Bethany returns property-use decision to council

The Bethany Beach Planning Commission tabled discussion on the disposition of the former Christian Church and Neff properties at their monthly meeting Saturday, June 18, after Mayor Jack Walsh told members to delay any further planning until the town council first reviews options for what to do with the space.

The announcement came just two months after the council handed over responsibility for the planning project to the commission. Members had since developed a five-step plan for planning completion, and the next step was a public hearing.

Planning Commission Chairman Phil Boesch said the commission will no longer hold the public hearing that was to be scheduled for mid-July. He also said he disagreed with the mayor’s decision to ignore that step.

“I don’t want the council to generate their ideas and present them to the public. I think that’s the wrong way to go,” he said. “I’m afraid they are going to present it to the people as their plan, and if they do, then you get a lot of people that aren’t happy.”

Commission Member Steve Wode agreed with Boesch and also spoke out against the decision at the June 18 meeting.

“It’s a piece of public land and you need to get the public’s view on what to do with that land,” Wode said.

Town Council Member Lew Killmer, who also serves on the commission, defended the decision, however, saying the council will provide guidance to help the project move ahead.

“The council wishes to make sure this happen. This will help give some direction to the Planning Commission,” Killmer said.

Last winter, the council rejected a $250,000 grant offer from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) that would have locked the property’s use as open space. Instead, the council agreed to use the space for a less defined range of recreational purposes. Suggestions have included everything from a basic recreational park to a skateboard area.

The commission also addressed the issue of zoning overlays during its June 18 meeting. As part of their discussion, members reviewed a questionnaire prepared by Member Kathleen Mink designed to help the commission organize plans for enforcement of such development guidelines for properties in the town.

“There are complaints that these little cottages are being turned into big ugly houses,” Wode said. “We are going to need to think about this and note what makes homes here attractive and what makes them unattractive.”

Part of planning for the possible overlays also involves deciding whether they will be mandatory or voluntary and, if voluntary, what will be the incentives to encourage following the guidelines.

The commission has been discussing the possibility of overlays as an alternative to an advisory-only architectural review board (ARB) that would review development plans and offer suggestions on stylistic elements.

Boesch also mentioned that a contractor for the town Street Scape project will be selected soon, but little progress has been made otherwise since the plan was approved by the council in 2001.

The project has been bogged down in the early phases of discussion with the Delaware Department of Transportation, which has insisted the town must hire an engineer to review the town’s proposed plan before further discussions can move forward.

“What they will do is what they are convinced to do. And what we have to do is convince them of what we want,” Boesch said. “We need to try and turn it around, and move it forward.”

The project involves three blocks along Garfield Parkway. The town’s plan includes improving traffic, getting rid of street-side power poles, widening sidewalks, and adding trees and landscaping.