South Bethany property owners want park kept as is

Nearly 73 percent of South Bethany property owners returned the Richard Hall Memorial Park Opinion Survey to the town by the 4:30 p.m. deadline on Dec. 10. Of them, more than 80 percent said they want the park left in its current state – a strong statement of opposition to proposals to add features such as a pavilion, exercise stations and/or playground equipment to a portion of the existing wooded parcel.

In all, 941 of the 1,297 surveys sent out were returned by the deadline. Of them, 760 – 81 percent – voiced support for leaving Richard Hall Memorial Park in its current state. Another 166 (17 percent) said they supported development of a recreational area within the park. The remaining 15 property owners (2 percent) said they had no opinion on the issue.

Andrew Ross, an arborist and chairman of the South Bethany Park Conservation Committee – which opposed the development of a recreational area in the park – said this week, “In voting to preserve the park in its current state, property owners sent a strong message to their elected officials that residents want the town to concentrate on the important priorities facing the town.

“These priorities include maintaining our beach walkways, improving the water quality in our canals and preserving our natural resources for future generations. They don’t include developing a recreational area with a playground.”

Ross said he felt the community had come together in opposition to the park proposal.

“By working together, attending meetings, making signs, collecting signatures, posting facts and opinions on the Web site, the community has pulled together and let their voice be heard,” he said.

Councilwoman Sue Callaway, who has supported development of the recreational area in the park, said she felt the survey that was sent out was flawed and didn’t elicit an accurate representation of property owners’ opinions on the issue.

“I wish that the survey had more accurately presented what we had proposed,” she said. “I think the way survey was designed and the way it went out – if I was a property owner in South Bethany and knew nothing about the park issue and received this survey, I probably would have voted the way the majority of them did.

“The survey ended up looking like the design was a done deal and the costs were a done deal, like the Town was going to spend $178,000 on a park. And in these economic times, that’s a great concern,” she acknowledged. “Also, they felt that we were going to spend the money on a park and not spend on other town issues – that it was an either/or. People were fearful of that. It certainly was a dollar issue.”

But, she noted, “Not one park advocate ever endorsed the town spending $178,000 on the park.” She said the group had even lined up matching funds and was in contact with state officials about potential grant funding, aiming to add the same kind of facility that other local towns have welcomed.

Callaway, too, had praise for those who worked on the issue prior to the survey.

“The park committee members worked so hard and for so long,” she noted. “Many of them were involved since 2005, gathering information and researching. They put a lot of time and effort into it. They were very scrupulous about responding to concerns and getting information, getting facts, so that they could represent a good concept to the community. They really did a good job on that.”

Callaway also acknowledged the tremendous level of participation in the survey by property owners.

“I appreciate the fact that so many South Bethany property owners responded to survey,” she said. “Although it didn’t go the way I hoped it would go, I’m pleased to see we had that great of a response.”

“We’ll move on,” Callaway concluded. “South Bethany is an awesome place to live, to vacation. But the time is not right now, I guess.”

As the survey was not a binding referendum, the council is not required to comply with the majority opinion from the survey, but prior votes on the issue would appear to indicate the council would not support development of the park without a majority of property owners supporting the project.

The town council is scheduled to discuss the survey results at its next workshop meeting, on Jan. 27, 2011, at 6 p.m.