There’s no question that the winter of 2013-2014 has been an unusual one for its severe weather, with extended below-freezing temperatures and numerous snowstorms. The question now is whether that weather will extend Bethany Beach’s Streetscape project so far past its original timeline that it extends into the summer season.
Town Manager Cliff Graviet told the town council at their March 21 meeting that the bad weather over the previous 60 days had pushed the project even further back on the calendar than it had been a few months prior. That original delay had come at the behest of downtown businesses hoping to preserve their fall shoulder season, he noted, but it may come at the cost of losing some or all of the spring shoulder season and perhaps even some of the early summer.
“In our meeting last spring, the business community was adamant that the project not begin in September, that it be pushed back to begin after Columbus Day,” he said. “They felt starting the project in September would negatively impact their shoulder-season business. And, even though it was pointed out to them that a late start could push the project into Memorial Day and over, with one exception, at this very well-attended meeting, every business owner wanted —demanded, if you will — that the project not start until October.”
That chicken may have come home to roost, according to Graviet.
“The stage has been set to push it almost into the season,” he said, noting that the recent work on the 200 block of Garfield Parkway that was due to be completed, with roads reopened to traffic, by mid-March, had already been pushed back to a March 25 completion date and then to March 27, between the snow and the resulting moisture it left behind. Now, he said, it’s hoped it might be completed by the end of the month.
Once that portion of the project and work at the intersection with Pennsylvania Avenue is completed, Graviet said, contractors will move on to work at the top of Garfield Parkway, at the beachfront “circle.” They’ll close the entire circle and the intersection with Atlantic Avenue in early April, just as the Pennsylvania Avenue intersection has been closed for the current work.
The work on the circle will take place from property line to property line, involving the sidewalks and street, he noted, but with no concrete work, it’s not expected to be “quite as time-consuming, noisy and disruptive” as the other segments. “But it is going to take some time,” Graviet said.
Meanwhile, Graviet said, contractors will also be doing work in the 100 block of Garfield Parkway — work he said is expected to take “a good bit of time” because of the amount of pavers involved.
Graviet emphasized that he planned to advocate at a progress meeting this week that DelDOT “strongly consider pushing the project for the circle to the fall. But we already know that DelDOT is not in favor of it, as it would involve mobilizing the construction company again in the fall,” resulting in increased costs for the project. He said he’d report on the outcome of the meeting on the Town website.
Streetscape area moving into Town’s hands
Whether the project is completed before Memorial Day weekend, lingers into the summer or pauses before starting up again in the fall, once Bethany’s Streetscape is complete, the future of the downtown area will be in the Town’s hands. That’s because the State has agreed to turn Garfield Parkway over to the Town from the boardwalk to Route 1.
Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer told the Coastal Point recently that Town officials were glad to take ownership of the roadway because it would allow them to do future maintenance and renovation projects on their own timetables and at their own will, instead of waiting for approval and funding from the State. Street project funding could continue to come from a number of sources, including federal funds or Municipal Street Aid through local legislators.
The State-owned status of Garfield Parkway has been mentioned in the past as a guarantee that the town’s beachfront would maintain public access into the future, with that figuring into calculations of the likelihood of getting federal funding for beach reconstruction and replenishment. But Killmer said public access to Bethany’s beach won’t end as a result of the change in ownership of the three blocks of Garfield Parkway.
Water tower construction nearing completion
Streetscape isn’t the only change that can be seen in Bethany’s landscape these days. The Town’s new water tower was nearly complete as of March 21, with only some top plates of the “ball” portion of the tower yet to be put in place and expected to be completed by early this week.
Graviet said the project was about two weeks behind its original timetable due to the weather, with workers prohibited from working on the tower during winds greater than 25 mph. Additional work on the project site has been ongoing, leading up to a speedier installation of the new pump house in the fall, he noted.
With the final plates in place on the ball, the work will move on to welding, and then painting can begin. Graviet said he’d had some inquiries about the planned color for the new tower but that it will match the existing standpipe, rather than taking on a new look.
The shade, called April Rain, is one of two shades of blue that the company doing the painting — which does most of the water tank painting on the East Coast, Graviet noted — felt would meld well with the horizon. He said someone had inquired as to why the Town wasn’t having the tower painted in a camouflage pattern — something Graviet said would be cost-prohibitive.
Developer aiming to start demolition of Bethany Arms
A final change in the works for the Bethany landscape will come into play just south of the renovated Garfield Parkway. Graviet reported last Friday that, even though Burbage Properties hadn’t officially acquired final ownership of the former Bethany Arms Motel property, they had moved forward with the process of obtaining demolition permits needed to tear down the old motel structures in preparation for construction of the new boardwalk hotel.
“They’re a couple days away from being able to do that,” he said March 21 of the permitting, noting that water service to the property had already been turned off and that they were in the process of having sewer service and power cut off also.
“They intended to demolish it as soon as possible and apparently would like to do some basic structural work before summer begins that might allow them to continue some work during the summer,” Graviet explained.
Also at the March 21 council meeting:
• Graviet reported that a new Delaware Surf Zone Injury Work Group that includes representatives of DNREC, Beebe Healthcare’s emergency department and the University of Delaware is now working on compiling information about injuries sustained in the surf off Bethany Beach — particularly, cataclysmic back injuries.
He said that the group plans to install a buoy 100 yards offshore to help monitor wave height and strength, and direction of flow offshore, and to compile that information with other information to come up “with some rationale or way to warn in advance of dangerous conditions that cause these injuries.”
• With only a month left in the Town’s fiscal year, Councilman Jerry Dorfman reported that the Town had collected 101.3 percent of its budgeted revenue and spent 87.8 percent of its budgeted expenses, compared to 105 percent of revenue and 89.1 percent of expenses at the same point in the 2013 fiscal year. Revenues do exceed expenses, he noted.
• The council voted unanimously to approve the proposed budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which includes $7.8 million total expenses and revenue. The budget also includes a half-cent increase in the town’s property tax rate (per $100 of assessed value), amounting to a 3 percent increase or $15 or less in annual increase for most of the town’s property owners.
• Newly selected Mayor Jack Gordon did what he said is “one of the best things a mayor gets to do,” when he handed over grants from the Town to the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company and Friends of the South Coastal Library. FOSCL President Lois Rubinson accepted that group’s donation, saying it will go toward programs at the library. BBVFC Chief Brian Martin and President Steve Lett accepted the fire company donation, noting that their new ambulance is expected to go into service soon. They also touted the planned EMS Day on May 10, which will open the fire house for a family-friendly event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• Newly selected Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer reported the approval by the Non-Residential Design Review Committee of new signage for Ocean Treasures, a new business at 115 Garfield Parkway — the location of the former Bethany Beach Bakery.
• Killmer also reported the Planning Commission’s approval of the final draft of its recommendations for regulations designed to control residential bulk density. A first draft of related ordinance changes has also been created. Killmer said the group is also looking to update Chapter 410-18 regarding partitioning of land, to make several timelines for related events the same.
• The council unanimously voted to award exercise concessions for boardwalk and beach exercise, for yoga to be offered daily at 6 a.m.; Pilates on the beach on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 a.m.; and a “Body Basics” offering on Sundays and Thursdays at 7:15 a.m., with Zumba offered on Mondays and Saturdays at 8 a.m., working out to two exercise offerings each day of the week during the summer.
• Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee members have recently reorganized the museum displays in the town hall lobby, removing some items and adding some new ones. Councilwoman Margaret Young said that the group is also discussing labeling and frames for the historical photos in town hall and recently reviewed the completed oral history DVD project, which will be downloaded to the museum kiosk in the near future. Visitors to the museum will be able to watch the entire project or choose a specific person to hear from. The video will replace the existing Storm of ’62 video on one side of the kiosk.
• The council voted 6-1 to move its April 18 meeting to 4 p.m. Town hall will be closed that day for Good Friday, which is a state and county holiday, though not a federal one. But it will be opened specifically for the council meeting, which will happen two hours later than usual.