*ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Bethany prepares for summer season as Streetscape work winds down

Bethany Beach officials this week were looking forward to the completion of the first phase of the town’s Streetscape project, which was held over a week or so longer than originally hoped, due to weather delays and the belated discovery of water pipes that weren’t where they were supposed to be.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet said at the town council meeting on Friday, May 17, that while the project was originally supposed to have been completed by May 15, the contractor on the project had promised him just a half-hour prior to the meeting that they would finally be done by May 22.

With the work on the north side of the 100 block of Garfield Parkway between Pennsylvania Avenue and Atlantic Avenue set to be completed mid-week, Graviet said the contractor was to have the street cleared and the parking lot the Town leases on property adjacent to the PNC bank parking lot restored “and back to normal” as it concluded the first phase of the project.

The delay in completing the work also delayed the start of enforcement for paid parking in the resort town, which normally begins May 15. Instead, the Town delayed reopening its paystations and enforcing requirements for those parking downtown to display on their dashboards proof of having paid, as well as requirements to feed its few remaining coin-operated parking meters.

That brief, unplanned hiatus was expected to end on Wednesday as the Streetscape project’s first phase was completed.

Graviet, acknowledging some complaints from downtown business owners and customers about the impact of the project on them, emphasized that the Town hadn’t really had any control over the timetable for Phase I.

“The Town was not really involved with the schedule,” he said. “We weren’t asked when we wanted it to begin. We were very surprised when we were noticed late in 2012 that we had been awarded funding for the more-than-$3 million project and that work was to begin in February.

“We went to talk to DelDOT about holding off until after the season,” Graviet continued, saying that DelDOT officials had told the Town that if they wanted to make sure they had the funding locked in, the February start was the only choice.

That funding — unlike much of what the Town gets from the State — did not require a match of even the 20 percent of Town funds that such funding normally requires, Graviet noted. That, he said, would have added up to about $600,000 of additional expense for the Town, had the no-match funding been lost over a timetable change.

“We made no more protests,” he added, noting that the Town had even allowed the contractor to start work at 7 a.m. and continue it until 9 p.m. during the last few weeks to make sure the work was done before the summer season got under way.

New businesses booming in Bethany

With that time of year having arrived, Councilman Lew Killmer noted that it looked like Bethany’s business districts were booming.

“It’s really beginning to pick up in the commercial district,” he said, noting that the Non-Residential Design Review Committee had received so many applications for approval of new signage for businesses new and old that it had needed to schedule a second meeting in May, set for May 24.

At its first May meeting, he said, the committee had approved new signage for four businesses, three of which are new to Bethany, including a boutique, a sports store and a new Mexican/Latin American-themed restaurant opening just west of the Wawa on Route 26. Two more new businesses are asking for signage approval at the upcoming meeting, he noted, making for a total of six new businesses in the town this year.

Work on beach, dunes also wrapping up, but more expected

Graviet also reported last Friday that the State of Delaware was working on a complete reinstallation of dune fencing for the town, which he noted has become an almost annual process now, with it regularly being washed away over the winter. He said that work had also been behind schedule but was due to be completed around the end of this week.

The town manager said town staff had, as a result, waited to put out summer-related signage, benches and accessories for designated smoking areas associated with the beach/boardwalk/park ban on smoking.

Graviet noted that the portion of the handicapped-accessible dune ramp at Wellington Parkway that ran from the wooden walk to the beach and that was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy had not yet been repaired. He said DNREC officials had told the Town they would not repair it and had turned it over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to see if they would repair it.

That could possibly come as part of an upcoming beach replenishment project that is set to repair damage done by Sandy from Fenwick Island to Rehoboth Beach. Graviet said DNREC had advised him that the replenishment would begin at the end of summer.

“We hope that’s the very, very end of summer,” he emphasized, “but we may have no say in when the project begins along the Delaware coastline.” He pointed out that such projects traditionally begin at the south end of the coast and work their way north.

In response to a question from Vice-Mayor Jack Gordon about improving dune crossovers with a harder surface, which Gordon said DNREC was supposed to do as part of its most recent work on the beach, Graviet said the Town would be looking at the issue after the upcoming work was done. He acknowledged there were places where the loose sand was hard to negotiate and said the Town would reinstall its accessibility-enhancing Mobi Mats to help with accessibility.

A change visitors to the town can see now is the completed process of turning the former Christian Church/Neff property into a future town park. With some trees having been removed from the site last year to make way for grading and improved landscaping, Graviet said on May 17 that the Town was at the end of the grading process, with the work due to be finished this week.

The next stage of the project is planting of grass, he noted, with the Town following through on the request from citizens to place a sign on the property that indicates that the property is the future site of a new town park.

Finally, Graviet said, visitors to Bethany Beach will get a chance to ride on the newest town trolley in the near future, with its anticipated arrival on May 17. The large new trolley was purchased by the Town as part of an effort to replace a mechanically-impaired trolley that had caused trolley riders, as well as drivers and town officials, some headaches in recent years.

Museum, exhibits get support and promotion

New signs directing visitors to the town museum inside town hall will also greet people as they return for the summer season. Councilwoman Carol Olmstead said the signs had been placed on Route 1 by DelDOT, on the north and south sides of the Route 1/26 intersection, and on Route 26. She said the signs and a banner in front of town hall were intended to increase public awareness of the museum.
Docents will attend the museum on Sunday afternoons from noon to 3 p.m. in July and August, while it is also open to the public for self-guided visits during regular town-hall business hours year-round. The volunteer docents are set to meet June 3, with anyone interested in serving as a docent at the museum invited to attend.

Olmstead said planning was also under way for the 2013 celebration of Perriers Day, recognizing the town’s sister city in France. The July 27 event will include a special performance on the bandstand that night, at 5 p.m.

She also announced that the town’s Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee had used part of its funds — raised, in part, through the Seaside Craft Show, which is coming up on June 1 — to donate $2,500 to the Clayton Theatre in Dagsboro, in support of their needed digital film conversion.

“We agreed that it is an historical landmark in the area, and that it is attended and enjoyed by many of our citizens,” she said.

Olmstead also reported the arrival of a traveling Smithsonian exhibit, titled “The Way We Worked,” at Ocean View Town Hall, which will be open to the public through June 23, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. She said citizens from throughout the area had volunteered to serve as docents for the display, which depicts the way Americans have worked for the last 150 years.
And, for those more interested in food and fire trucks, Mayor Tony McClenny announced last Friday the start of the monthly breakfasts at the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company’s fire hall on Hollywood Street.

Starting this Sunday, May 26, from 8 to 11 a.m., the fire company will offer an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, including scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, French toast, fruit, muffins, coffee and juice. The cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children 5 or older and free for those younger than 5. Credit cards will be accepted for payment.

In addition to the breakfast, the events offer free fire-prevention coloring books and fire helmets for kids, tours of the firehouse and apparatus and other family-friendly activities. The fire company will be offering its apparel for sale, as well as holding 50/50 drawings.

Charter buses need permits, no parking allowed

The council on May 17 moved to make some changes intended to reduce the impacts of chartered tour buses on the town, voting unanimously to adopt an ordinance establishing a permitting process and fees, as well as rules, for when the buses are in Bethany Beach.

Graviet had previously pointed out the regular arrival of large chartered tour buses in the town during the summer, often noted for the double-parking of the buses while passengers are let off and while the driver waits for them to return at the end of the day.

The idling buses, traffic congestion and other issues led the council to support requiring the buses to use a designated loading and unloading area, as well as to pay for a permit to discharge their passengers in Bethany and use its services.

Gordon noted that the Town has for many years had an ordinance controlling the parking and use of local community shuttle buses within town limits, with a designated loading zone west of Pennsylvania Avenue on Garfield Parkway and fees assessed for what are often multiple trips per day from developments outside town limits.

“It somewhat offsets the costs to the Town of people using the beach and other services,” he noted, referencing an “increase in activity from out of the area, with no controls or fees, and large numbers of people who use all our facilities without any contribution to the cost of the facilities and services provided to them.

Council members briefly considered altering the proposed ordinance establishing the permit process, rules and fees for chartered buses, aiming to simplify it be removing the definition of a street from its verbiage, but Graviet said the definition in the ordinance was more inclusive than the Town’s existing definition elsewhere in town code and needed to be retained, or the ordinance would have to be reworded and/or delayed in adoption.

McClenny, saying that time was of the essence with the summer season set to start, suggested they leave it as is and change it later, if needed.

Graviet said he expected the 2013 summer season to need at least a month of “education” for charter bus drivers and tour companies as to the new policy. He said town staff would be addressing problems “as we find them. It’s hard to reach out to the number of different companies that come in with charter buses.”

While the charter buses will be designated to pick up and discharge passengers in the same place as the existing community shuttles, Graviet emphasized that the Town was making no provision for longer-term parking inside Bethany and that drivers would have to take the buses outside town limits to be parked.

Finally, council members also voted unanimously on May 17 to eliminate a $25 fee for a special-events permit in the town. The fee, which Councilman Jerry Dorfman labeled “trivial” and not enhancing the Town’s revenue, will be dropped, but such events will still require a permit from the town manager.