Bethany seeing huge summer downtown

Downtown Bethany Beach has been very busy this summer, and it may get a little busier. Town Manager Cliff Graviet reported at the council’s July 20 meeting that in all the ways the town measures its transient summer population, business has been booming in 2007.

Water use has increased by 14 percent. Parking meter revenues are up 40 percent, with a 25 percent increase in parking fees as one part of that overall upswing. And Graviet said the town police department had received 219 complaints and issued tickets for 360 traffic offenses in June.

“We’re getting better, busier and bigger,” Graviet declared.

A council vote last Friday is only likely to enhance that movement, with the council voting unanimously to allow the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company’s Ladies Auxiliary to join the Fourth of July Parade Committee in gaining permission to sell fund-raising T-shirts on the boardwalk.

Council members considered whether to expand the allowance for such fund-raising sales to other organizations and Vice-Mayor Tony McClenny said he would support the Friends of the South Coastal Library to gain such permission as another non-profit organization that serves Bethany Beach.

The council agreed to consider a more detailed policy on permission to sell on the boardwalk at a future meeting, including locations and hours.

Council members on July 20 also approved an ordinance amendment on second reading, adopting the fines and fees from state motor vehicle code to the town’s code, by reference. A first reading of an amendment that would allow those fees to be added to the town’s schedule of fines and fees was also held, along with the first reading of an ordinance that would move all fines and penalties in the town code to a single chapter.

After nearly two and a half hours of discussion on the subject of voting and referendum rights, and several requests regarding the redevelopment of the Blue Surf Motel, council members pushed along the first reading of a proposed ordinance that would require a permit to replace or make major renovations to a driveway in Bethany Beach.

The new requirement would not affect those with gravel, stone or clamshell driveways, but would instead be focused on those planning paved driveways, so that the town could ensure there was no negative impact on stormwater drainage.

The new ordinance would give the town the ability to oversee existing requirements for the construction of such driveways, Graviet emphasized. A second reading of the ordinance will be scheduled for a future meeting.
Research on smoking ban to proceed

The Bethany Beach Charter and Ordinance Review Committee (CORC) recently voted to bring to the council the idea of prohibiting smoking on the town’s beaches. They were joined in entertaining that notion in recent weeks by neighboring South Bethany, where the issue has been sent on to that town’s planning commission for development.

But on July 20, McClenny reported that he’d recently received a call from South Bethany Mayor Gary Jayne telling him that South Bethany had decided to move forward on the issue, based on concerns about litter and second-hand smoke, with a timetable to potentially adopt the ban as soon as January of 2008.

McClenny asked his fellow council members whether they’d like to proceed directly to drafting their own ban, with possible adoption at their October meeting, or whether they’d like CORC to continue research on the issue in preparation for having the town solicitor draft an ordinance.

“The health and environmental issues aside, how are we going to enforce this?” Council Member Lew Killmer replied, echoing concerns expressed in South Bethany. “It can’t be just another ordinance we don’t enforce.”

Council Member Steve Wode also noted that there would be costs to the town associated with such a ban. And Mayor Carol Olmstead said she felt the whole subject needed more research, particularly into whether other municipalities had instituted bans and what their experience of that process had been.

Council Member Tracy Mulligan said he would like CORC to explore the issue more before the 2008 summer season, and the council agreed, voting 6-1 to ask CORC to put some research time in on the subject before it comes to the council again.

Notably, the single opposing vote, cast by Wode, was not one of protest against a ban. “I’d just as soon it came to pass,” Wode explained, eschewing the additional research time.

September council meeting to be held

The town council hotly debated whether to cancel their September 2008 regular meeting, with Council Member Jerry Dorfman suggesting that the possible election of three new council members would mean no meaningful business could be conducted on Sept. 15, just a week after citizens had voted, on Sept. 8.

The council has already decided to hold their oft-canceled December meeting, with business likely to need attention at that time.

Council members were split last Friday on whether the September meeting should be canceled only in the event of a new council member being elected, or whether it should be held, or canceled, regardless.

In the end, they voted 5-2 not to cancel the meeting.

Also on July 20:

• Council members eliminated consideration of a charter change designed to allow the town to change its election date without the need for state legislative approval. McClenny said he had discovered that the change had previously been made but that the town code book had been missing the updated page. The town is allowed to set its election day as any date in September, he noted.

• The town police department received praise from Kathleen Mink over the handling of traffic at the end of the postponed Fourth of July fireworks display, while Larry Fischer said he believed the town needed more officers to keep track of crime during the busiest part of the year. Graviet said that bicycle patrols had been reduced to keep seasonal officers in the crowded downtown area and that officer numbers, overall, were about as high as usual in July, though he said the notion of more seasonal officers could be considered.

• Resident Joan Gordon complained about the handling of traffic on Route 26 at St. Ann’s Catholic Church, where Bethany police have been hand-directing traffic for years, to facilitate ingress and egress of churchgoers. She said traffic congestion had become so bad that resulting westbound traffic backups have been leading back onto Route 1 and suggested that allowing natural traffic flow there could be an improvement.

Graviet said he believed the situation would be much worse in that case, as there would be more likelihood of accidents, but he said traffic professionals could be consulted for an opinion on the issue.

• Resident Christina Edgar joined Gordon in praising the removal of a construction sign at the Bethany Beach Nature Center on Route 26 but said she felt the town still has far too many things being advertised.

She pointed to the stone supplier’s engraved rock at the new park area next to town hall (removed only a few days prior), numerous signs advertising the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market and the Beach and Bay Cottage tour signs that had been placed on lifeguard stands, saying that the town had been spruced up nicely with plantings but was now covered with signs.

McClenny replied that the town was endeavoring to let visitors and residents know of events of interest, and owed support to events such as the farmers’ market and cottage tour, which supports the South Coastal Library. Applause from others in attendance suggested Edgar was in the minority on the issue.

• Council members agreed to schedule for a future meeting an ordinance that would allow the use of chimneas and firepots within town limits. Currently, the portable fireplaces are banned, though they have been increasingly popular and have been spotted in use throughout the town. Graviet said there had been a few complaints about those non-lawful uses but that no enforcement action had been taken. The town ordinances regarding fires were drafted long before chimneas became popular, he noted.

The new ordinance would be targeted at allowing them while instituting clear regulations upon their uses, for safety reasons.