget for the 2018 fiscal year is set for March 17 at 10 a.m.
• The Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee is planning a spring cultural evening on April 25 or 26 that is to feature a local historical impersonator telling about life during the time of Teddy Roosevelt while portraying Roosevelt.
• An early April meeting is scheduled for those interested in serving as docents for the town museum, to give them a chance to get familiar with their duties and acquaint them with the current town museum, which remains in operation until the Dinker Cottage is open. Interested residents can contact Julie Malewski at town hall for more information.
• About a dozen visitors from the town’s sister city of Periers, France, will be arriving for the annual Periers Day celebration in late July, arriving on July 25 after several days in Washington, D.C. The committee is in the process of finalizing a performance by a New Orleans-style zydeco band for Periers Day.
CHAC is still looking for one or two additional host families for the visitors, most of whom are conversant in English and all of whom have at least some knowledge of English. Potential host families should also contact Malewski at town hall.
• CHAC has also completed a draft nomination to have the Dinker Cottage added to the National Register of Historic Places and submitted it to the state preservation office. The official name of the cottage on the register would be the Dinker/Irvin Cottage, to acknowledge that, in addition to being originally owned by the founding Dinker family, it has been owned by the Irvin family since 1927 and was donated to the Town by a member of that family.
• The Bethany Beach Fourth of July Parade has secured two marching bands and six other bands performing from trucks for the 2017 edition. The committee is still looking for volunteer marshals who will be trained to prevent the throwing of candy (a restriction being more stringently enforced this year) and minimize gaps in the parade.
• The Planning Commission expects to hold a series of public hearings in the coming months to review the latest five-year update to the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. Once the hearings are held, the document will go to the council for approval, before heading to state officials for PLUS review and approval at the state level.