Streetscape project expected to begin in February

Bethany Beach officials announced recently that a new, “very aggressive” schedule for construction of the Streetscape project had been sent to the Town by consultants JMT, with construction now expected to begin in February on the north side of Garfield Parkway.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet reported to the town council on Nov. 16 that the new schedule for the project to revamp downtown Bethany Beach had been vetted by DelDOT and reflected the fact that the Town “has been fortunate enough to receive the full $2.6 million” needed for the project directly from DelDOT, and not as regular transportation funding that would otherwise require a 20 percent match from the Town.

“This requires no match from the Town of Bethany Beach, and we’re very happy with that,” Graviet said.

He noted that the project was already out for bid, with a bid expected to be awarded in January, leading to the start of construction in February. Per the bid documents, no work will be done on the project on weekends or holidays, or at night, or during the summer season.

Graviet said he planned to arrange a meeting soon with business and property owners to discuss the project and would be sending out notice to citizens about what they can expect to happen, with more detailed information expected in the near future.

The Streetscape project will reorient parallel and diagonal parking in the downtown area, in 100 block and street end area of Garfield Parkway, as well as making a number of aesthetic improvements. Already, utility lines in the area have been moved underground or to nearby alleys, to facilitate the project and its efforts to give the area a cleaner, more spacious feel.

Sidewalk project proposed north of Garfield Parkway

Changes are also on the horizon for the area north of Garfield Parkway, as the council could vote at their January meeting to approve sidewalk construction and utility undergrounding for North Pennsylvania Avenue from Garfield Parkway to Central Boulevard.

Graviet announced on Nov. 16 that the Town had received bids from Verizon and an engineering estimate from consultants KEI Engineering for construction of a sidewalk and removal of utility poles in that area, at $177,000.

Under the proposed project, 180 feet of sidewalk will be built to connect Garfield Parkway to Central Boulevard for the first time in town history.

“If you’ve ever walked through that area, you know there is a major disconnect from the business district on Garfield to the business district on North Pennsylvania,” Graviet told the council.

Along with the sidewalk and utility undergrounding for three existing utility poles, the project would also include eight new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant street curb transitions and two ADA-compliant intersections. The utility poles will be removed as part of the project, and light poles similar to those already replacing the former utility poles on Garfield Parkway will also be installed.

Graviet said he expected the Town to receive at least $50,000 in assistance for the project from incoming state Sen. Gerald Hocker, and possibly more than that.

Councilman Lew Killmer praised the project and its timing.

“I really believe this is a very important part and fits in the timeframe of Streetscape,” Killmer said. “This is a viable commercial area that tends not to get the same kind of attention as the Garfield Parkway businesses do. It will make the downtown area much more viable, by having one continuous area with the same kind of atmosphere. People will be more attracted to that part of our commercial district.”

Killmer noted that he had recently attended a conference on “complete communities,” during which experts had said that people stay longer and come back more often when municipalities create an attractive downtown community.

“In essence, charm sells,” he said. “And this will help create [that] and, hopefully, attract more businesses to our downtown.”

Council members are expected to vote on approving the project at their January meeting.

Water tower construction moved up, layout changed

Graviet also reported on Nov. 16 on a meeting with the citizens’ group interfacing with the Town on the ongoing enhancement project for the water plant. He said that, at least partially as a result of input from the citizens’ group, the Town had made some “‘sea changes’ in what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it, regarding the water tower.”

The town manager said the weeks of work on resolving issues regarding the location of a needed mineral pond and planned removal of trees to facilitate its construction had led not only to reworking the pond layout and location but to pushing forward the timetable for construction of the new water tower.

“We thought we had a location that would be suitable,” he said, “but the citizens had concerns about the location and the removal of trees.”

Graviet said he had impressed upon the town engineering consultant that, if additional costs were needed in order to ensure the pond was “something that was acceptable to everyone, we would do that.”

The resulting changes place the pond within the existing fence line, meaning that the only tree removal needed would be that of Leyland cypresses that Graviet said had not prospered as it was and that would subsequently be replaced “with something that will prosper.”

The new location places the pond closer to the clarifying pond, which Graviet said allows access to the facility by staff but also creates a larger buffer from the facility on the side that is adjacent to the Beach Hollow community. The location also shifts the construction of the tower to precede the installation of the new retention pond, which Graviet said had turned out to be a boon for the project because it will allow more curing time for the tower foundation than originally expected.

“There was always some concern about the length of time from installing the foundation,” he noted, with only two months’ curing time initially available. “By changing it, we will now have far more time for installation of the water tower foundation.”

With the location of the pond now determined, Graviet said work was commencing on a stormwater management plan and the landscaping plan for the renovated facility off Collins Street.

A lingering question for the project is how the Town might be able to reduce the noise of an aerator needed at the site. Graviet said the issue had been raised again by the citizens’ group.

“But there were no viable suggestions, other than that we locate it in Millville,” he said with a laugh. Instead, Graviet said he had tasked the engineer with finding a solution for the problem, which has since been sent back to the vendor for their expertise. “We know there will be significant expense involved, but we’re asking them to do whatever it takes to reduce the noise from the aerator.”

Sandy has major impact, but not as big as ’62 storm

Also at the Nov. 16 meeting, Graviet reported on the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on the town.

“Obviously, Sandy took the greater part of the staff’s time in the last month,” he acknowledged, noting that at least a week of work goes into preparing for this type of storm, involving the relocation of equipment and preparation of buildings, among other work.

“Public Works was especially busy with debris from the storm,” Graviet said, emphasizing that free pickup of storm-related debris would continue until Dec. 3, at which time property owners will need to arrange with the Town for a special pickup of items that cannot be picked up in regular trash collection.

Graviet said that, despite concerns that Sandy would devastate the area to a degree not seen since the infamous Storm of ’62, the 2012 hurricane had fallen short of that legendary mark.

“The high-water marks in the Indian River Bay and Assawoman Canal were the highest ever registered,” he noted. “But they hadn’t been measured back in ’62. It didn’t touch the ’62 storm in the Delaware Bay,” he emphasized.

Lingering damage from the storm, Graviet said, included the dune fencing at the toe of the dune being down. He said he didn’t expect DNREC to address that until prior to the 2013 summer season, as it would make little sense to replace the fencing when additional winter storms might just tear it back out again.

Mayor Tony McClenny — along with praising the staff, firefighters and police for their efforts related to Hurricane Sandy — also said on Nov. 16 that many people had appreciated efforts to take and post pictures of the storm’s impacts on the town Web site during and after the storm.

“We will do better in the future,” Graviet replied, “but, hopefully, not with another Sandy.”

Also on Nov. 16:

• McClenny reported receiving a donation from the Bethany Beach Women’s Civic Club for the continued maintenance of the Martha Jean Addy Garden, which is located in the median of Garfield Parkway.

• Councilwoman Carol Olmstead reported ongoing work with the Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee in coordinating with other local historical groups for a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian that is planned to be set up at Ocean View Town Hall near the end of May. South Bethany, Fenwick Island and Ocean View groups are all working with CHAC to apply for a grant from the Delaware Humanities Council to sponsor two programs and offset expenses during the exhibit’s run. The exhibit and programs will focus on aspects of the “local story of work over the last 150 years.”

• McClenny reported that the Town will host its annual Holiday Happenings this weekend, with the adults-only get-together from 4 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 30, at town hall, featuring refreshments and camaraderie, and the annual children’s and family event set for Saturday, Dec. 1. “The children have a blast, and they’re so much fun to watch,” he said.

• Killmer reported that the Non-Residential Design Review Committee had recently approved new signage for Ann Raskauskas and Bethany Area Realty at 776 Garfield Parkway. The committee had also unanimously approved renovation plans for St. Martha’s Episcopal Church on Maplewood Street. The church is set to undergo major renovation and expansion of the existing building. Some details of the project will be reviewed by the committee as construction proceeds.

• Killmer also reported that the Planning Commission had recently met for a presentation on residential building bulk and options for the Town to deal with concerns over that issue. He said he expected the issue to continue to be discussed at future commission meetings, “with an eye toward creating regulations that will guide the future development of residential housing in Bethany Beach — especially east of Route 1.”

• The council unanimously approved an update of the council protocol manual, with McClenny specifically asking fellow council members to consider the stated responsibilities of working for the good of the community, refraining from revealing sensitive information and abstaining from conflicts of interest — including those arising from marriage and political considerations. He asked that if any of them did not agree with the responsibilities or couldn’t follow them that they vote against approving the update. All seven council members voted to approve it.

• The council also unanimously approved a slate of committee members for the 2012-2013 council year, having approved committee chairperson appointments at a prior meeting.

• The council voted 7-0 to send a letter to the Town’s Board of Adjustment regarding a pending appeal of the building inspector’s decision regarding an application by Carl Tull, owner of property at 314 Second Street. The hearing for the appeal is set for Dec. 12 at 11 a.m. at town hall.

Tull is appealing the building inspector’s interpretation of the town zoning code as it relates to accessory buildings, as found in Chapter 425 Zoning, Section 425-2 (Definitions and word usage), Section 425-10 (Accessory buildings), and Appendix 3, Table of Dimensional Requirements, as relates to a proposed new dwelling and garage.

Killmer said he wanted the council to request the board deny Tull’s request and “uphold the clear and unambiguous segments of the code,” upholding the position that the building inspector has taken. Other council members said they had concerns about using any language in the letter that might suggest the council was telling BoA members how to decide the appeal. They said they wanted the letter to state they fully support the building inspector’s position. Killmer said directing the board on how to vote was not the intention of the letter. He noted that the BoA can only be overruled by state courts, not the town council.

The council also approved, on a unanimous vote, sending the town solicitor to represent the Town at the Dec. 12 hearing on the appeal.

• Finally, the council voted 7-0 to cancel their usual December meeting, noting that, should something important arise, they would still meet in December.