Bethany adopts new requirements for CL-1 zone

The Bethany Beach Town Council this week adopted changes to the code regarding its newly created CL-1 Commercial Lodging district, which was designed to allow for and address plans to redevelop the former Bethany Arms Motel property and an adjacent lot as a new flagship oceanfront hotel, now slated to be called the Bethany Beach Ocean Suites.

On a 6-1 vote at their Nov. 15 meeting, with Councilwoman Margaret Young opposed, the council adopted a substitute ordinance that Councilman Lew Killmer said was designed to codify what developer Jack Burbage had proposed to the Town and public during discussions of the hotel project.

Killmer said that, with changes made to proposed hotel plan after prior meetings with the town council and Non-Residential Design Review Committee (DRC), a handful of changes had been made to the proposed ordinance.

Among them was a change to the definition of a kitchen, defining the inclusion of a two-burner cooking countertop insert and sink in hotel rooms, as well as a compact refrigerator, microwave and mini-bar, to not constitute a kitchen, and thus make all of them allowable in a hotel room in the district.

Additionally, changes in the code also specify accessory uses in a hotel that would be permitted to be open to the public at certain times, including a hotel’s restaurant, pool, gym and spa. Killmer said the suggestion had been made by the community and that Burbage appeared to be amenable.

Young questioned what times of year the amenities might be open to the public, and Killmer clarified that, as a Marriott Residence Inn, the hotel would be open year-round, while the new code would only require that the amenities be available at certain times — likely in the off-season — and exactly when they would be open would be up to the owner of the hotel.

Council members asked about how exactly the “off-season” would be defined, and Killmer said he imagined it would be the same as the Town does, around Oct. 1 to May 1, but he asserted that he would rather leave that fluid rather than codify the dates.

Councilman Joseph Healy asked if the hotel’s conference rooms would be available for use by the Town, such as if the council were to host a meeting of the Sussex County Association of Towns. Subsequent discussion led to the council adding conference rooms to the list of hotel amenities that could be made available to the public at certain times of the year.

Addressing one of the more controversial issues involved in the hotel proposal, Killmer noted that changes had been made to the proposed requirements for off-street parking in the CL-1 district.

The initial proposal had been to require a minimum of one spot per standard guest room and two spots per oversized guest room. But the newer idea was to require only one spot per guest room, provided no more than 460 guests were being accommodated in the hotel.

Killmer explained that the DRC process had seen the hotel’s rooms downsized and reconfigured, to allow for around 460 guests. Previously, he said, rooms had had the ability to sleep more than four people, with pull-out sofas and adjoining rooms as part of suites. With the capacity of the former Blue Surf Motel and Bethany Arms having reached around 460 total, the reconfiguration and downsizing — in conjunction with Burbage’s commitment to that number — mean the Bethany Beach Ocean Suites have that maximum capacity of 460 people.

With that agreement from Burbage, Killmer said, the Town could allow 115 off-street parking spaces for the new hotel, including 17 spaces for compact cars. If that 460-guest capacity is exceeded, however, Killmer said the Town could resort to fines. And were a hotel with a larger capacity ever built in the CL-1 zone, additional off-street parking would be required.

“[Burbage] made the commitment of never having more than 460 guests,” Killmer said. “I will take him on his word, but we will have provisions in the code that mean we have the ability to investigate.”

Young questioned dropping the requirement for two parking spaces for rooms with a capacity of more than four people.

“I would still like to see two parking spaces assigned to oversized rooms,” she said.

Other council members said they felt the ordinance protects the town and more clearly defines what they expect from the new hotel. McClenny said it “addressed every issue brought to us during our workshops,” and he thanked Burbage for addressing at a Nov. 2 meeting “all the issues anyone had.” Councilman Chuck Peterson said he, too, appreciated Burbage’s concessions to the concerns expressed.

McClenny said he did retain a little bit of concern about the parking, but that the Town would now have a way of monitoring the parking and capacity issues. He noted that the Nov. 15 council meeting was the final chance for public comment on the issues related to the hotel, but Killmer clarified that the DRC would continue to hold meetings on such topics as trash and deliveries, landscaping, lighting and signage for the hotel as the project moves forward.

In all, the Bethany Beach Ocean Suites will have 112 guest rooms, including 78 queen-bed suites, 34 king-bed suites, seven handicapped- accessible rooms, a 850-square-foot “Governor’s Suite” and two 572-square-foot honeymoon suites. Forty of the suites will have pull-out sofas, while 48 others will have adjacent rooms.

Killmer noted that discussions at the DRC’s Nov. 8 meeting had included the subject of the loading dock area, with several options offered regarding waste collection and deliveries, which will be discussed again in the future, and a roll-up door will be provided for access that will be closed when not in use.

He also said the original design for the hotel had been altered slightly since the DRC’s first meeting on the subject, to add a tower that will include the honeymoon suites and gathering areas offering ocean views.

Killmer said the town engineer is currently in the process of designing a plan for Hollywood Street after the hotel’s construction, which will be presented to the town council and the community at a future meeting. The DRC’s next meeting is set for 2 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6.

Also at the Nov. 15 meeting:

• McClenny thanked the Women’s Civic Club of Bethany Beach for a $1,000 donation toward the upkeep of the Addy Memorial Garden and the Bethany Beach 4th of July Parade.

• McClenny announced that the town’s annual adult holiday get-together will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6, at town hall. The event, for Bethany Beach’s adult residents and property owners only, will be again be catered (featuring beer, wine, beef filet, salmon and a dessert table) and will include live entertainment by Earl Beardsley, offering holiday music on the piano.

The annual Holiday Happening for families will be on Dec. 7, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. This year, the event is moving outdoors to the town park, which will be decorated and feature a path of illuminated crape myrtles leading children to a meeting with Santa. A photographer will be available for photos, and there will also be offerings of hot chocolate and cookies for attendees. Once again, rides will be offered on the town trolley, beach wagon and horse-drawn wagon, and face painting will also be offered.

• Killmer said he had attended the Complete Communities conference held recently and received a plaque honoring the Town for its honorable mention in the Healthy Communities initiative.

• Councilman Jerry Dorfman reported on the Budget & Finance Committee’s review of the Town’s second quarter of its fiscal year. Noting that the housing market remains strong, he reported a $53,000 increase in transfer taxes, as well as increased rental tax revenue and building permits. He acknowledged that parking revenue was down, due at least partially to the late start of the season with ongoing Streetscape construction and rainy weather throughout the summer.

• The resumption of that Streetscape construction has been nearly four weeks late, Town Manager Cliff Graviet noted, explaining that safety concerns with the project design had arisen as DelDOT had moved to do markings ahead of re-routing traffic. He said officials had determined that the light poles on the medians at the intersections of Garfield Parkway and Pennsylvania and Atlantic Avenues would be too close to the travel portion of the road and would create a safety hazard.

Graviet said officials had reviewed the issue for weeks and come up with a solution of installing removable yellow stanchions around the base of the poles, to make sure drivers can see and won’t hit the poles. He said he was still confident the project would be completed “significantly before” the start of the summer season in 2014.

• Killmer said progress had been made on a draft ordinance designed to address residential building bulk. He said the planning commission’s next step was to invite back members of the building industry for a line-by-line review of the ordinance, with a council vote possible in early 2014.

• Graviet said the construction of the town’s new water tower was on time, with the foundation complete and the floor cap for the tower being poured that very day. In the near future, he said, people could expect to see tractor-trailers with construction equipment and/or pieces of the tower itself parked on the triangle near the Routes 1/26 intersection, which was determined to be as close as they could get to the water plant for storage during the construction of the tower.

• Graviet confirmed that contractors are due back at the town’s beaches in four to six weeks, to work on the dune fencing and crossovers. He acknowledged ongoing problems with sand blowing over the crossovers and said the Town has been placing Mobi Mats there to provide enhanced footing. But he said the Town was asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to try to come up with a solution, possibly including a different plan for restoration, so the problem doesn’t occur in the future. “I’m not sure how successful they will be,” he said.

Young asked if the Town had any way to keep people off the dunes, which she noted had not only been walked upon during the summer but had had beach umbrellas placed on them. Graviet said town staff was aware of the problem and that it would be addressed, but that the dune restrictions had been impossible to enforce this summer without fencing in place.

• The council unanimously approved a $73,000 supplement to the budget for the current fiscal year, to pay for things including irrigation, work on the town park, additional Mobi Mats, and a replacement ATV and truck.