Bethany Beach moves into new council year

The Bethany Beach Town Council kicked off its new council year with a meeting on Sept. 21, retaining the existing slate of council members and the existing council officers, including Mayor Tony McClenny, Vice Mayor Jack Gordon and Treasurer Jerry Dorfman. The officers were approved by council vote at the annual reorganizational meeting, held on Sept. 18.

As the town closes the books on another summer season and heads into the slower time of year, McClenny noted that council members on Sept. 18 had also held a workshop meeting during which they discussed several issues on the horizon, including possible expansion of the boardwalk by 8 to 10 feet in width from Campbell Place to Hollywood Street. The mayor noted that the issue had not been discussed at length as of yet.

Other items discussed at the workshop included possible enactment of a minimum tax assessment for fewer than a dozen properties inside town limits that McClenny described as “unique.” Also discussed were ways the town could look to recoup its engineering expenses when dealing with planned residential developments (PRDs).

The council will be dealing with the issue of its own rules at their October workshop, as the time comes for review of the council’s protocol manual.

Part-time resident John Gaughn took the opportunity on Sept. 21 to request that the council proceed with their discussion of the protocol manual with consideration being given to the possibility of approving participation in council and committee meetings via telecommuting or telepresence, as he noted had recently been approved by South Bethany officials.

“By allowing this, it would present the opportunity for greater participation by property owners in Bethany to all the processes that go on,” Gaughn said.

The council also has plans to discuss how meeting agendas are constructed, noting concerns across the state about local governments meeting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements in the wake of legal action against Dewey Beach officials over elements of meeting and agendas that the state Attorney General’s Office has now deemed to have been of concern.

Council members noted that a presentation on FOIA was being scheduled for an upcoming Sussex County Association of Towns (SCAT) meeting, as well as an upcoming informational session that some council members had planned to attend. While they said they believe the Town of Bethany Beach is in compliance with FOIA, council members said they wanted to review the issue after having taken in the presentations on the issue.

The council removed from its Sept. 21 agenda consideration of committee guidelines and appointments, committee chairperson appointments and planning commissioner appointments, with McClenny noting that the council had last year revised the timetable for such issues to take place in October. That had happened after an unusually late council election season, but McClenny said that, as it was written into the guidelines that the appointments would take place in October, they would wait until October to make them.

Councilwoman Carol Olmstead noted that she recalled the council had made that change with the intention of keeping the appointment dates in October, in case of future late elections, but McClenny said he would like to have the council discuss the issue at their next council workshop.

Timelines forming for Streetscape, new water tower

Town Manager Cliff Graviet reported on Sept. 21 that the Town had received official notification that funding for its Streetscape project, in its entirety, had been found in the current budget cycle for the Delaware Department of Transportation.

“DelDOT is working right now to get the bids for our Streetscape project in the next few months,” he told council members, noting that could mean the start of construction on early phases of the project sometime after the start of 2013.

The strictures of the project, Graviet emphasized, include no work at night, on weekends or holidays, or during the summer season.

“This is good news that DelDOT has formally committed to the project,” he added, noting that the bid documents were likely to be released in the subsequent week or so.

Graviet also reported at the September council meeting that the Town was working to finalize the loan for $2.6 million for a new water tower that voters had recently approved in a referendum. After completion of a 60-day waiting period during which members of the public can voice any concerns about the loan, he said, the Town will be able to execute the loan.

He said the Water Department was working with engineering consultants Kercher Engineering on a timeline for construction of the elements of the new water tower, the first of which is expected to be relocation of existing mineral ponds. Once that timeline has been established, Graviet said, he would bring the timeline back to the council and ask them to help staff members put together a promised committee of interested neighbors of the water plant facility.

Council adopts a series of code amendments

The town council on Sept. 21 approved changes to the town’s flood and damage prevention code, adding conformity with existing FEMA and National Flood Insurance Program definitions to the town code with a 7-0 vote.

The council also unanimously approved an amendment to the town code regarding property maintenance, declaring failure to comply with the town signage code as a public nuisance and then setting fines and penalties for violation of the signage ordinance, in a range between $50 and $100 per violation, plus the cost of the Town removing the sign.

“This was specifically to address people who put up signs without getting a sign permit,” Councilman Lew Killmer noted.

The council waived a second reading on another amendment to town code, looking to immediately address a potential loophole in the code that might have allowed someone to construct a new pole sign, despite the council having adopted this year an ordinance that prohibits new pole signs and grandfathers in existing ones.

Killmer said a single line of code within the existing code hadn’t been noticed during the revision regarding the pole signs but that it could have been interpreted to “suggest that under a certain set of circumstances, a new pole sign could be built.”

The council voted unanimously to waive a second reading and unanimously to approve the amendment striking the line of code in question.

The council did hold a first reading on Sept. 21 for an ordinance that aims to limit temporary signs at Bethany Beach businesses. The ordinance would enact a limit of five temporary signs per business location and a maximum of 20 square feet of total temporary signage per business location.

Killmer said the ordinance was an attempt to balance between businesses’ need to advertise and the Town’s need to control excessive signage, since temporary signs do not require a permit.

“These are the kinds of signs you typically see on the boardwalk,” Killmer explained, such as signs placed outside regarding items for sale on a business’ property. “We’ve had a number of complaints about how many signs there are out there and how long they’re out there. This is an attempt for the code enforcement officer to have some control on the number of signs that are out there.”

Also at the Sept. 21 council meeting:

• The council unanimously approved the extension of terms for two current Board of Adjustments members, Michael Farrar and Thomas Mailer, by an additional three years.

• Graviet announced the graduation of two Bethany Beach Police Department recruits from the Delaware State Police academy. The new hires will take the department back to full staff levels. He also announced that the BBPD would again be using a $25,000 grant from Sussex County to purchase a new police car, this year to replace a 2006 Dodge Charger with more than 110,000 miles on the odometer.

• Olmstead reported that the Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee had met earlier in the month and had determined at that meeting that scheduling docents for the town museum would best be done on evenings when events were taking place at town hall or when town hall is open for business, as that is most often when people tour the museum in the town hall lobby. Docent schedules for the fall were to be determined soon, she said.

• Olmstead reported on plans for two cultural events over the early winter and spring of 2013. In February, a speaker will make a presentation on the “Treasures of the Delaware Archives.” In April, historian and Coastal Point columnist Tom Ryan will present the second part of his two-part program on women of the Civil War. She also noted that the Seaside Craft Show Committee had already begun planning for its June 2013 show.

• Killmer reported that the Non-Residential Design Review Committee had approved a new sign for Tropicana at 97 Garfield Parkway.

• Finally, resident David Limroth proposed to the council that a new initiative be undertaken as a step toward the State of Delaware’s goal to achieve “zero waste.” He said that, in a personal effort toward that goal, he had this summer added corn husks, corncobs and other similar materials to his yard waste for collection. But, he said, the Town wouldn’t collect the materials with yard waste.

Rather than rejecting the materials in favor of hauling them to the landfill as garbage, he said, Limroth recommended the Town extend its definition of “garden waste” to include all compostable materials.

“That almost reduces the trash to recyclable and compostable, and then there’s not much left,” he told the council, allowing that, in summer, some of the materials could become “smelly.” He recommended the Town look to pick up the “compostable” materials twice a week during summer and work to essentially eliminate other kinds of trash that would otherwise be hauled to the landfill.

“I think we would be ahead,” he said. “And it would reduce the load on the wastewater treatment system, since so much is getting run through garbage disposals. It would be an advantage to the State and would be in keeping with the State’s goal.”