Bethany Beach Town Council members at their Aug. 15 meeting voted unanimously to adopt two revised regulations regarding recreational activities on the town’s beach.
One gives lifeguards more discretion for allowing the playing of throwing games during lifeguard hours. The other removes specific hours for prohibitions on surfing and other similar activities but prohibits them during all hours when lifeguards are on duty.
Council members expressed unanimous support for giving lifeguards the discretion to allow or prohibit the playing of ball games or other throwing games on the beach and in the water, though Councilwoman Margaret Young said she felt the areas in and near the water were of greater concern.
“They’re in a contained space. They can’t move to get out of the way. They’re in more danger of being hit,” she said of bystanders.
Councilman Chuck Peterson emphasized that the revised ordinance does give the lifeguards the ability to put an end to games being played in the water, while Mayor Jack Gordon said that, in his experience, “All the times now when people are playing in the water, they’re stopped” during lifeguard hours.
Councilman Lew Killmer said he felt the change to potentially allow games to be played was needed.
“I think this is a better way of handling it,” he said. “Many times there’s nobody on the beach, and the way it is now, you can’t do anything. It goes along with being a family-oriented community.”
Gordon said that the beach is also larger than it was in the past, thanks to the beach reconstruction and replenishment projects of the last decade. “When this was passed, we didn’t have the beach we have now,” he added.
“There are times when nobody is there,” Killmer emphasized, noting times when kids were playing with soft foam balls, “and they were stopped. If the conditions permit, the lifeguard has the discretion to say yes or no,” he reiterated.
Board sports prohibited during lifeguard hours
The council also voted unanimously on Aug. 15 to approve on its second reading a revised ordinance regarding surfing and activities using similar devices, such as skimboards, paddleboards, kiteboards and kayaks.
The Town already prohibited surfing and related activities during summer hours when lifeguards are typically on duty to protect swimmers, but the change adopted at the August council meeting eliminates the specific hours that were enumerated in the prior version of the code and instead prohibits the activities whenever lifeguards are on duty.
The proposed ordinance also included definitions for the various devices, including defining as “hard” any board containing wood, metal or fiberglass. “Soft” devices — such as soft-sided bodyboards, as well as inflatable rafts and foam mats — are exempt from the provision and can be used during lifeguard hours.
Council members were provided by Bethany Surf Shop with examples of a skimboard and a bodyboard for reference during their consideration of the ordinance. Gordon noted that the skimboard provided wasn’t the plain, flat wooden board he’d seen most often used in the town, with Town Manager Cliff Graviet explaining that the example was a higher-end board.
Bethany Surf Shop owner Jim McGrath offered some input on the variations of hard and soft bodyboards when Gordon asked about ones with a spongy top.
“A long time ago, they made ones that were shaped just like that but made just like a surfboard,” McGrath explained of the hard boards. “You don’t see them around too much anymore, but they are around. They’re basically little surfboards,” he said.
Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman said she felt the new definitions offered clarity and that the new ordinance was an improvement. Having spoken recently to lifeguards about the issue, she said, they hadn’t said there was a problem with bodyboards so much as skimboards.
She also asked for confirmation that the new ordinance removed a requirement for such devices to have leashes. Peterson confirmed that the requirement had been removed. Gordon, who had noted in the past how rarely he saw leashes on the devices, asked McGrath how many were sold with leashes these days. McGrath said many are and some people do use them. But the council favored removing the requirement to do so.
“I very seldom see anyone using the leashes,” Killmer said.
Young said she was particularly relieved that the skimboards were banned.
“I’m glad about the skimboards being banned, because they’re dangerous. People ride them at the edge of the water, parallel to the water, where a lot of people stand — especially with young children,” she said, adding that the riders are often young people “who don’t have the maturity to see that they might hit people, and they have to move out of the way very fast.”
Graviet emphasized that the prohibition on skimboards isn’t a change. “Skimboards have always been banned during lifeguard hours,” he said.
Also at the Aug. 15 council meeting:
• Councilman Jerry Dorfman offered details from the agreement reached between the Bethany Boardwalk Group LLC and the Town regarding fees due to the Town for the hotel currently under construction on the former Bethany Arms Motel site.
The $791,064.60 in building permit fees, transfer taxes and water impact fees will be paid in four payments of $197,766.55, with the first payment already received by the town and the others to be paid every 12 months until the final payment in July of 2017.
He noted that the full amount of roughly $791,000 was being reported in the Town’s July financial report, in accordance with standard accounting procedures, resulting in a higher-than-usual figure for revenue for the Town for July 2014.
• The council unanimously approved the Town’s tax adjustment list, including new tax amounts for eight new or remodeled homes. Hardiman questioned why some of the homes had been built or renovated as long ago as 2012 but were on a 2014 tax adjustment list, and Graviet explained that the delay was due to some open-ended certificates of occupancy that the Town had recently closed out.
• Gordon encouraged those who won’t be in town on Sept. 6 to take advantage of absentee balloting in person for voting in the annual council election.
“If you’re going to be here over next X weeks, this process can allow you to do things much quicker than by mail,” he said, noting that town hall is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, as well as being open on recent Saturdays, including Aug. 30, to accept requests for absentee ballots.
“You can pick one up and fill it out here and turn it in to the town employee, at which time you can receive an absentee ballot form and can vote at that point in time,” he explained, reminding voters who do so to follow the more exacting absentee ballot directions closely. The ballot can then be turned in to a town employee, right on the spot. “So you’ve taken care of the whole thing,” he said.
The council also reminded voters to make sure they have their picture ID in-hand for voting absentee or by machine on Sept. 6, when voting will take place between noon and 6 p.m. at town hall.
Due to the election, no regular council meeting is planned for September, as per usual, but the council does have the option to call one if it is determined to be needed.
• Graviet reported that plans for the Town’s 2014 paving project don’t include any significant work, as the Town is queuing up resources for a major project planned for 2015 — the complete repaving of Halfmoon Drive in Bethany West. The minor projects planned for 2014 will be funded with Town monies and slightly reduced Municipal Street Aid funding.
• The town manager also reported occasional complaints about the status of the accessibility-enhancing Mobi Mats at the beach dune crossings, saying that there were routine problems with the sand at the end of the mats moving. “Public Works tries to stay on top of it. It’s on a schedule,” he said, noting that some crossings are worse than others, generating some complaints about people stepping off the mats and tripping due to the lack of soft sand.
• Graviet offered praise for Town Horticulturist Melina Linda, saying she had done “an exceptional job” of keeping the Town’s plantings in good shape in summer, “when it’s so difficult to keep things vibrant and alive.” He noted the work it takes just to keep the many hanging baskets alive and made light of a complaint that the town was “beginning to look like Disney World” as a sign the work is paying off.
• He also reported strong growth in use of the ParkMobile parking payment system in its first year of use by the Town. In mid-July, he said, about 199 people were using it daily, with that figure up to 276 per day by mid-August. As of Aug. 11, nearly 10,000 people had used it. “It’s a great option. You don’t have to carry change or worry about anything,” he said, noting that the Town was continuing to work on some minor glitches involving cell and Wi-Fi coverage. “It’s becoming a practical alternative to putting money in the meters or using the pay-to-park stubs.”
• Graviet said work was under way to install a 12.5-by-50-inch digital sign on the north side of the guard house on the boardwalk plaza, facing Mango’s, which the Town will use to announce evening events but primarily when they have cancelations because of weather “or other things beyond our control. We don’t have good way to make notifications for people in the area of the bandstand,” he said of the present circumstances, noting that the board’s content can be loaded remotely, so it doesn’t require staff to go to the guard house to make changes.
• Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee Chairwoman Carol Olmstead reported on the group’s July 27 meeting, noting the finalization of plans for Périers Day the following Sunday, honoring the town’s “twin” in France. She said the event had been well-received, with many people in attendance and the two caricature artists having been kept busy. French music was offered that afternoon, as well.
Resident Diana Cowell also reported on Aug. 15 on her recent trip to Périers, France, with a gift for the Town from its mayor — a book about D-Day, which that town had recently honored with a 70th anniversary celebration. Cowell said she had taken part in a daylong celebration of the anniversary and found that the French town would offer a warm welcome to anyone from Bethany who visited there.
Olmstead also reported on Aug. 15 that the committee had on July 27 reviewed changes they had asked to be made in the completed oral history project DVD, which has reached its final stages after five years of planning and work. She said it should soon be loaded on the kiosk in the town museum.
The committee also discussed joint work on the planned coastal towns museum, with ongoing discussion of the various responsibilities of the participating towns and the funding for the museum. Additionally, plans are to create a webpage for the town’s own museum at town hall.
The group will meet next on Sept. 9.