South Bethany preps for capital project


South Bethany Town Council recapped the proposed town hall/police station project at the July 8 council meeting and advised property owners there’d be an Aug. 12 public hearing on the matter, ahead of a referendum.

In brief, the plan is for two units — probably modular: one to replace the somewhat dilapidated police station (which is actually a pre-owned trailer) and one to replace the existing town hall. The town expects to spend $970,000 on the package deal.

That figure includes a very modest 5 percent contingency, but as Mayor Gary Jayne noted, there were a few “safety valve” items, like the landscaping, that they could hold back to stay within budget.

In addition to the obvious wear and tear at the police station, council has noted failing heat and air systems, and the increasing difficulty in finding replacement parts, and limited facilities for holding more than one prisoner at a time.

As Police Chief Joe Deloach has noted in the past, one of their offices is set up such that they can detain a prisoner or two, but if one happened to be a juvenile (they have to be detained in separate quarters), the only other available area would be the back seat of a police car parked outside.

Meanwhile, problems have cropped up at town hall, with a flooded crawlspace (and subsequent mold problems and damaged insulation) and fouled ductwork, which according to Jayne was not of a variety that lent itself to cleanout.

In addition, the electrical system has gotten a bit spotty, and the two bathrooms aren’t Americans with Disabilities Act- (ADA-) compliant, Jayne continued.

Council members commissioned an architectural firm (French & Ryan) to come up with some options for new construction a couple of years ago (plans for a combined police station/town hall, and various side-by-side or two-story permutations thereof), but sticker shock drove them back to the drafting table.

They looked at renovation options — jacking up the building to address the flooded crawlspace, primarily — and Council Members Marge Gassinger and Bonnie Lambertson sketched a more modest proposal for the architects’ consideration.

However, as they eventually came to realize, the cost of the renovations would be very little less than the cost for a new modular. Having already considered Deloach’s proposal for a modular police station, they came up with the plan to purchase both units at the same time, for a cost savings.

Planning Commission Chair Ron Wuslich asked if they planned to put out to bid for stick-built, not just modular, and council members agreed it would be open to whichever builders could meet the specs and stay within their proposed $970,000 budget.

Council Member John Fields continued to maintain his argument that the proposal didn’t provide much room for future expansion, but his colleagues maintained their arguments that (1) there was some additional space built into their plan, with a little shuffling (staff could move files over to the Department of Public Works building, for instance) and (2) demand for services had remained static over the past 20 years, and would likely remain so (residents would likely oppose a larger project).

According to Council Member Richard Ronan, most property owners considered town hall “a glorified ticket booth” where they came to pick up their parking permits once a year.

Fields said there’d been requests for more rigorous code enforcement, and he suggested (although Jayne said his kitchen table was sufficient) some future mayor might like to have an office. However, as Gassinger noted, council had based their plans on necessities (and interviews with staff to determine their needs) and had all but settled on this “inexpensive, yet aesthetically pleasing” package.

They approved Gassinger’s resolution 5-1, over Fields’objection. (Council Member Jay Headman was absent). Residents will have a chance to review the plans at an Aug. 12 public hearing, 7 p.m. at Town Hall, with the referendum scheduled for Sept. 24 (absentee ballots available 30 days prior).

In other business, a representative from Grotto Pizza came by to see if the restaurant could come to some kind of compromise with the town regarding video games.

Operations manager Adam Webster said they’d brought in additional games over the years, at customers’ request — especially to keep children occupied while the parents were standing in line, waiting for takeout or a table. As he assured council, Grotto was a family restaurant and the games would be for children.

Presently, he said, they had two kiddie rides in front of the restaurant, and inside, a claw machine (in which players try to pick up a prize), a shooting game, a fishing game and three driving games.

How the games had managed to accumulate at the location over the years remained somewhat of a mystery, because businesses in South Bethany are permitted a maximum of two “arcade games.”

Ronan remembered the rationale for imposing that limit — he’d sponsored the relevant legislation in 1997, he pointed out. At the time, one of the York Beach Mall’s businesses (that being the commercial district in total) had two video games, so that was one factor. And there’d been a reluctance to open the mall to video arcades.

“We just didn’t feel that was the place for a large number of young adults and teenagers to be milling about,” Ronan said, citing safety concerns associated with highway traffic and narrow sidewalks at that location.

He suggested the town might be able to overlook the kiddie rides, and said he’d ask for the town solicitor’s advice — but either way, Grotto would still be well over the limit.

Webster asked if petition for variance might be the way to go. Jayne advised him it would not — it would require a change to the chapter governing commercial establishments, which stands outside the zoning chapter.

Council will revisit the matter at the July 28 workshop.

SBPD Cpl. Eric Watkins reported a busy month, and “night and day” enforcement July 4 of fireworks restrictions with this year’s successful “Operation Firecracker,” thanks to “fireworks prohibited” signage, four-wheelers and additional personnel.

Residents last year watched in concern as stray rockets landed atop some of South Bethany’s multimillion-dollar beachfront homes. (Delaware is one of five states in the country that prohibits consumer fireworks.)

Also at the July 8 meeting, Ted Howe asked any willing council member to contact Rep. Gerald Hocker (38th District) and Sen. George Howard Bunting (20th District), and ask them to double-check the Public Service Commission (PSC) approval process.

Howe said Artesian (a local investor-owned public water utility) had reentered negotiations with the PSC, seeking to retain much (if not all) of last year’s requested rate increase (which was more dramatic than usual, he noted).

Howe suggested Artesian was enjoying healthy revenue growth at consumers’ expense, with rate increases outpacing inflation. Artesian has argued those increases are necessary to support the company’s recent water infrastructure expansions.

Ed Nazarian asked council members if they would ever provide a monthly code-enforcement report, in the same way that they hosted a representative from the police department at each monthly council meeting. Jayne said they had started doing that in workshops and planned to have Town Manager Mel Cusick start presenting a regular report at some point in the future.

Nazarian alleged slow response to requests for the redress of tardy grass-cutting by property owners in the town, noting certain lots that had gone for more than a month without attention.

Howe asked if the mowing contractors needed some kind of permit to work in South Bethany (Council Member Bob Cestone said they did need mercantile licenses) and complained that 30 to 40 percent of the lawn clippings from such operations seemed to wind up in the canals.

Ronan seconded that.

“It’s a terrible problem,” he said. “It’s almost worse than throwing gas in the canal — and then people ask, ‘When are you going to dredge? I can’t catch crabs anymore.’”

Ronan has an article posted on the issue on the town Web site (www.southbethany.org, click Bulletin Board, scroll down a ways) and has run notices in the town newsletter, The Zephyr.

He warns residents that blowing grass clippings into the canals has contributed to the general decline in water quality. Nutrient over-enrichment (too much nitrogen and phosphorus) has caused nuisance algae blooms, which contributes to silting (when dead plant material settles to the bottom), Ronan’s article explains.

Overuse of lawn fertilizer was one culprit, but he said the grass clippings only made matters worse. It was next to impossible to curtail such activities, other than through education, he pointed out.