PRD Grandfathering clarified in Bethany

Bethany Beach Planning Commission members agreed Sept. 17 to clarify the rules governing grandfathering of planned residential developments (PRDs) on properties less than 50,000 square feet in area.

The grandfathering was limited to property owners and lots of record as of Oct. 15, 2004, when the town restricted PRDs to properties larger than that size. But commissioners said clarity had been lacking in dictating at what point in the approval process the grandfathering was final.

If the property owner died after the sketch plan was presented, was the project still allowed to his or her heirs? If the property was sold between the approval of a preliminary plan and the final approval, could it still go forward?

With Chairman Phil Boesch stating his reluctance to get the commission involved in issues of inheritance and property sales, commissioners placed the dividing line at the first stage of the process at which there was a formally recorded action: the preliminary approval.

Under the clarification, any grandfathered PRD obtaining preliminary approval will be able to go forward, whether with the owner of record, that owner’s heirs or a new owner. Those only having a sketch plan presented, for example, will lose their grandfathered status if the ownership changes.

Commissioner Steve Wode expressed concern that properties losing their grandfathered status might be targets for the building of duplexes to maximize the property, if owners are prohibited from building the grandfathered PRDs with the preferred single-family homes.

Building Inspector John Eckrich said he would review eligible properties to see how many might allow the building of a duplex and report back to the commission on the possible impact of the clarification.

Commissioners deferred action on the change until Eckrich could present his findings at their October meeting. They said they would work on the language for the change with Town Solicitor Terence Jaywork once the issue was clarified.

Also at the Sept. 17 meeting, commission members agreed to formally dissolve the town’s Beautification Committee, noting that it has not been needed for some time.

Originally formed to work on saving the sycamore trees on Garfield Parkway (at which it was unsuccessful), the committee later worked on the town’s Streetscape project (still in the pre-construction phase, with state funding in limbo) and bandstand renovation project (set to begin construction in October).

With commission and town council member Lew Killmer absent from the meeting, commission members pushed back its scheduled reorganization to its October meeting.

The commissioners present expressed unanimous support for reinstating the use of an independent engineering review and assessment for projects at the preliminary and final approval stages before the board. The process had been halted when the engineer the town had previously used left that engineering firm, but Boesch said he found it important for the commission.

Commissioner Kathleen Mink asked whether the engineer performing the reviews could be present for commission meetings at which the reviews were presented. Eckrich warned that might increase the costs to the commission above its existing budget but agreed with Walsh’s suggestion that it could be done on a case-by-case basis for more lengthy or controversial projects that might require additional information.

Eckrich noted that it could be difficult to find an engineer to perform the independent assessment now. The town ended its contract with the previous firm and now contracts with a second firm, necessitating a third firm be found to keep the assessments truly independent.

The building inspector further noted that the town would likely need to expand the length of time between stages of the approval process to allow for the review. The commission has already recommended the current 15-day period be extended to 45 days, but the measure is awaiting council approval. Commissioners requested it be added to the council’s October agenda for action, if at all possible.

Eckrich also noted a backlog in the approval processes of other governmental entities, such as those making soil conservation requirements. That may put some applicants behind when facing the town’s timeline for outside approvals. Commission members agreed to vest Eckrich with the ability to extend that timeline on a case-by-case basis.

Also at the Sept. 17 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved the application by Cummings for the re-combining of two lots on Parkwood Street into a single lot. The existing home on one of the lots is being demolished, with the intention to build a new primary home for Cummings on the property.

When asked about the demolition, Cummings said he had brought in a Baltimore salvaging firm called Second Chance to do the work. Second Chance, he said, trains workers in salvaging by using such projects while removing all building materials from the demolition site for recycling and reuse in other projects. The property owner receives a tax credit in return.

Finally, addressing action items from previous meetings, the commissioners struggled to deal with the formal disposition of its previous vote regarding driveways in the Sea Villas development.

The commissioners had voted to treat the properties like all other properties in the town, disallowing a non-conforming, wider driveway width that had been standard for the development when it was built. All the properties retaining the wider driveways would have been put formally at odds with the town code.

Despite that vote, the town officials in charge of enforcing the code had since decided not to enforce the driveway restrictions at Sea Villas, noting that the needed permits had been issued by the town at the time, despite acknowledgements that the driveways failed to meet town standards.

Commissioners expressed dissatisfaction with that decision but agreed to drop the matter permanently unless officially asked to address it again.

Eckrich said that if any of the existing driveways were to be significantly changed, such as moving them or replacing them, he would require they be rebuilt to current standards. Otherwise, they will be allowed to exist as non-conforming elements.