South Bethany looks at code enforcement

Code enforcement issues topped concerns from citizens at the South Bethany Town Council meeting on July 14.

Kicking off the property-owners’ participation segment of the meeting, Resident Frank Fay inquired as to exactly how and when the town is enforcing grass-height regulations.

Town code says that lots “showing grass or weeds over 10 inches tall will be deemed out of compliance …. In the event that the property is not maintained, the Code Enforcement Constable and/or Town Manager will use the following dates to assure compliance: April 30, May 30, June 30, July 30, Aug. 30, Sept. 30, Oct. 30.”

Fay asked whether the town was, in fact, checking for compliance on other dates. He said he had cut the grass on his own and a neighbor’s property just before the 30th of one month, followed by a two-week absence. He cut his own grass upon returning but was unable to get to the neighbor’s property before the town had cut it and charged for having done so — all well before the 30th of that month.

“There’s some confusion as to whether it’s enforced only on the inspection dates or whether it’s enforced when it’s too long,” admitted Town Manager Mel Cusick.

But Mayor Gary Jayne said the listing of inspection dates in the code didn’t mean the town was unable to enforce the 10-inch maximum at other times. “The dates on the code are very misleading,” Jayne said.

Fay said the result was inconsistent, with some yards cut on a given day and neighboring yards with even longer grass left for days or weeks.

Councilwoman Bonnie Lambertson agreed, saying she’d noticed the same kinds of inconsistency in her own neighborhood. “I plan to rewrite the ordinance in the fall,” she said, noting plans to fix the kinds of inconsistencies and questions Fay was pointing out.

Further, “Some let the town cut their grass because they don’t want to be bothered with it,” Lambertson added, suggesting the ordinance could be revamped to help eliminate the use of town workers as a convenient lawn service.

Noise pollution

Complaints of early morning noise returned to the table this month, with clarification by Cusick about the times permitted for trash collection in the town.

Cusick said the town’s current contract with BFI allows for trash collection between 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. — meaning those awakened at 6:15 a.m. by the clattering of trash trucks should have gotten at least another 15 minutes of sleep.

The town manager said the lengthy period and early start were required by BFI because of the time required to collect the volume of refuse put out during the summer. But he said he would check in with BFI to remind them that 6:15 a.m. was earlier than permitted.

Blue-sheet blues

General code enforcement follow-up was another topic for property owners on July 14. Cusick said property owners were welcome to come to town hall and review responses to the “blue sheets” that they can use to report code violations.

The blue sheets do not require the reporting property owner to record their name, so Cusick said anonymous reports did not receive follow-up calls with information on their resolution. But even those reporting violations anonymously are able to find out what happened, he said.

On that subject, Jayne said the town was dealing with a legal situation regarding setback violations for sheds and other such structures. Some property owners have complained that the enforcement of that ordinance has been inconsistent. But Jayne said, “We’re enforcing our code as best we can.” A hearing on just such an alleged violation was recently set but postponed at the last minute.

Resident Ed Nazarian noted an increasing trend of contractors getting permission to use neighboring properties as staging areas for construction and renovation work, and often paying for that use, he said. Nazarian asked whether the town was collecting taxes on such rental payments, as it does when homes themselves are rented.

Jayne said the town was not seeking tax payments, since in most cases, he said, there was no payment being made. In many cases, he said, the contractor was just offering to repair any damage done to the property during the construction, such as repairing a driveway.

The mayor said the major concern of the town in such cases was that the second property owner’s permission was obtained by the contractor. Such had not always been the case in the past. “That’s the thing we have to guard against,” he said.

With that in mind, Jayne said, the town was working on a major change to the zoning section of town code, to require contractors provide written documentation of consent to use a given property as a staging area as part of their permit application process.

Closing out property-owner participation, council members heard concerns about public works employees blowing trash into yards during their clean-up efforts, and the cost (and potential cost savings) to the town of town hall use by outside groups. The latter was deemed to be negligible, while the former was to be investigated.

Housekeeping ordinances passed by council

Council members passed a series of ordinances on third readings July 14.

First, they voted unanimously to approve a new ordinance that works in conjunction with a previously passed ordinance to allow voluntary assessments to be paid at town hall for those who are ticketed for violating town code. Those paying the assessments can still opt to go to court, so long as they notify the town before their court date.

Council members also voted unanimously to pass an ordinance cleaning up a previous unsuccessful attempt to create an ethics policy and board for town officials and employees.

Citing the legal costs already incurred, the time already spent on the endeavor and repeated findings that the ordinance was not strict enough for the state, Lambertson said the town had opted to just use the state ethics board for that function, as most other municipalities do.

Comprehensive plan adopted

South Bethany’s long endeavor to develop a comprehensive plan finally came to fruition on July 14, with the council’s unanimous vote to adopt the plan developed by the Planning Commission.

Councilman John Fields introduced the measure, saying, “It’s with a great deal of pleasure that I present Resolution 3-06.” Fields went on to explain that the town had previously thought its comprehensive plan had been approved by the state, only to find out that wasn’t the case. After additional work on the plan, the commission received state agency approval this year and now expects the state’s final approval on the heels of the 7-0 council vote.

Fields noted that the commissioners had developed the plan on their own, without the help of the much-lauded Institute for Public Administration of the University of Delaware, which has helped many municipalities develop their comprehensive plans. That saved the town the estimated $9,000 to $18,000 in IPA fees, Fields emphasized, since the commissioners did their work at no cost to the town.

Assawoman Canal dredge anticipated

Councilman John Rubinsohn reported the first truly positive news on the planned Assawoman Canal dredge in many months, with the project still under the weight of a Sierra Club legal appeal.

Rubisohn said the project had received all needed permits and was expected to start work in August. With four to five months per year of permitted dredging activity, Rubinsohn said, roughly half the project was expected to be completed this year. That would be the northern section, from White Creek to Route 26. The section from Route 26 to South Bethany would likely begin next year, he said.

The Sierra Club’s appeal period for recent court decisions permitting the dredge runs out on July 27. The entire project is expected to take three years.

In other council reports on July 14:

• Councilman Richard Ronin reported ongoing support for the Bethany Beach-South Bethany beach replenishment via e-mails sent from the town Web site. Officials encouraged all residents, property owners, renters and their friends and family to e-mail Congress in support of the project as funding decisions are being made.

• Lambertson praised the work by town employees on beautification efforts, saying, “In my 32 years in the town, there’s only one other time I’ve seen it close to as beautiful.” She also thanked the town’s property-owners’ association for a $500 donation to beautification efforts.

• Jayne reported that he was “99 percent positive” the town would be getting its permits to dredge canals inside the town.

• Councilwoman Marge Gassinger reported similarly positive news on permits for construction of the new town hall and police station, saying she was told to expect approval notice in about five weeks.

• Councilman Jay Headman said final preparation was being made to create a bid package for the town’s proposed tidal pump project. The committee working on the project has been endeavoring to create a scope of work and other project outlines to make that bid package possible.