Bethany election favors incumbents, supporters of zoning change

Coastal Point • M. Patricia Titus: From left, Joe Healy, Jerry Dorfman and Chuck Peterson celebrate their election victories.Coastal Point • M. Patricia Titus: From left, Joe Healy, Jerry Dorfman and Chuck Peterson celebrate their election victories.Bethany Beach voters this week again decided to add just a dash of the new to the status quo, re-electing Councilmen Joseph T. “Joe” Healy Jr. and Jerry Dorfman to new two-year terms and replacing retiring councilwoman Carol Olmstead with veteran committee member Chuck Peterson in voting on Sept. 7.

Having voted overwhelmingly in a non-binding referendum earlier this summer in support of a zoning change that would allow the redevelopment of the Bethany Arms Motel property as a revamped oceanfront hotel, the town’s voters appeared to again support that decision, voting in favor of two councilmen who had helped approve the change and a candidate who had recommended and helped draft the related legislation.

Healy topped the voting results last Saturday, with 768 votes (455 cast in person, 313 by absentee ballot). Dorfman brought in 715 votes total (436 cast in person, 279 by absentee ballot), while Peterson also topped the 700-vote mark, with 703 total votes (432 in person, 271 by absentee ballot).

Candidate Jane North came in fourth in the voting, with 269 votes (140 in-person votes and 129 absentee). North had taken a strong stance against the Bethany Arms zoning change during her campaign, asserting that the town’s residents were its lifeblood, not short-term vacationers.

North’s husband and fellow candidate, Robert Steiner, had been critical of the proposed hotel project but stopped short of decisively opposing the rezoning itself. He received 175 votes (103 in-person and 72 absentee) on Saturday.

Resident Joe Bellistri, in his third bid for a seat on the council, had again focused on the town’s beaches and the needs of local surfers during his campaign, while also supporting the Bethany Arms rezoning. He received 248 votes (145 in-person and 103 absentee), finishing fifth in the voting.

Carol Brigleb, who had withdrawn from the race due to an injury, still received five votes, all from absentee ballots.

The incumbents, along with Peterson and a group of their supporters, spent much of Sept. 7 outside town hall, greeting voters as they arrived at the polls. Peterson and his supporters sported campaign T-shirts, while Healy passed out campaign literature featuring his grandchildren and dog.

And though the Bethany Arms rezoning was a major topic of discussion in the town this spring and summer, the strong support for the change (71 percent in favor, 29 opposed) appeared to have largely resolved the issue even ahead of this week’s election.

The election results — a copy handed to Peterson by town staff as he waited at the door to town hall — were greeted with smiles and cheers from the successful candidates and their supporters.

The council will hold its annual reorganizational meeting at 10 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 16, at town hall, at which the new and re-elected council members will be sworn in. The meeting will also include the nominations and voting by the council for the positions of mayor, vice-mayor and secretary/treasurer from among their number.