Bethany making contact on governmental concerns

Bethany Beach’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee met on Saturday, May 17, 2008 to review recent and projected legislative contacts, and other government agendas.

Town Council and committee member Bob Parsons reported that he had made several legislative contacts since September, specifically about beach re-nourishment. In February, he put in a request for funding to mitigate against flooding on Pennsylvania Avenue to Sen. Tom Carper.

“Tim Winstead [of Carper’s office] came down to tour, and it rained that day,” said Parsons. [After last week’s storm], I took pictures of the flooded road in front of the post office and sent them to him, and he replied, ‘Thanks for the update.’”

Parsons also reported that town council had directed him to contact state Rep. Gerald W. Hocker regarding a change to the town’s Board of Adjustments. The town has made a recommendation for a change in state statues regarding non-residents ability to serve on the board.

Currently, Bethany Beach’s BoA is grandfathered under rules allowing non-residents to serve. But a push to expand the town’s BoA from three members to five members has been bogged down in concern that putting a needed charter amendment before state legislators would result in losing the ability to have non-residents serve.

Mayor Carol Olmstead reiterated the fact that the majority of the state is different from Bethany Beach, since few municipalities outside the area’s beach towns have a property owner makeup of three-quarters non-residents.

Parsons said he had asked Hocker if the town’s recommendation for a change in state statues would fly and got the answer that the Board of Adjustment composition rules are in town charters and “to go ahead with whatever you want to do.”

“So, we are asking them to change the state charter?” asked Olmstead.

“We are asking them to add one thing, so we can play fair,” answered Parsons.

Town looking for contact with others

At their last meeting, the committee had decided that they would try to have liaison contacts with other towns. Committee member Margaret Young was assigned to bring information to the committee about other towns, so they could keep track of how other towns were dealing with issues that might eventually affect Bethany Beach.

“I have some newspaper articles here that I have collected, and a lot of it is building projects,” said Young. She went on to describe massive projects in Lewes that had made the news recently.

Olmstead replied that most area towns are not in the same boat as Bethany Beach, rather they welcome the change developments can bring. “Most towns are not thinking how we are thinking. They are excited about their development [and growth].”

Committee member Dan Costello brought up the possibility of enhanced inter-municipal cooperation and remarked that, although it’s tough, it could be something to look into.

“There is so much going on in your own town,” replied Olmstead, “It’s so busy, and just to take care of your own town is like a full-time job. It’s not an unwillingness, but a question of how much you can do and what the priorities are.” Costello agreed. Olmstead continued, saying that it is easy for things to “get lost in the cracks.”

Town hall, homes to get wind power?

In other news, Parsons brought up an article he had seen about the state legislature and carbon footprints. He reported that he had brought up the idea at a recent council meeting of using wind power to see if Bethany could eventually get town hall off the electrical grid.

“I’ve asked Lew [Killmer, Chair of Bethany’s Planning Commission] to look into zoning laws to accommodate retrofitting. According to Lew, the wind turbines are not unattractive,” Parsons said. “An earth-scientist friend of mine is having his placed, and I asked if he would come and talk — and told him we don’t want him to come as a company or association — rather, we want a professional presentation.”

Parsons noted that many of the town’s homes are inhabited only between May and September, and, should they have a wind turbine on their roof, all winter, while they were not using their homes or energy, they would be producing it and would therefore most likely end up with free electricity over the course of a year.

Costello said he feels that people are just seeing the beginning of the trend and that it is catching on all across the country. He also mentioned the fact that neighboring Fenwick Island has its own environmental committee — something Bethany Beach could look into, which would go along with the inter-municipal cooperation he had mentioned earlier.

Parsons likened the size of new residential turbines to the old chimneys that most of the town’s homes had when he was growing up. He explained that he had had Killmer come to his house for an example, because anybody who decides to install a wind turbine on a home that is already at or near the maximum height restriction for Bethany Beach would have to apply for a variance. Residential turbines are increasingly available in smaller sizes, such as 55 inches high and 30 inches in diameter.

“Maybe we could just have a zoning law regarding turbines — that they wouldn’t be counted in the 31 feet, so we can accommodate people who built 31 feet above base flood elevation,” he said.

“I don’t want a wind farm,” laughed Parsons. “I just want a little wind garden.”