RPD, canal street ends top planning agenda

Members of the Bethany Beach Planning Commission reviewed a sketch plan for another small planned residential development (PRD) at their meeting on Saturday, March 19.
The PRD is slated for the property of Mark and Kiki Zachary at 877 Garfield Parkway, on the north side of Route 26, across from Turtle Walk and near the entrance to Lake Bethany. The lot also backs up to that development.

It is located in the town’s R-2 zone and was one of a handful of properties grandfathered by the town council to allow small PRDs when the town increased the minimum size required for a PRD last year.

The Zacharys’ proposed development would encompass four single-family homes, on approximately 33,300 square feet of land. The homes would share a single private drive to access Route 26. Initial plans call for two-story homes resting on pilings above a ground-floor garage area.

Kercher Engineering Inc.’s John Murray, project manager for the proposed PRD, noted that the plan calls for enhanced stormwater management on the property. The initial stormwater plan calls for tying an on-site stormwater area into an existing stormwater ditch at the rear of the property – between it and Lake Bethany.

Murray said the existing ditch is actually a shadow of its former self, having been partially filled in and allowed to narrow over the years. He said the plan was for the Zacharys to request permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to both tie into the ditch and perform the re-expansion.

The stormwater management plan also calls for a bio-filter area at the end of the ditch, as opposed to a stormwater management pond. The bio-filter would be an area of mulch, sand and peat moss created over a series of 4-inch under-drains. The area would then be planted with landscape plantings aimed to meet bio-filter requirements.

The expansion of the ditch itself, Murray said, would help create a buffer between the larger existing development and its smaller neighbor.

Building Inspector John Eckrich noted that the ditch plan would require no town resources and would be well within the precedent established by other PRDs already developed in the town.

Bethany Beach’s public works department would work with the developer during that process, Eckrich said. He further declared the change would help the property’s neighbors, the town and the property owner — a win-win situation.

Murray noted that the preliminary plan for the PRD would create only 50 percent of the maximum allowable lot coverage. The homes themselves would encompass 1,612 square feet of living space and be serviced by Bethany Beach’s water system and county-operated sewer.

Home elevation drawings depicting the planned home style are not required or typically provided at a sketch-plan hearing, but Planning Commission members queried the family and their representatives as to the planned appearance of the homes. They were told they would be similar to the Miken Builders-built homes just west of the Assawoman Canal bridge.

That was likely not what the commission members wanted to hear, as the identical nature of the homes in that particular PRD has been an oft-commented-upon sore spot for commission members and other Bethany property owners. Commission members pointed out that even the paint colors chosen for the Miken development were identical, right down to the trim.

They encouraged Murray and the Zacharys to make efforts toward varying the four homes proposed for the property “as much as possible,” ideally by choosing different physical configurations but at least in their colors.

It is hoped that more varied choices for homes in such small developments will increase the appearance of being individual single-family homes and not a development of town homes or cookie-cutter condominiums, an aesthetic more in line with the town’s vision of its architectural past — and its future.

Town Council and Planning Commission Member Lew Killmer commented that he was just “happy they’re not town houses.”

Another sticking point for the development of these small PRDs in the town has been the intention of grandfathered property owners to develop such parcels under the more lenient restrictions they were given and then immediately sell the entirety of the new homes and the property.

It has been a particular point of irritation for Planning Commission Chairman Phil Boesch, who has said he feared such situations would be the natural result of the decision to grandfather the properties’ existing owners under previous requirements. Thus, he has made a habit of asking the grandfathered owners whether they plan on retaining ownership and use of some or all of the homes in these new small PRDs.

Boesch finally got an answer he liked with the Zachary PRD, for the family declared their intention to make one of the four homes on the property a full-time home for their coming retirement. (They use the current property on the parcel as a part-time home.)

Killmer did note that the apparent planned setbacks at the sides of the property were not up to the 15-foot standard required by the town. The setbacks would actually be for the rear of homes, which would face on the property’s deep sides, and are higher than the 7-foot setbacks required at the sides of a home.

Murray responded that the placement of the setbacks and homes on the sketch plan had been related to the overall property configuration and condominium-style ownership but would be adjusted to meet the requirement. There is enough room on the property to meet those requirements and build the planned homes, he said.

Commissioners also emphasized the importance of documenting the existing trees on the property and providing the required tree-replacement plan to the town during the approval process.

Mayor Jack Walsh, present at the meeting, took the request a step further, asking that photographs be taken of the property to document its current condition. Murray said he had a camera with him and would be happy to take the photographs that very day.

Town Council Member Tony McClenny, also present at the meeting, suggested the town move to required photos of properties be taken and presented to the Planning Commission at the sketch-plan phase of the approval process. That would allow the commissioners to get a better idea of the impact of proposed development on the site at an earlier stage of the process.

During a review of the town’s code later in the meeting, commissioners agreed to add just such a requirement to the existing documentation requirements for plan reviews.

Commission members do not formally vote on approval at the sketch-plan stage of the approval process. Instead, they provide feedback and suggestions to guide the property owners and/or developer in creating a plan the commission will approve when the time for voting does arrive.

Also at the March 19 meeting, commission members tackled the subject of the town’s plans for street ends adjacent to the Assawoman Canal, on Evans Road, Third Street, Fourth Street, Fifth Street, Sixth Street and Seventh Street.

Eckrich said the town had researched the ownership of those street-end areas and discovered the town owned the property, right up to the canal. Input from the town’s public works department indicated a preference for handling the street ends in a consistent manner, such as planting grass and installing barriers to prevent cars from driving into the canal.

Currently, Eckrich said, some of the owners of adjacent properties had taken over landscaping and maintenance for the street-end areas, but some had also gone so far as to establish storage structures there, despite town ownership of the land. Those storage areas would need to be removed, he said, while it is likely some or all of the existing landscaping could remain.

Also of concern was a small boat ramp that was built at the end of Seventh Street some years ago, apparently by a private citizen. Eckrich said the builder of the ramp was unknown, but it appeared to have been designed for entry of kayaks or other small boats into the canal.

Technically, it is not a public ramp, though it has been freely used by residents since its construction, and Eckrich also noted that it has been used by commercial boat storage and maintenance companies to service pontoon boats that are stored in the canal during boating weather.

He queried commission members as to their hopes and plans for the boat ramp, whether it should be officially opened as a public ramp to provide access to Bethany’s property owners, closed entirely or left as an unofficial public access.

There was also a question about increased access to the canal at other locations.

The town had received a letter from a property owner in the neighborhood, requesting an additional boat ramp be built at the other end of the area, ideally at Second Street. Eckrich pointed out that the Second Street street-end area is, in fact, private property, making it inappropriate for transition to a public ramp.

Various of the other street ends in the area, he said, are also unsuitable for such a suggestion.

The Evans Road street end had, at one time, included a removable barricade to allow its use as a launch area. But that became problematic, with drivers driving off the road and into the canal, Eckrich said. The town thus created a berm there and reinforced the area with stone, making it unworkable for use as a ramp.

The water level at the Third Street street end is subject to extreme dips related to tidal flow, he said, also making it unsuitable. Concerns were also expressed about any move that would invite more traffic into the area, with its narrow streets. Eckrich emphasized that he wasn’t suggesting signs be put up to draw additional attention to the ramp for public use.

On the other hand, he did note that there had been some initial discussion of a possible public kayak landing at the planned nature conservation area on the former Natter property, though the possibility of not making a trail back that far into the wetlands area of the property had also been discussed.

McClenny offered that he had made a campaign promise related to the Seventh Street ramp during last year’s elections. He said a constituent had complained that the way things were landscaped in that area made it difficult for neighbors to carry their kayaks down the street-end areas to the ramp at Seventh Street.

He suggested plans for the street-ends include barriers that would easily allow people carrying kayaks to walk through but prevent cars from driving through the area and into the canal.

Boesch said all consideration of additional launching zones should be forgotten, with focus instead placed on putting up barriers to prevent cars driving into the canal, as well as the removal of structures from the town’s property and arriving at some understanding or decision about landscaping in the street-end areas.

Eckrich said the property owners had developed a “sense of ownership” over their landscaped areas over the years. He recommended leaving the street ends in a natural state, with no additional bulkheading.

The commissioners’ consensus on the issue was to recommend barricades be installed, with openings of 4 to 5 feet to allow pedestrian/kayak traffic. Hard structures would be removed, with notification to property owners that the areas are owned by the town and would be kept open for public use and access.

The issue was moved forward for action by the town’s public works department and Town Manager Cliff Graviet.

Boesch informed the commissioners that the town had signed an agreement on Jan. 31 with the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), to accept funding for the town’s “streetscape” project. The funding would be for the planning stage of the project through the engineering phase.

He said the town planned to push to get the engineering phase done in the current fiscal year, in hopes of keeping the project on track for construction in the coming fiscal year. He noted that DelDOT officials had reminded Bethany Beach representatives that the similar streetscape project in Rehoboth Beach had taken eight years to completion, where the Bethany project is currently in its third year.

Work on the project has been snagged by debate over who owns the utility poles on Garfield Parkway and who would be responsible for moving them. The town was told the moving of the poles would not be covered under the state’s Transportation Enhancement program. A bond bill has been suggested for covering the costs, but an estimated price for the work has not yet been received from Conectiv, despite repeated requests.

Rep. Gerald Hocker had told town officials he was concerned about the impact on downtown businesses of moving the utility poles. Boesch said Hocker had offered to help make inroads with Conectiv. He noted that the current plans called not for relocating the poles to the town’s alleyways, but instead to consider burying the lines under Garfield Parkway itself.

The town’s comprehensive development plan (CDP) is due to undergo review by state agencies on March 30, and town officials do plan to attend the review, Boesch noted.

Finally, Killmer reported to commission members the most recent information on the planned Gulfstream development in Millville. Killmer attended a recent meeting on the project as a substitute for Steve Wode, who was to provide town officials with updates.

Killmer showed commission members a series of drawings of the project, noting that sections A1 and A2 were planned for the first phase of construction, with 160 homes slated. Section A1 is to be mixed between single-family homes and town homes, while A2 will be single-family homes, he said.

The development will also provide locations for business, recreation and public safety, as well as a spot set aside (as required by the state) for a possible future school.

Killmer emphasized that the town’s interaction with the developers and Millville officials allows Bethany Beach to provide to state and county officials more detailed information on the impact of the development (and other planned developments) on the beach town.