Bethany planners complete code review

Bethany Beach planning commissioners this week completed a review of Chapter 245 of the town’s zoning code, readying updated code for future adoption by the town and making recommendations for major changes therein. At the top of their list, new potential new requirements to obtain a certificate of occupancy (CO), which could be needed every time a residential property is resold.

Chairman Lew Killmer proposed the new system at the commission’s April 19 meeting during the ongoing code review process, citing a need for the town to ensure the safety of its residences by making sure some modern code conventions — such as the requirement for smoke detectors and for ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFIs) in areas where electricity and water might mix — are followed even in older homes.

Under Killmer’s plan, the town would require sellers of existing residential properties to certify through a home inspector that certain safety features are in place at the time of the sale. Without that certification, the town would not issue a CO, preventing the new owner, or anyone else, from moving into the dwelling.

New Commissioner Faith Denault said the recommendation left her concerned about the potential need for two inspections, since most home buyers pay for an independent inspection prior to settlement. She said she feared a negative impact on the town’s real estate market, as well as potential costs for sellers if they were required to upgrade to meet all standards applied to new homes.

“I don’t want to create a hardship,” Killmer emphasized. He said he would like the new requirement to apply only to certain specific items (yet to be determined), such as the smoke detectors and GFIs, rather than to all standards that might be applied to a newly built home seeking a CO. Those two specific requirements already exist for homes that are rented.

Commissioners said they were also concerned about how the new requirements would be implemented on the town’s side of things. Building Inspector John Eckrich said he might need an assistant just to follow up on the requirement and certify that a more extensively list of items was being met. Denault said she was concerned over the costs involved in such a process.

Eckrich supported the requirements for GFIs and smoke detectors, but he said allowances would likely have to be made in the latter case since existing town code for new construction requires interconnected, hard-wired smoke detectors, which would be prohibitively complicated and costly for an existing home. Battery-operated, independent detectors would be acceptable under the new proposed system for existing residences, he said.

In the end, commissioners said they favored considering a system in which home owners could have a home inspector already working on the sale of their home fill out a form for the town that would certify that items including GFIs and smoke detectors are in place. Word of the requirement would be spread through real estate agents, as part of the items required by the town during a resale.

Also on April 19, commissioners favored a change in code that would allow town police to record code violations that would result in a stop-work order or revocation of a building permit in the town. Currently, the town building inspector and his surrogates must witness such work before a permit can be pulled. Such violations would not include things such as before- or after-hours work but would include violations such as building a shed in a setback without a prior variance.

Commissioners also favored an alternative appeal process when stop-work orders are issued by the town. Instead of waiting between 15 and 90 days, or longer, for the Board of Adjustments to hear and file a written decision on an appeal, commissioners favored appeals to the town alderman. Eckrich noted, however, that he issues stop-work orders only two or three times per year, with no one having ever appealed such an order.

Killmer also announced last Saturday his plans to yield on further pursuing changes to the membership and terms for the Board of Adjustments. The town council had previously rejected those efforts after a back-and-forth discussion and recommendations by the commission to lengthen terms and alter the board’s membership. The council made no changes to those areas of board operation.