Planning under way on town's anniversary

A small group of South Bethany residents have begun planning a celebration of the town’s 40th anniversary, tentatively set for next month.

The town’s actual 40th anniversary passed this spring, largely unremarked, but resident Carolyn Marcello told the town council on Aug. 14 that she was part of a group of three home owners who wanted to take the opportunity to recognize the anniversary, along with the town’s former mayors, and put together information about the beginning of the town, as well as a gathering on a Saturday in September.

Town Manager Mel Cusick said he’d been contacted about the effort and had an additional suggestion for the celebration.

“When they tore down the old town hall, there was a time capsule,” he noted. “It wasn’t sealed properly, and most of the contents were destroyed. … With the new town hall, we could bury a new time capsule,” he suggested.

Cusick said the town could acquire an appropriate container for the new time capsule, bury it at the end of the walk in front of the town hall and add a plaque – unlike the old one, which no one remembered even existed until it was dug up during construction.

Marcello said anyone interested in donating items for the new time capsule or in helping to organize the event could contact her or John Spears.

SBBP gets its due

Mayor Gary Jayne noted on Aug. 14 that the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce had recently held its annual lifeguard awards, honoring one of the town’s guards and donating $500 to each of the area’s towns to help with the cost of continuing beach patrol coverage after Labor Day.

Honored for the South Bethany Beach Patrol was William Weeks, a second-year guard for South Bethany who, Jayne noted, also has a younger brother on the beach patrol. Weeks also received a monetary award from the South Bethany Property Owners Association.

Cusick said July had been another busy month for the SBBP, with some injuries and rescues from rip currents, and one patient requiring airlifting to Christiana hospital.

He also noted a strong showing by the lifeguards in lifeguard competitions this year, including the recent USLA national competition held in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., the costs of which were paid through donations, he noted. The Sussex County team placed fourth nationally in that competition. The guards also garnered their first win in lifeguard competitions since 1984, at a competition held Aug. 13 in Middlesex Beach.

Councilman John Fields again praised the detailed beach patrol report.

“This is the single most interesting piece of information I’ve received since I joined the council,” he said. “There were times I thought we were overstaffed for lifeguards. Now I’m not so sure.”

The SBBP has 27 guards, with a target of 18 on duty at a given time.

Cusick noted that events such as the airlift activity reported can drain the patrol’s assets very quickly, having taken six guards off their stands for about 45 minutes, with lifeguards from nearby Sea Colony shifting to cover South Bethany stands as needed, and vice-versa.

“We’re hard-pressed at times, with lunch breaks, to keep 18 on the stands and now we’re starting to lose them,” Cusick said of the traditional end-of-summer departures.

Councilman Jay Headman also noted letters of thanks recently received from the parents of some of those who had been rescued by the SBBP.

“It’s a reminder of how fortunate we are to have the types of people we have as lifeguards and EMTs, and the professionalism they displayed,” he said.

Ordinance expected to return after revisions

Some property owners opposed to a proposed ordinance regarding permeable surfaces objected on Aug. 14 to the postponement of a council vote on that ordinance, which had reached its third reading but was sent back to the committee for changes.

Jayne and Cusick disagreed with the notion that the ordinance’s tenure before the council had been extended and extended beyond rules.

“The town attorney has been with us every step of the way,” Jayne said.

One property owner said he was concerned the ordinance would now come back and be adopted the first meeting he wasn’t present to object to it.

“The three of you were voted in because of what you’re just hearing,” he said of Council Members Diane Matera, Robert Youngs and Timothy Saxton (who was not present on Aug. 14). “It’s not right. This is just a bad, bad ordinance.”

Referencing the Dewey Beach regulations that have been part of the basis for the ordinance, he said those regulations “are for sidewalks and street, not someone’s patio.”

Jayne, Headman and Youngs defended the postponement of the vote.

“We do not make the rules as we go along,” said Jayne.

“My understanding was it was sent back because of questions about the standards in it,” added Youngs. “It’s been so long because there wasn’t time to change it and re-present with elections looming. It’s out there and waiting to come back. The time gap is mostly to wait for the new council.”

Headman said, “From the comments of the council, of the community, we made changes. [They commented] again. We made more changes. And the decision was that we needed to review what we put together. It was not because [we said,] ‘Oh, we’re going to lose this vote.’ It was because we had the feeling we needed to get this right.”

Also on Aug. 14

• Headman reported that resident George Junkin has been looking at a pilot program to install diffusers in one of the town’s canals, to improve water quality. He said Junkin is looking for grant money for the project.

• In the treasurer’s report, Headman reported a $51,000 shortfall in real estate transfer tax from the town’s budgeted amount and compared to the same time last year.

“The key months are coming up,” he said. “August through October are usually good months. People are putting their houses back on the market.” He noted that rentals had been slow in early summer this year but are now busy. “We don’t collect rental tax until the end of October, so I don’t know what it will be.”

Matera, who works in real estate, agreed. “We’ve been getting a ton of calls for rentals. Everybody waited until the last minute. That’s a good sign,” she said, noting that her agency had four sales pending and under contract.

Cusick said an upswing is also being seen in construction in the town, with 14 building permits issued in July and six more pending for August. “Building activity seems to have picked back up, too,” he said.

• The council voted 6-0 to reappoint Ed Chase to the town’s Board of Adjustments and Jim Gross to the Planning Commission.