DelDOT officials to monitor South Bethany traffic patterns

Motorists shouldn’t panic when they see state officials monitoring South Bethany around Memorial Day weekend, said Town Councilman George Junkin at the May 13 council meeting.

In a three-part traffic study of the Cat Hill neighborhood, Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) staff will have clipboards to monitor the vehicles that use those back roads, including residents and visitors.

DelDOT will perform traffic studies before Memorial Day, before July 4 and during the Independence Day weekend. Results should arrive by August.

The studies are being done to address residents’ concerns that the narrow Cat Hill roads are being abused as a shortcut to Route 1, with excesses in both in traffic volume and speed.

Electronic speed notification signs have also been installed, and faulty speed humps are to be corrected soon.

Some residents called it a slow process, but town council members have said that they can’t just install a stop sign without proper traffic studies, and they prefer to consult with DelDOT.

It is actually a relatively speedy process, said Mayor Pat Voveris, considering the 15 months the council invested in Ocean Drive’s flood plain map. She said changes won’t come with the snap of her fingers, but with careful planning to improve overall safety.

“Yes, the Town owns the road, but if we don’t follow the traditional or federal guidelines,” the Town is liable, Councilman Frank Weisgerber said.

Potty talk

The construction of residential bathrooms has been restricted in South Bethany for many years, but soon, perhaps, no longer. The town council has instructed the Charter & Code Committee to consider removing bathroom restrictions.

In an effort to control the “McMansions” that were popping up a decade ago, the council at that time had reacted by limiting houses to a maximum of four bathrooms each.

But times change, and in executive session, the council in opted not to pursue two code violations for excessive bathrooms — just a few violations of many over the years.

According to Councilwoman Carol Stevenson, many Realtors have told the Town, “get out of the way of people who want to build homes and let them do what they want.”

People can survive with four bathrooms and 30 vacationers in a family, but the Town and Realtors believe they could be making even more money on sales and rentals if there were more bathrooms permitted in such homes.

Meanwhile, the Town still limits house sizes and prevents the construction of multi-family units in disguise through the one-kitchen limit of the same era, and the newer floor-to-area-ratio (FAR) and livable-area-ratio (LAR) restrictions.

Joe Conway asked the CCC to investigate the issue of the sewage impacts of more bathrooms. Can the sewage system handle the presumed additional water caused by more guests and more flushing?

Discussion will continue with the first reading of a draft ordinance at the May 26 town council workshop.

Time to write the comprehensive plan

South Bethany has begun an organized study of its future for the 2017 comprehensive plan update, from finances to police to parking.

“It’s a requirement. Every municipality and county in the state of Delaware must file a comprehensive plan every 10 years,” said Planning Commissioner Dick Oliver.

Updates to the existing comp plan (60 pages, plus maps and appendices) include Town goals, land use, natural resources, public utilities and infrastructure.

The language describes what the Town will consider or continue doing in future.

“This doesn’t mean we plan to do some things,” Oliver said. “We plan to look at them, to study them over the next 10 years. I think the fact that this is permissive, not prescriptive, is very important.”

Goals include enhancing town attractiveness to residents and visitors; maintaining a safe community (which may include a comprehensive streetlight plan); and improving Town services (although running the power and telephone lines underground will never happen, Oliver said, between the three providers).

The Planning Commission will work with the mandatory State checklist, previous comp plan and the recent town survey.

Eventually, the state and governor must approve the revised document, and South Bethany must consider its guidance in future. Some towns have been required to amend comp plans, for instance, when annexing territory into a different zone than their comp plan originally prescribed.

“It has the force of law, which is why we write it in such a way that we don’t lock ourselves into doing something that we might not be able to do. It gives us the option,” Oliver said.

This is a draft document. The council still has to vote, and public input is required.

Measuring house height

The town council has unanimously approved a new method for measuring house height near the oceanfront, based on base flood elevation (BFE).

Ordinance 180-16 amends Chapter 145 of the Zoning Code to change the height limit on houses in the VE zone to 33 feet above BFE (or 35 feet above BFE when 2 feet of freeboard are included), but no higher than 48 feet NAVD, due to variations in the elevation of Ocean Drive.

No citizens commented during the public hearing on the ordinance change.

Meanwhile, a new ad-hoc Base Flood Elevation Committee will begin researching house height across town, including the possibility of measuring everything from BFE.

In other South Bethany news:

• Councilmen George Junkin and Tim Saxton bid farewell as they served at their final regular meeting on the town council. Their terms end May 30, and neither filed for re-election.

• When discussing recent burglaries in the town and nearby, Police Chief Troy Crowson encouraged people, “Anytime you hear something or see something suspicious, please call us. Even if it’s nothing, let us” make that assessment, he said.

Police have good leads in a Black Gum Drive burglary case, he said.

“Lighting’s always good for security. Anytime you have lighting, it’s a good thing,” Crowson said. “We have had some good resolutions from people who had video cameras.”

He reminded people that security systems need to be properly activated, too.

• The town’s canals need some cleaning, but the State algae harvester needed maintenance and hasn’t been available. South Bethany is on the waiting list, though. Junkin said the Town will soon get a business demo on possibly purchasing its own small harvester.

“I think we have to do something more proactive, in having a harvester we can get out when we need it,” Junkin said. Often, he said, the algae is bad on the surface and then sinks to the bottom, which is good for boats but bad for the canal, as it rots there, further reducing water quality.

• South Bethany’s fees have been updated, including building fees that now more closely mirror neighboring towns and reduce fraud.

• The town council unanimously voted to install a new speed hump on Black Gum Drive, having previously voted to upgrade the existing humps. That construction will require road closures.

• Norm Montigny was added to the Traffic Committee.

The next town council workshop is Thursday, May 26, at 2 p.m.