South Bethany council to vote on ordinances

The South Bethany Town Council will have several ordinances to vote upon when they meet on Friday, April 13, with second readings having been certified at the March 9 council meeting.

The first of the ordinances is one that creates a “temporary” mercantile license – a mid-way option between operating illegally without the required town business license and ponying up for the year-round business license. The ordinance first changes language requiring an annual license and simplifies it to require either a short-term license or the year-round one.

The year-round license covers businesses operating between May 1 and the following April 30. The new six-month license would cover those operating between Nov. 1 and April 30, which isn’t uncommon for those engaging in off-season construction. Businesses needing an even shorter license term would be able to purchase a 30-day license, available for any one 30-day period between May 1 and April 30.

Businesses would be eligible for only one temporary license each year and would have to purchase a full annual license to conduct further business in the town. But those that extend their temporary licenses during the initial licensing period would be credited with the payment toward the full-year license.

Any business found to be operating in the town without a license is subject to a fine.

Another ordinance that received its second reading in March is one that requires the removal of dead trees from lots in the town.

Councilman John Fields told the council in March that the ordinance was in line with the Town’s effort to make it a more pleasant place to live.

“Japanese pines are short-lived and are often left in place when they die,” Fields explained of the tree, which is common in the town. “Our hope is to get the dead trees removed.”

Fields told council members that the effort to draft the ordinance had “gotten more tricky than I thought,” with disparate interpretations of the ordinance language by various council members and townsfolk. But, he said, the core of the ordinance was an effort to avoid dead trees, or other “noxious vegetation” (such as poison ivy or invasive species) from becoming a fire or health hazard.

Under the ordinance, all lots would be required to be kept free of underbrush in cases where that underbrush could be considered a hazard for fire or to health. That part of the ordinance does not, however, apply to wooded lots.

Some of those in attendance at the March 9 council meeting had questioned the potential impact of the ordinance on wooded lots, revealing a varied aesthetic among the townsfolk.

“I don’t mind it,” Councilman Al Rae said of naturalized lots, “and my neighbors like it that way. The birds and animals like it that way.”

Mayor Jay Headman acknowledged the “natural preserve” feel of much of the Cat Hill community, noting that a neighbor had been upset when the lot next door was cleared.

Rae said the council should avoid dictating an aesthetic to property owners.

“It’s not like that,” countered Councilman Jim Gross. Rae said he disagreed.

Council members planned to review the ordinance’s language at their March workshop ahead of Friday’s expected council vote on its adoption.

The council is also expected to vote on an ordinance that would change terms of Board of Adjustments members from four years to three years.

“To ask people to serve a four-year term on the Board of Adjustments is very long,” said Fields. “Three years is very reasonable, and it will make it easier to find people to serve.”

Headman noted that the change would bring the terms in line with state recommendations, which were translated as being for four-year terms when the town charter was drafted.

Proposed charter change would eliminate referendum requirement

Changes to the town charter are also lined up, after a 5-2 vote by the council in March on a resolution that approved sending to the Delaware General Assembly a request from the Town to make five changes related to how and who in the town approves contracts.

There was some division among the council in March, as Rae said he wanted to see the exact wording of the changes spelled out on paper prior to a vote, but the time pressure of getting the request to legislators in time for action during the current legislative session had the council needing to approve the concepts behind the requested changes ahead of the town solicitor drafting suggested legislation.

Rae said elements of the summary of the requested changes concerned him, such as saying it was “unnecessary” for the Town to hold a public hearing for some expenditures.

“It should say, ‘expenditures that have been budgeted and approved by the council,” he argued, saying he didn’t want to approve the summary.

Fields countered that the requested changes had been discussed and received support from the council at their prior workshop. But Rae said he felt some things had been changed since.

“The only changes made since then was one number. It was voted on at the last workshop,” Fields replied.

“We have spent a good bit of money on this,” he added. “If it doesn’t go thorough, we would have to spend a good bit more on it next year.”

Councilman George Junkin asked Rae if he wanted to change his vote from the workshop. Rae said he was “generally in agreement, but I would like to see the words I’m agreeing to. … If we’re going to make changes that allow the council to spend up to $300,000 or $400,000 without any public votes, I would like to see the words.”

Former councilman Bob Cestone said he, too, was concerned about the language regarding public hearings or referendums on expenditures.

“What you’re saying here is any amount, no matter what it is, you don’t have to go to a referendum,” he said. “The people currently have some power, and you’re kind of taking that power away from the people.”

Cestone said he agreed that the former $100,000 cap on expenditures not requiring a referendum was not enough, due to inflation. “But I don’t think you should take a power from the people that they have now to vote on it.”

Fields acknowledged that the disagreement on the issue is an old one.

“You and I have been arguing on this for five years,” he told Cestone. “We started out agreeing that $100,000 was not enough. You thought $500,000 was too much. The attorney said you don’t need to have at all. The town council is allowed to spend the money they have without going to referendum. All the other towns do it. His suggestion was remove it from the charter and let the town council spend whatever money they have. We’re not borrowing money.”

“It’s still the property owners’ money,” Cestone replied. “Just because other towns do it doesn’t mean we have to do it. If we got a few people together who wanted to build something and had money in the budget and majority of the council wants to do it, they can do it. We can vote them out of office, but once a project is started, it’s not going to go back. I agree that $100,000 is not enough, but the people should still have the power to vote on it in a referendum.”

Fields said he believed the change was the way to go and a position the council had agreed to at their workshop, but he acknowledged the difference of opinion.

Headman, though, said he believed that what the council agreed at their workshop was clear. “What we agreed to is what’s here.”

Cestone said he also had concerns about using a resolution to make the request for the change. “We haven’t had any public input on people’s feelings except what I just said,” he asserted on Marcy 9.

But Headman disagreed that there was any inability for the citizens to offer input.

“We have opened things up,” he said. “There’s nothing hidden or whatever. We’re trying to be efficient with spending money and doing the right thing. We went into it to look for that threshold. Elected officials should be able to spend money,” he added, referencing a near-catastrophe of finance when the town almost had to drop plans for major work on Ocean Drive due to the spending limit. “We couldn’t spend it, and we nearly lost out on going to contract because of the limit.”

Cestone said he agreed that there was a need to change the limit, but he said the cap should be increased, rather than eliminated.

Rae and Gross both voted in opposition to the resolution, while the rest of the council voted in favor, passing the resolution on a 5-2 vote and clearing the way for development of the legislative language and a request to the General Assembly to make the related charter changes.

Proposed Ocean Drive ‘Promenade’ designation raises eyebrows

While it may have seemed innocuous to members of the Community Enhancement Committee (formerly the Beautification Committee), the decision to have an example street sign for Ocean Drive labeled with the moniker “The Promenade,” raised some eyebrows at the March 9 council meeting.

Councilwoman Sue Callaway asked the council to support funding for the new street signs and for citizens to let the council know that they supported the signs, which would be paid for through Municipal Street Aid funding, if the committee’s recommendations are followed.

Cestone questioned the origin of “The Promenade,” and Callaway explained that the committee had recognized that Ocean Drive is “a place where people walk along and gather,” akin to Bethany Beach’s boardwalk, but that the town couldn’t exactly call it “The Boardwalk.”

Resident Barbara Jayne had already questioned on March 9 the council’s recent change of recycling pick-up to Saturday, on the grounds that the pick-up time was too early to ensure departing renters would get their recyclables out in time, thus leaving them for pick-up the following week, through another renter’s rental period.

Jayne had returned recently from a winter out of town, she had noted, and she particularly questioned whether townsfolk had any say in the naming of Ocean Drive as “The Promenade.”

“It’s been discussed since October,” Calloway said of the committee’s work on the project.

Nonetheless, Jayne said she was objecting now to the idea.

“It’s pretentious and superfluous,” she said. “If we want to call it anything, it’s a boardwalk. We’re a casual town. We don’t need a promenade.”

Calloway on March 9 also reported on continuing work on drainage and beautification efforts along Route 1, with expectations of further improvements being completed around May 18. She noted the upcoming one-year anniversary of the committee’s Adopt-a-Canal-End/Road-End program, saying that the committee expected to be working on renewal applications for adopters and potentially for some small signs to acknowledge them.

Jayne did offer praise for one of the group’s projects at the March meeting. “The flower boxes for the garbage cans on Ocean Drive look great,” she said. The committee has had town workers constructing the boxes over the winter months and recently had them installed and planted.