Bethany Beach mulls mini-golf complaints

While most of the town has welcomed the business with open arms, some of the neighbors of the new Captain Jack’s Mini-Golf in Bethany Beach aren’t too happy with it after its first summer of operation.

Cecelia Lewis and her brother Ned Walsh, along with the rest of the Walsh family, have repeatedly complained about noise from the mini-golf and about it shedding too much light on their home next door. They’ve asked the town council to give another look at town ordinances regarding mini-golf businesses to see if there aren’t some changes that can be made to force Captain Jack’s owner Carol Schultze to accommodate them further.

Further, that is, because Schultze has — by her own account and that of town Building Inspector John Eckrich — already gone above and beyond what is required of her by town code on the issues of noise and lighting that have bothered the neighbors.

She has had the original, already town-approved, lighting plan altered to reduce lighting cast on the property to the north. That included having the lighting company work directly with the Walsh family to focus lights away from their home, as well as further reducing overall lighting levels and even eliminating lighting completely from three of the course’s 18 holes.

Schultze also agreed to erect a solid fence on the northern border of her property, at the Walshes’ last-minute request, after the family initially requested an open fence but changed their mind during an architectural review.

She has limited hours of operation at Captain Jack’s to those imposed by the Board of Adjustments in its approval of a conditional use for the business last year, and in subsequent town council ordinances that made mini-golf a use-by-right on commercial property in Bethany.

Still, the complaints have continued.

The site has been visited by town police officers, who found no code violations. Eckrich’s visits also yielded nothing to cite. Public Safety Officer and Bethany Beach Police Department Capt. Ralph Mitchell’s personal visit to the business also indicated there were no violations of any town code.

But based on the ongoing complaints, the Bethany Beach Town Council added consideration of possible changes to the town’s ordinances regarding mini-golf operations to the agenda for their Sept. 21 council meeting.

The subject was introduced by a reluctant but duty-bound Council Member Tracy Mulligan, who emphasized that he was doing so because the council had previously agreed to discuss the issue at a future council meeting.

Captain Jack’s rescue party arrived in the form of resident Joan Thomas, who said she was speaking not only for herself but for numerous others who support the business. Thomas read from a recent letter to the editor that supported Captain Jack’s as a family activity. She also noted Schultze’s efforts to deal with the complaints, as well as benefits the business has provided.

“Changes have been made to address their concerns,” she said. “The businesses around there surely have profited from the increased traffic.

“I would think many other businesses that could be there would only cause more problems,” Thomas added.

“This is a wonderful addition to the town,” Thomas concluded. “I don’t think it’s a blight, and I don’t think there are many who do.”

Sedona restaurant owner Jonathan Spivak, whose business is across the street from Captain Jack’s, also spoke in favor of the mini-golf, acknowledging that while it may have had little or no impact on his business, “It’s better than the empty lot and liquor store that were there before.”

“It’s absurd to me that you would reconsider this now,” Spivak added, pointing to the mini-golf’s summer-only operations that have now concluded.

But Walsh said the business had caused problems for his family throughout this first summer of its operation.

“With the windows open, it’s as if [golf patrons] are right there,” he said of even the far corner of the home. Walsh emphasized that the family had only called police with their complaints because they had been told that they had to formally register a complaint to have the issue on the record.

“The business does not control the noise,” he added.

Schultze, who has already faced opposition from some neighbors during the BoA process and dealt successfully with legal challenges resulting from the board’s ruling in her favor, said Sept. 21 she would draw the line at having the town alter her business’ operations after the fact.

“I relied on your permission. The Board of Adjustments decision was sustained,” she emphasized. “Mini-golf was declared a use-by-right by the town council, and I would never have made a move with out the express permission of the town.”

Schultze said changing the rules on her now would amount to stripping her of her vested rights in the property — something she said would be up for legal challenge. (She may know that better than most, as an attorney.)

That caught Town Solicitor Terry Jaywork’s attention. While Jaywork said he felt the issue was not an open-and-shut case, he quickly recommended the council table the issue until he could discuss the legal issues involved in even considering making changes to rules governing the business. They did so, adding an additional executive session at the end of the night’s meeting. The council could and likely will raise the issue at a future meeting.

The continuing controversy has already raised other issues for the town, with Planning Commission members at their Sept. 22 meeting acknowledging that they may need in the near future to consider creating a new zoning area for the town that would specify uses appropriate for the areas where residential zoning meets commercial zoning.

Short to donate land to town

Also on Sept. 21, the Bethany Beach Town Council voted unanimously to accept a potential offer from Mary Elizabeth Short to donate a small parcel of land to the town.

The property, located between two unconnected segments of Parkwood Street, is considered too small to build upon, though the town lists it as a lot of record and would therefore technically allow some kind of construction there upon. The lot is just 43 feet wide and 53 feet long, with a buildable area (after setbacks) of just 39 feet by 18 feet.

Jaywork explained to council members last Friday that Short was looking to use the parcel’s donation to the town as a tax deduction and would prefer to have the town accept the offer sooner rather than later, due to her frail health.

While no deal was formally on the table on Sept. 22, council members voted unanimously to accept such an offer should it be forthcoming, which was expected.

Council debates sending a message

Council members voted to table a decision on a contract with Rogers Signs for the long-proposed town council memorial wall at town hall, with a bid of $16,870.

The wall, to be located where the town currently posts town notices on a bulletin board in the town hall lobby, would list all members of past town councils, as well as names of donors to town hall. The town’s notice board would be relocated to a weatherproof kiosk to the left of the town hall entrance, where it would be accessible even during hours when the building is closed.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet said the only bid made on the project had come from Rogers Signs. And that caused conflict among the council, who had heard earlier in the evening from resident Dennis Cleary his objections to giving Rogers Signs any of the town’s business.

Rogers Signs is owned by Sussex County Councilman Lynn Rogers, whose decisions regarding development have been unpopular among many of those living in the burgeoning eastern side of the county.

Cleary said, “Mr. Rogers is a member of the county council, which consistently votes 4-1 for developers. … If you vote for this, you are voting in favor of what county council has done by casting votes in favor of large land owners and developers.”

Council Members Steve Wode was persuaded by the argument, calling it “a nice idea” and a way the town could exert pressure on the county council to listen to their concerns over development.

“This could be a statement to the county council that we don’t appreciate the development they allow,” he said.

But Mayor Carol Olmstead said she felt the notion might cause the town problems in trying to gain cooperation from the county government on development and other issues.

Still, council members found another reason to reject the contract: the town’s tightened purse strings. Wode said the wall was not a dire need and objected to putting more than $10,000 into it at a time when transfer tax funds continue fall short of prior marks.

Council members voted 4-2 to reject the bid from Rogers Signs, with Olmstead and Council Member Jerry Dorfman opposed and Vice-Mayor Tony McClenny abstaining.

The council did, however, vote unanimously on Sept. 22 to approve a $147,000 contract for the town’s annual street rehabilitation work, from Jerry’s Inc.

Parking revenues reach all-time high

In other news from last Friday’s council meeting:

• Graviet reported that the town had taken a first look at its parking revenues for the summer season, grossing more than $1 million for the first time ever, including permit fees, parking meter revenues and other related items. He said he expected the final total for the revenue to be between $1.1 million and $1.2 million, the increase due in part to increased parking fees. A bumper year for the town trolley was also recorded, with 35,274 rides — 1,400 more than in 2006. Maintenance of the trolley fleet, though, was noted as a cause of concern.

• The town water plant now has backup power that would allow it to operate for days instead of just hours, with the replacement of a 250 gallon diesel tank with a 2,000 gallon tank.

• Graviet reported that the town had been receiving and trying to deal with citizen complaints about the noise involved in street-cleaning and power-washing activities by town employees. But he said the town was unable to go with suggestions to move the activities to mid-day, as the impact of so many people out and about would make the work impossible. “We wish we could do it more quietly, but we can’t,” he said.

• The town manager also reported ongoing progress with the town obtaining its Community Rating System certification for flood protection. Neighboring South Bethany recently obtained its CRS certification, giving property owners there a 10 percent discount on their flood insurance. Graviet said he had been told Bethany property owners might be able to get that discount as early as next spring, but recent indications were that it could take a while longer.

• Council members approved the appointment of new committee heads for the coming year and new two-year terms for two Planning Commission members.

McClenny will head the town’s commercial architecture Design Review Committee; Dorfman, the Budget and Finance Committee; resident Chuck Peterson, the Charter and Ordinance Review Committee; Mulligan, the Communications Committee; former council member Harold Steele, the Flood and Drainage Committee; Olmstead, the Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee; Council Member Bob Parsons, the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee; Jean Wode, the Parking and Traffic Committee; Bob Graham, the Zoning Commission; and Donald Carmichael, the Board of Assessment.

The council reappointed Kathleen Mink to the Planning Commission for two years and returned outgoing Council Member Lew Killmer to the Planning Commission in a spot vacated by Lonnie Moore.

Those wishing to serve on town committees are being asked to contact town hall or town officials so that committee makeup can be decided in the coming weeks..