At their meeting on Saturday, Feb. 19, members of the Bethany Beach Planning Commission reviewed a new sketch plan submitted by Richard Snider for his property located at 417 Central Boulevard in the town’s R-1 zone.
Snider’s property had been the subject of a previous review by the commission, at that time focusing on a plan to develop several duplex units on the property, as well as a “bio-swale” designed to help with drainage.
That vegetated bio-swale remains in the new sketch plan presented Feb. 19. But Land Design’s Ray Blakeney and builder Mark Dieste, speaking on Snider’s behalf, described a new concept for the structures on the property. Instead of a series of duplexes, the plan features three single-family homes in a design similar to two homes built by Dieste in Bethany Crossing West.
Blakeney noted that the homes on the Snider property would, unlike the elevated Bethany Crossing homes, be built roughly at ground level over a crawlspace instead of on pilings. He said they would be “in scale with the surrounding homes.” Each structure is approximately 56 feet deep and 30.4 feet wide, including a deck.
Building Inspector John Eckrich said the plan included sufficient parking as required by the town and met the town’s regulations for a planned residential development (PRD) as existed when the property was grandfathered under lower requirements for lot size. The lot, with its 404 wetlands area, has less than 30 percent coverage by buildings under the plan and features a landscaped area between parking areas and the homes.
While the sketch plan seemed to be better received than its predecessor, Planning Commission members had a few concerns.
Not the least of those concerns was the access easement providing a driveway on one side of the Snider property. The plan includes 7 feet for driveway access, which is currently combined in use with a 14-foot driveway area that is part of the neighboring Galper property.
The new sketch plan is designed to take advantage of that full 21-foot width as a driveway space for the three homes, as well as the existing access to the Galper property, which is interior to the block. (The Nabor property, which adjoins both plots, has access directly onto Central Boulevard and is not involved in any access issues.)
Each of the planned homes on the Snider property would have two parking spaces leading from the 7-foot section of drive.
While Dieste and Blakeney noted that the existing access easement for the 21-foot section of the Galper property was designed to convey with the Snider property, commission members sought reassurance that such an agreement was airtight and would also provide for maintenance agreements for the driveway. Their hope was that such an agreement would eliminate a potential future conflict between the neighbors.
Snider’s representatives allowed that they had not yet contacted the Galpers to confirm issues related to the easement, instead preferring to get some degree of positive response to the plan from the commission before proceeding into discussions with the neighboring property owners.
Dieste argued that any other use of the existing driveway space would be a disservice to both properties, requiring two adjoining, separate driveways and resulting in less landscaping area on the Snider plot. He vowed to work with the Galpers to make adjustments if there were any objections to the driveway provisions of the sketch plan.
Another area of concern was voiced by commission Chairman Phil Boesch, who queried the two as to Snider’s plans for personal occupation or continued ownership of the property.
Dieste said he had entered into an agreement with Snider to develop the property as a joint venture, planning to sell all of the resulting homes to outside buyers. Boesch took umbrage at the idea, saying he felt the Snider-Dieste venture had “gotten around the requirement” for PRD minimum size due to the planned order of sale.
The Snider property was one of a handful of existing large plots that were grandfathered under previous PRD requirements. Current requirements now mandate a minimum of 50,000 square feet of property for a PRD. The Snider property is just under 20,000 square feet, with a small area eliminated from development as wetlands.
At the time property owners were granted grandfathered status, Boesch recalled, the town had feared the affected owners — or developers acting in their names — would rush to develop small PRDs. That, he said, appeared to be just what was happening with the Snider property.
“That effort was to prevent small PRDs, which were not the intent of the PRD regulations,” he said. “Really, the developer has bought the property and is developing a PRD.”
Former commission member Tony McClenny said, “We knew it would happen. It was a partial win. But it prevents future speculation, where developers buy small lots and develop PRDs.”
That concession made, the benefits of the sketch plan for the property were emphasized, with Dieste stressing that the homes would not be identical, giving an appearance of a development rather than single-family homes. That was a move Boesch said he’d like to encourage, with design elements styled as for single-family homes.
Commission member Lew Killmer second that, saying, “The original plan was for duplexes. I much prefer this.” Commission member Steve Wode noted that the design also allowed for a lot of open space.
Dieste and Blakeney also addressed concerns about existing drainage issues in the immediate area of the property, saying plans for the bio-swale and rainwater routing into the swale would help by alleviating the existing problem rather than adding to it.
Boesch voiced a note of caution about the clearing of trees on the lot. Blakeney said some of the existing trees would have to come down but that he was willing to make adjustments to the plan — specifically to parking locations — if they were needed to preserve significant trees on the lot.
Finally, Eckrich encouraged the building standards for the driveway and parking areas be kept up to the existing state standard — a new point of emphasis within the town as developments are annexed and town roads connected with private drives.
The sketch plan is the initial phase in applying to the town for permission to develop a PRD or other type of property. The applicant can take commission feedback into account prior to presenting a formal plan for formal consideration and public hearings.
In a series of updates and announcements for the commission, Boesch noted that the town was still waiting for promised grant funding for the planned Streetscape project on Garfield Parkway. That funding is reported to be on its way, he said.
Discussion of a possible architectural review board (ARB) or architectural overlay zones is set for future commission meetings, pending further research by Killmer in conjunction with the imaging workshop held with University of Maryland architecture students. Killmer is due to report back to the commission on initial steps the town might take to implement one or both of the solutions.
Wode noted that no action had yet been needed in his informal position as intergovernmental affairs liaison with surrounding towns and developments.
The planned Millville Township development is set to be the town’s first interaction on that basis, though Killmer would be substituting for Wode as the commission’s point-man for the planned February 28 meeting about the development.
Former Planning Commission Chairman Cal Baldwin said he believed the town’s liaison position needed to be more systemized, as efforts in that direction had, he said, been largely ineffective. Mayor Jack Walsh, in attendance at the meeting, noted that the Millville Township effort was to be the first attempt at any kind liaison work with the town.
Wode was chosen for the liaison position as he owns property in Bethany Beach, Ocean View and Millville, thus having vested interests and voices in all three towns. Boesch noted that Bethany Beach would have to “tread lightly” in the operation of any liaison position to avoid stepping on other towns’ toes.
Walsh said he views the Millville development as an opportunity for Bethany Beach to appeal to the state for more assistance toward relief for impacts on the town, related to traffic, parking and other problems of increased population in the general area.