Mini-golf business scores complaints

The return of miniature golf to Bethany Beach this summer garnered a warm response from most of the town, with residents citing the need for family-friendly activities in the downtown area after the town’s only course closed after the summer of 2005.

Coastal Point • M. PATRICIA TITUS: At least one Bethany resident has been put-off by having Captain Jack’s Pirate Mini-Golf as a neighbor.Coastal Point • M. PATRICIA TITUS
At least one Bethany resident has been put-off by having Captain Jack’s Pirate Mini-Golf as a neighbor.

But the project was not without its critics, and those critics have only increased in number and vociferousness since Captain Jack’s Pirate Mini-Golf opened at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Central Boulevard in time for Memorial Day weekend.

Cecelia Lewis, whose family home neighbors the course to the north, told Bethany Beach Town Council members at their July 20 meeting, “It has turned out to be an eyesore.”

Lewis had attended most of the public hearings and other meetings regarding the mini-golf course and had voiced few concerns over the business during the winter.

Neither Lewis’ family nor the owners of the other neighboring property, to the west, joined a lawsuit filed by two other neighbors who were concerned about the impact of the mini-golf business on their residential properties and sought to overturn a Board of Adjustments decision that allowed the use. Neither of the immediate neighbors even expressed opposition to the project overall.

In fact, Lewis’ family had even initially requested a downgrading of the protective, solid-type fence that the western neighbors had requested, to an open fence that would allow more air flow. They changed their minds on that just prior to approval of elements of the project by the town’s Design Review Committee (DRC), asking for the solid fence — a request the DRC and Captain Jack’s owner Carol Schultze were happy to grant.

“What were they thinking about?” Lewis asked about the DRC last Friday before the council, complaining about the pirate ship and crew that decorate the golf course.

“There’s noise all day,” she noted. “We’ve lost the use of our porch. The fence is useless in noise containment. The lights are so high and there are no shields. And the lock-up procedure at 11:30 is noisy,” Lewis added of the course’s town-mandated closing time of 11:30 p.m.

Lewis also said that trash and remaining construction debris cluttered the properties’ shared alleyway.

“I demand that you examine this issue again,” she told the council.

“We can’t take a nap. We can’t do anything until 11:30, when the golf course shuts down,” Lewis concluded.

While council members said they understood Lewis’ problems with the mini-golf operation, there was some sense that Lewis had come a bit late to the issue.

“You were at most of the hearings,” Council Member and DRC Chairman Lew Killmer reminded her.

He also reminded her and other critics of the decisions related to the course’s design that the DRC had found most of the issues involved to be outside of their control.

Coastal Point • M. PATRICIA TITUS
Pirate themes are all part of the plan at Captain Jack’s.

“Golf courses were not in our purview,” he said. “Only the building. The DRC only approved the building. The other elements were not under our jurisdiction.”

Indeed, DRC members and other town officials were stymied during the review process this spring when they realized that nothing on the property except the small building from which the business operates, and its fencing, lighting and signage were under the DRC’s ability to control.

All else on the property fell into the category of “landscaping” and the town has no significant landscaping control ordinances – certainly nothing that would prevent a few pirates from going on display.

Lighting at Captain Jack’s, Killmer noted, meets the lighting restrictions the town imposes and the lighting design approved by the DRC for the project, at a meeting Lewis attended.

“We have a professional measure — the foot-candles with maps,” he emphasized.

As for the noise concerns, Killmer recommended affected neighbors continue calling the town when excessive noise was noted. That would generate a record of the problem, he said, and enable town enforcement officers to check on compliance.

But, he said, “The officer reported it was not an issue on several occasions in which he had been called.

“There was no intention of anyone here to create an unpleasant situation for you,” Killmer emphasized to Lewis. “She (Schultze) has a right to operate her business. And you have a right to enjoy the benefits of your house.”

Killmer suggested that a compromise might need to be worked out between Lewis’ family and Schultze so that all parties could live in peace.

But Building Inspector John Eckrich, who also sits on the DRC, noted that Schultze had already made some moves toward addressing her neighbors’ concerns, even before that evening’s council meeting and Lewis’ complaints.

“They’ve put up shields. They’ve reduced the wattage. They’ve lowered the poles,” Eckrich said. “She has done all kinds of things,” he added of Schultze.

After the meeting concluded, Eckrich allowed that there had been a few other complaints about Captain Jack’s, mostly about noise and the decorative elements of the business, he said. Town Manager Cliff Graviet said his office had also been in contact with a Realtor who had been concerned about the possible negative impact of the business on a neighboring property’s value.

Mayor Carol Olmstead also acknowledged those complaints after the meeting and made Lewis a promise during the meeting that the town would address her concerns. Graviet said discussion of possible adjustments to the town’s controls over miniature golf could be added to a future council agenda, possibly in August.

Council Member Jerry Dorfman said he would like to see that happen, particularly as early discussion of both the Schultze property and the council’s recently adopted use-by-right for miniature golf (clarifying the issue after the filing of that lawsuit) had involved whether closing times should be earlier.

One closing time initially discussed had been 10 p.m., while midnight was also discussed, though 11:30 p.m. was the final choice for both Captain Jack’s and the ordinance. Council Members Steve Wode and Wayne Fuller both had voted against the ordinance, over the issue of the closing time, and opponents of the later times had cited the business’ target audience as children and families, who many felt would be in bed by 11:30 p.m.

Schultze, however, argued that, as a mother of several children, she knew that bed times were getting later and felt there was some need for mini-golf to be available to families and older children late into the evening. Several council members had agreed with the notion. But the closing time is one possible change that council members could decide to make after a season at Captain Jack’s.

“After a summer of usage, it’s appropriate that we should revisit this issue,” Council Member Tracy Mulligan concluded.