Bethany weighs improvements

Bethany Beach Town Council members at their marathon April 21 workshop focused on long-lingering issues such as bicycle and pedestrian safety and the town’s Streetscape project, coming to at least tentative plans on one of the two counts.

Council members, on consensus, endorsed pursuing improvements to Collins Avenue, which several of them pointed to as a major potential safety problem in the town.

The proposed changes would create a pedestrian/bike path on one side of Collins — likely the south side, as recommended by town consultants. But it would require residents along that side of the street to relinquish existing uses of the town right-of-way, which includes landscaping and placement of trash container bins.

The resulting street would have a wider roadway, with a bicycle/pedestrian lane to the side.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet said the project could potentially get under way in time for use this year, if the town took the intermediate step of using a surface on the path such as “crush and run” gravel, with the idea to pave the path later. He said he would follow up with the public works department on potential costs and a timetable.

Mayor Carol Olmstead said she was concerned about the possible impact on residences along that side of the street, since it would place the roadway closer to houses than at present. “But it is the town’s right-of-way,” she emphasized.

Graviet is to return to the council in May with information from public works for a potential vote on a path forward for the project at that time.

“People have encroached on the right-of-way everywhere,” commented Councilman Steve Wode, “and we need it for public safety.”

Council members considered the full list of 27 recommendations for pedestrian and bicycle safety from the town consultants, ruling many of them out.

“There’s a good bit of pain in some of these suggestions,” Graviet noted, with Olmstead adding that some of them had “died” outright because of lack of support.

Council held extensive debate on the potential of other improvements to the town to benefit the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, favoring a more limited program of creating “safe havens” as described by Graviet.

Under his proposal, paved or concrete walks would be created in the 200 block of Wellington Parkway, the 100 block of Central Boulevard and the median of Ocean View Parkway, creating a network of paths by which pedestrians could get easily from Route 1 to the sidewalks of Atlantic Avenue and then to move downtown.

The existing sidewalks on Atlantic would be rehabilitated to complete the system.

Council members said they would like to rehabilitate the many broken sidewalks throughout the rest of the town but they put first priority on creating the new and revamped system of “save havens” to bring pedestrians east and west to the downtown area first. The latter project might be tackled later but is expected to be expensive.

“This may be a 10-year project,” Olmstead said.

Council members also supported limited improvements to crosswalks across Route 1, which state transportation officials opted not to improve with lighting, as had been recommended and as had been desired by the town. Graviet said he would investigate whether ground-level lighting at the crosswalks would be permitted by the state in the Route 1 medians.

Graviet also noted at Monday’s workshop that a study is now under way to examine whether the town can make use of a membrane filtration system and carbon/ultraviolet-light system at the town water plant. The use of the systems could potentially allow the town to again interconnect its currently chloramines-based water treatment system to nearby systems, reducing risk of water shortage in an emergency and thereby reducing or eliminating the need for proposed additional water storage.

New Streetscape plan eliminates bike lane

Council members also extensively discussed the proposed Streetscape plan for the town’s downtown area on April 21. The council reviewed an updated drawing of an “as is” proposal for the scaled-down project.

The new drawings alter prior proposals and the existing street layout by creating a 13-foot center travel lane on Garfield Parkway where the lane is currently set at 11 feet – due to engineering standards that require 13 feet of width where vehicles are backing out of diagonal parking, as currently exists in the 200 block of Garfield Parkway and as in the “as is” plan.

The outer travel lane would remain at 11 feet in width, meeting a 24-foot mark requested by fire officials for overall road width.

However, with the 13-foot lane requirement in place, the town can no longer retain its existing bicycle lane, which already falls short of the 5-foot width standard for bike lanes in Delaware. Under the new road width, the extra width is reduced to just 2 feet, which engineers opted to add to the town’s sidewalks in honoring stated wishes from the council to make the pedestrian areas more roomy.

The loss of the bike lane generated controversy among the council members and those in attendance at April 21’s meeting, with concerns expressed about how traffic would flow when a bicycle lane exist on the west side of Route 1 at Garfield Parkway and none would be in place as proposed in the new design. That put council members back to considering whether to make any major changes at all to the 200 block of Garfield Parkway.

Council members also weighed the controversial topic of removing existing parallel parking spaces in the area, as a possible alternative to removing the bike lane. That notion garnered strong opposition from downtown businesspeople when it was offered last year.

There was no controversy, however, over plans to remove utility poles from as much of Garfield Parkway as possible. Council members were firmly in favor of that move, but the verdict on cost is still out.

Utility officials have asked the town to present a final approved plan for Streetscape before they will determine the final costs for the removal of the utilities to the alleyway. The costs will be tied into any shift of existing utility lines to the street median, and thus the council must decide on a final plan before they can know what the cost for the one resounding desire of the project will be.

With debate lingering over the loss of the bicycle lane and resulting widening of the sidewalk, council members agreed on Monday to table a decision on the new “as is” plan for Streetscape until they have verified whether the 13-foot center lane is indeed a requirement or only an engineering recommendation.

An answer entailing less than a full requirement on the measurement, or indicating wiggle room by fire officials on the total 24-foot width, could reshuffle the deck on the project once again. That pushes any consensus or vote from the council back until at least their May workshop.

The oft-delayed and -reconsidered decision on how to recast Garfield Parkway as the entryway into the town is therefore on the shelf once more as these details are investigated. Council members are hoping, however, that they could still vote on the issue at their June regular meeting.

Some, however, are already expressing disappointment in how the project has changed over the years.

“We don’t have a Streetscape anymore,” commented Councilman Steve Wode. “You’re not talking about doing anything in terms of Streetscape except moving the poles.”

Council members also tabled discussion Monday on the Planning Commission’s recommendations regarding non-conforming uses, with Councilman Bob Parsons recommending a review of the proposed code to ensure that the town is allowing older buildings to remain under the new code.

The council did agree on April 21 to move forward with another Planning Commission recommendation, agreeing to set a public hearing for June with a possible vote on new requirements for planned residential developments (PRDs) that are designed to create communities within a community with requirements for open space and amenities inside these developments.