Bethany Beach getting gussied up for summer season

Bethany Beach’s Streetscape project won’t be completely finished in time for the 2014 summer season, but with the final phase pushed back until October and other portions of the project completed or nearly so, the Town is revving up for summer, with plenty of new things in store for residents and visitors.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet officially announced at the April 25 town council meeting that Streetscape work on the “circle” in the boardwalk block of Garfield Parkway, leading up to the Bethany Beach Patrol’s guard house, will be put off until mid-October. At the Town’s request, he said, DelDOT officials “have graciously done that.”

Graviet also reported that the 100 block of Garfield Parkway is expected to be clear of Streetscape work well before Memorial Day, while an add-on project on N. Pennsylvania Avenue, from Garfield to Central Boulevard, is also expected to be completed in that time frame.

Contractors A-Del Construction were the only bidders on the add-on $84,000 project, owing at least partly to the fact that they were already on-site and had met the Town’s bond requirements. They’ve now begun work on the sidewalk and lighting in the additional area, as well as the undergrounding of utilities there.

The council voted unanimously to approve the contract on April 25, with funding “to make that part of Streetscape a reality” coming through state Sen. Gerald Hocker (R-20th).

Those who haven’t been in town over the off-season thus far should be spotting a new structure on the horizon, with the completion of the Town’s new water tower at the site of the existing water plant. Graviet told council members that the construction portion of the project had been completed and that the inside of the tower was being painted, with scaffolding also being installed on the exterior so that the exterior painting could also begin. The work, he said, should finish around Memorial Day, as planned.

Additionally, he said, the Town is going to try to get the painting contractor to clean and power-wash the exterior of the Town’s existing water standpipe, in preparation for making it a tower of different color.

“That green is not a good contrast with the Spring Rain color of the tower,” he reported.

That project will also resume this fall, with construction of the pump house, which is the final part of the project, keeping it on track for the expected January 2015 start date of service from the new tower.

Bethany adds smartphone app to parking program

People looking to park in Bethany Beach’s metered parking area could also find a pleasant surprise when they arrive in the town after the May 15 return of the paid and permit parking. Graviet reported last Friday that the Town had added the smartphone parking pay system ParkMobile to its existing setup.

Those wishing to use the new system must register with ParkMobile, online or via the company’s smartphone app, and provide information including a description of their car and credit card information for payment. From there, they can pay directly through the app for a given amount of parking time for that particular vehicle and can receive notifications at 15, 10 and five minutes before their time expires.

Graviet noted that, while the system can be used to pay for parking in the central downtown areas with two-hour parking limits, the Town has “worked out a way to limit parking” that will require drivers to come back and move their cars when that period is up.

“You won’t be able to come back and pay for more parking,” he said of those areas, noting that there remains somewhat of an issue with enforcement of the two-hour limit, as the council hasn’t wanted to enforce the rule by giving tickets but does want people to move their cars after that time has expired, so that others can have a chance to park in the downtown area and patronize businesses there.

Those planning to take in entertainment at the bandstand should also find some improvements this summer, with an upgrade made to lighting and sound systems at the bandstand. Graviet said it was common to find that those close to the structure felt the sound was too loud, while those at the back of the area couldn’t hear well.

“This should correct that,” he said of the new computer-controlled, state-of-the-art audio system.

Town adding e-cigarettes and marijuana to smoking ban

Anyone hoping to get their nicotine fix on Bethany’s beach and boardwalk via an e-cigarette will likely find themselves out of luck this summer, however. The council will hold a second reading and vote at its May meeting on whether to amend the existing smoking ban to include e-cigarettes, as well as marijuana and other substances.

Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer told the council that changes in state law regarding medical marijuana, expected to take effect in July, and the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes had led the council to propose expanding the definition of smoking that is part of the existing ban on smoking on the boardwalk and beach and in town parks, except in designated areas.

“Along that line,” he said of the e-cigarettes, “they’re selling marijuana extracts, so people could be smoking marijuana on the beach. But you can’t smell it, and that’s a downside on enforcement side. So we decided to update the smoking definition.”

Now going beyond only burning a cigarette, cigar or other tobacco product, the new definition would include “burning, heating, inhaling or exhaling” tobacco, marijuana or other such products by any device or manner in the areas in which smoking is banned in the town.

Councilman Jerry Dorfman noted that the federal government has started to look at regulating e-cigarettes and said he hoped that would lead to more insight into how harmful they can be and about addiction to nicotine. He also referenced a move to ban e-cigarettes in parts of Philadelphia.

Killmer pointed out that the Delaware House of Delegates had already passed new regulations regarding e-cigarettes, with that legislation having moved on to the Senate for possible approval.

People won’t be able to light up on much of the beach and boardwalk this summer, but they will be able to connect to the Internet more easily, as the council on April 25 unanimously voted to approve a replacement Wi-Fi system for the oceanfront area.

Graviet noted that the system the Town had installed a few years ago had been reasonably priced but had proved not to be “robust” enough to deal with the weather on the oceanfront. It had worked intermittently for two seasons in the boardwalk area, serving up to 400 users at a time, he added, but with two bids on replacement equipment, he said the Town could improve service for $38,000.

The town manager said the new Cisco-based system would provide more equipment in the way of access points than a higher bid, providing coverage along the beach with a “very robust system, designed to operate long-term in an environment like the oceanfront.” The new system will expand coverage to include the boardwalk and beach areas from the north to south, he said.

Mayor Jack Gordon noted that the Wi-Fi service “was more popular than I had thought. We had a lot of complaints when the system was down,” he said. “It’s a very unique feature our beach community has,” he added. “I don’t think any other town offers it around here.”

Park survey results in, Hollywood traffic reviewed

While it won’t be this summer that the new town park comes into being, the town council that week officially received the results of its survey on features desired in the park on the former Christian Church and Neff properties on the northwest corner of the intersection of Routes 1 and 26.

The “sizeable document,” Gordon noted, is posted on the Town’s website, offering insight into what the 967 respondents said they want to see in the park. He described the 907 electronic answers and 60 mailed responses as a “nice response from the public” but said he felt it was too early at this point to discuss what the survey presented and what the town council might want to do with the response from the public.

While the next, fourth, step in the Town’s nine-point plan for developing the park was to hire a landscape architect for the project, Gordon said he felt the council should first decide what is desired in the park— which was to be part of the fifth step — before doing that, as the expertise of various contractors could come into play.

Gordon proposed that before or after the next council workshop, at a special meeting of the council, they look at the results of the survey and just discuss what the public had said in regard to what they would like in the park. They would then hold a public meeting, as also called for in that fifth step, to discuss park elements and features, based on the survey results.

He recommended people read the survey so that they can be familiar with the results and have any additional input ready for future discussions.

The council also considered on April 25 the issue of a complaint about speeding and traffic on Hollywood Street, which has been used more than usual this winter while Garfield Parkway was closed for the Streetscape work.

Graviet reported that, through new technology, the Town had been able to measure traffic volume and speeds on the road over the course of three days. He acknowledged the heavier volume there during the Streetscape work and the demolition of the Bethany Arms Motel as it makes way for a new beachfront hotel.

“Once it has reopened, we know that will come down,” he said of the volume of traffic on Hollywood. As for speed, he said, 90 to 95 percent, or more, of the vehicles recorded during the three-day period had been going at least 5 mph under the speed limit.

Gordon praised the effectiveness of the new technology, saying it can actually answer a lot of the questions people have about traffic on their streets. “Everybody thinks in their neighborhood people are driving faster than they are,” he said.

“This is catching them coming and going,” Graviet noted, adding that, with streets so narrow, 20 to 25 mph can seem much faster than it is.

Along with the other changes headed into the summer season, Graviet also reported that the Town and its staff will be busy with introducing 100 new employees to the staff roster for the busy summer, along with all of the other preparation that is already under way.

Finally, Graviet noted a potential area of confusion with the Town’s beach and boardwalk wedding approvals. Three years ago, he said, the Town had added a requirement for those wishing to have a wedding on the beach or boardwalk to fill out a basic form, including the date and time planned and the number of guests expected.

“We’re inundated in May and June,” he explained, “and we didn’t want them fighting over space.”

While the form specifies that the Town won’t provide chairs and that no structures are to be erected, he said he’d gotten a curious email from one groom last week, asking why no one from the Town had shown up to perform his marriage the day prior. The groom, he said, reported that the couple had waited until 2 p.m. for someone to arrive and do the honors, before finally making an urgent run to Georgetown, where they were married.

The Town, of course, doesn’t perform weddings but does ask wedding parties wishing to be married on the beach or boardwalk to register ahead of time just so that those space issues can be dealt with in advance.

Killmer said he only expected the issue to grow in the coming years, “especially when the hotel opens. A lot of people are going to have their receptions at the hotel. This could be a critical issue for us to control that. There might be a multitude of weddings on the same day. We have to be careful with that. It becomes more of an issue every year, with the volume,” he said.

Also at the April 25 council meeting:

• Killmer reported the Planning Commission’s approval of the partitioning of two lots that had previously been joined into one but that were being divided again. He also reported their finalizing a draft of policy regarding residential bulk density. In June, the commission will invite planners, developers, contractors and others, as well as the public, to a line-by-line review, after which the commission will move to incorporate their concerns and additional ideas before a final vote, which will then send the issue to a town council workshop for possible future action.

• Councilman Chuck Peterson reported continued progress from the 4th of July Parade Committee, with bands under contract and T-shirts set to be delivered in the next couple weeks. He said the committee had had a scare regarding its use of the Christian Church grounds for a staging area, as construction is ongoing there, but that it appeared to have been resolved for a modified use. The parade will honor Phil and Mary Rossi as its grand marshals for 2014, due to their many years working on the parade.

• The council voted unanimously to confirm a limit of two parking permits per improved property, as approved and implemented in 2010. Killmer said the change simply hadn’t made it into the town code, despite its approval. He asked the council to waive a second reading and once again approve the regulation — this time as a housekeeping measure.

• The council also voted unanimously to amend its special fund revenue and expense budgets to match the grant funds that the Town was actually awarded in the 2014 fiscal year. Dorfman said the funds received had far exceeded the early estimates used in the budget, at $303,332 instead of $247,331 — some $56,000 in additional grant revenues.

• Also approved unanimously was the reallocation of funds in the 2014 operating budget, allowing for several projects that had been added since then, costs that exceeded budgeted amounts on some projects and those that had come in as less expensive than originally expected. The budget totals remain the same, but an unused $25,000 from the police department and $20,000 from parking was moved to cover additional costs on stormwater, code enforcement and the bandstand improvements.

• Having reviewed once again the Town investment policy, the council also voted unanimously to retain the existing policy from February 2005, which Gordon said was “extremely conservative” and “has served us quite well.”

• Two contracts for purchases of new vehicles were also approved unanimously: one for $39,900 for a mini track loader that the Town uses for drainage and stormwater work, which will replace a 12-year-old unit in need of $12,000 worth of work; and another for the purchase under State contract of two diesel pickup trucks for $54,900 each, which will replace two 14-year-old gasoline-powered trucks.

Graviet said the Town was moving toward more diesel vehicles in its fleet because such vehicles are running more cleanly and quietly than they were even a few years ago. Both the old track loader and the two gasoline trucks are expected to be sold or auctioned by the Town this fall, along with some other equipment, he said.