Justin’s Beach House receives planning approval

It’s just one of five dwelling units slated for the Sand Dollar Walk planned residential development in Bethany Beach, but the spirits of all those involved were lifted Saturday, Sept. 25, when the town’s planning commission granted final planning approval to those units and what will someday become Justin’s Beach House, a respite and vacation home for families affected by cancer.

Builder Mike Cummings of Miken Builders and Contractors for a Cause, and Mary Ellen Nantais, mother of the late Justin Jennings, expressed their appreciation for the clearance Saturday, ready to begin breaking ground for the project.

Already, $300,000 has been raised for Justin’s Beach House, through Contractors for a Cause and the Justin W. Jennings Foundation, which Nantais heads.

The house, located across Route 26 from St. Anne’s Catholic Church, will be neighbored by two duplexes, which Cummings said his generous client was focused on for his investment purposes so that he could allow the third structure to be built as Justin’s Beach House.

Cummings had retooled the placement of one of the structures since the last time the Helen Loftus Trust project had been before the commissioners, correcting an orientation and setback problem.

Stormwater management issues and Delaware Department of Transportation approvals have also been completed. Cummings said he had reworked sewer plans to take advantage of a permanent easement provided by one neighbor.

That left only a letter due from county officials and a single signature between the project and permission from the town to proceed with construction. Both are expected within the week, and Cummings said he planned to begin construction in November.

Outgoing Town Council Member — and once and future Planning Commissioner — Lew Killmer had one request for Cummings on Saturday: to preserve a large maple tree that sits at the edge of a planned stormwater retention pond.

“If there’s any way I can keep it, I will,” Cummings promised, saying that he felt keeping the tree would enhance the property. He said he would work with his excavating company to see if they couldn’t work around the tree as they excavate the required stormwater pond, which like others on the property is slated to be a “dry” pond. A single entrance off Route 26 will accommodate the PRD.

Cummings said the duplex structures will have a cottage styling, with awnings, with Justin’s Beach House being in a similar style. All of the colors are expected to be neutral but to vary between the buildings. He had originally planned for cedar siding but said he might scale back to hardy plank siding to adjust for a slumping real estate market.

Each of the duplexes is expected to sell in the low $700,000s and contain five bedrooms and 3.5 baths. Cummings said he expected to begin advertising soon for pre-sale contracts.

“This will be something nice for the town, too,” he added.

Cummings said future Contractors for a Cause fundraising may aim to provide scholarships for local students and/or to provide temporary housing near Dagsboro for displaced mothers.

Commissioners aim to define PRDs

Sand Dollar Walk is one of the last of a spate of PRDs that have gone through the planning approval process since the town grandfathered properties of less than 50,000 square feet with the ability to create a PRD. Planning commissioners turned their focus toward PRDs on larger properties on Saturday, examining the first draft of possible requirements for future PRDs as made by outgoing Commissioner Lonnie Moore.

Moore’s recommendations were drafted as the town begins to deal with concerns over whether some communities in the town are “real” PRDs and what exactly defines a “real” PRD.

There are 10 parcels in Bethany Beach now that could be developed as these larger PRDs, but Moore noted, “In my opinion, the term PRD is a misnomer, since a property 50,000 square feet or more can hardly accommodate what the average person would consider a ‘planned residential development’ to be.”

Moore voiced what many in the town have said on the subject — that developers should be required to create a “real planned community” with these larger parcels. He recommended they consider requiring for those PRDs:

• Flexibility in design to take advantage of natural landscapes, existing community character and other unique features;

• Allowing the developer to take a creative approach to the use of the land and enhancing the visual character of the town;

• Architectural styles that reflect traditional architecture in the beach community;

• Structures with a mix of styles, sizes, facades and roof pitches;

• Efficient use of the land that may result in reduction in development and maintenance costs of infrastructure;

• Planning principles to support pedestrian and bike use;

• An open space system with both passive and active uses and areas;

• Minimization of erosion, sedimentation, flooding and runoff.

More specifically, Moore recommended: a minimum of 15 percent of open space be required, with an effort to maintain contiguous open space throughout the town where possible; street trees and minimizing impact on future sidewalks from root growth; landscaped buffers; a hierarchy of streets for safety and circulation; interconnectivity with adjacent streets; use of alleys for access to the side and rear of lots; enhanced parking requirements; streetlights and signage consistent with that existing in the town.

Commissioners were prepared to work on these recommendations with no particular rush, but Building Inspector John Eckrich said he had already been approached by the Addy and Cooper families about a possible PRD on their two parcels west of Kent Avenue, with a combined space of around 4.5 acres.

With that information, Commission Chairwoman Kathleen Mink proposed they proceed with all possible speed to get the recommendations into place, with a hearing on them possibly as soon as November.