Bethany Beach formalizes mini-golf use

With construction under way on the town’s only miniature golf course, after a two-year absence of the game, Bethany Beach officials on April 20 voted to eliminate any question about whether mini-golf is an allowed property use in the town’s commercial district.

Previously the use had been permitted with a special use application approved by the town’s Board of Adjustments. The BoA has approved such use in the past under their authority to grant use for “games of skill” such as bowling and pinball.

But the non-specific “games of skill” listing brought trouble in 2006 when property owner Carol Schultze brought forward a proposal to build a miniature golf business at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Central Boulevard — formerly the site of a rental store and a liquor store.

Nearby property owners objected to the use — initially on noise and safety issues — and filed a legal appeal against the Board when it approved Schultze’s request.

Attorney Robert Witsil, who represents those opponents, addressed their concerns again with the council on Friday. But the core of their legal case has centered on whether the Board was able to grant their approval on the basis of mini-golf as a “game of skill.” Witsil debated before the Board whether it is, indeed, a game of skill.

However, the issue of Schultze’s plans for mini-golf on that corner appears to have been resolved with the council’s vote — if indirectly.

The new use-by-right granted under the council vote on April 20 does not directly impact the previous application by Schultze or eliminate the potential for the case to continue in the state court system on appeal. But it does mean that if the Board’s decision in Schultze’s case were to be overturned in the state court system, she could still apply to the town for the use — now available to her by right and without need for the Board’s review.

The bottom line: Schultze’s mini-golf business, and future such businesses in Bethany Beach, appear to have gotten the all-clear from Bethany council members.

Council members did impose blanket restrictions on the use, limiting hours of operation to between 9 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. That shifted slightly earlier than original drafts of the ordinance, which had set hours at 10 a.m. to midnight.

The closing time was a source of objection from Council Member Wayne Fuller, who cited concerns about safety and potential lawlessness if operations were to continue well into the darkness. But Schultze said she naturally plans to have staff available to monitor the site during all hours of operation and other council members have been skeptical about whether miniature golf would tend to draw an unsavory clientele.

In fact, the course — despite the pending appeal — has generally been welcomed by town residents and even most of its immediate neighbors. They have emphasized the nature of miniature golf as a beach-town activity, as well as a family-friendly one in a town where quiet, family-friendly fun has been a calling card.

Council members also eliminated special provisions to prohibit excessive noise at mini-golf businesses, opting instead to make use of the town’s existing noise ordinance to keep any such noise in check. Mini-golf businesses are also required to have solid fencing on all adjacent property lines not on the public street, as well as to meet lighting, signage and architectural guidelines.

Captain Jack’s Pirate Mini-Golf is nearing completion of its construction and is expected to be open well in time for the summer season. For now, it is the only such course in the town, but the April 20 council vote could make miniature golf a landmark activity in Bethany Beach once again.

Ordinances adopted

Also on April 20, council members adopted two ordinance amendments.

The first, to Chapter 100 of town code, alters restrictions on commercial activities and concessions. It adds the town’s Municipal, Open space, Recreation and Educational (MORE) district to the list of town-controlled areas where the town requires a permit for commercial activity. It also includes a definition of a sidewalk, in order to require permits for would-be entrepreneurs who would sell wares from pedestrian areas.

Previous exemptions for the sale of farm goods (vegetables, etc.) from vehicles have also been eliminated. Such sales could be conducted from an established location, with a permit, however — notable with the coming of the Bethany Beach farmer’s market to the town in July and August this summer.

The amendment also requires that newspaper vending boxes be “properly secured” against winds. And it references fines and fees that can be assessed for operation of commercial and concession businesses.

The amendment passed to Chapter 238 was designed to clarify that the town has the right to charge an impact fee when property owners make improvements to existing properties that affect delivery of water to those properties, such as adding a bathroom. It also specifies that individual units on a single property are assessed separate impact fees for their water connections.

Council weighs in on county comp plan

Council members also passed a resolution Friday night to co-sign a letter drafted by the town’s Planning Commission to county officials voicing their concerns about development as the county works to draft an update to its comprehensive plan.

Commissioners had requested the council members’ signatures to emphasize town solidarity over the concerns, which include infrastructure impacts leading to and inside Bethany Beach as the county continues a pace of rapid growth.

The council also approved a plan to grant some $75,000 to the Friends of the South Coastal Library over a three-year term, to go toward the group’s capital campaign as expansion plans get under way at the library.

BoA changes considered, tabled for night

Finally, council members tabled discussion and a possible vote over changes to the Board of Adjustments. The proposed changes would alter the makeup of the board, from three members to five members, and likely eliminate the ability of non-resident citizens to serve on the Board, due to a constraint in state law.

That possibility has brought objections from Board Chairman Bob Parsons, who addressed council about the proposals on Friday night.

Other elements of the proposed board changes include mandatory training by the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration (IPA) and the hiring of an independent attorney to represent the board. Currently, Town Solicitor Terence Jaywork represents the board in any legal matters, except where there is a conflict of interest for him.

Parsons has also objected to that change, saying that Jaywork’s knowledge of and history with the town makes him uniquely qualified to represent the board and that he should be able to recuse himself in cases where there is a conflict of interest, with the town hiring an independent attorney only in those cases.

With the meeting running late into the evening on Friday, council members opted to table the issue for the time being, leaving open the issue of making the changes that most of them have appeared to support, despite opposition from the current board.

Planners tackle signage and lighting regs

At their meeting the following morning, April 21, members of the Planning Commission spent their entire session in review and comment on the Design Review Committee’s proposed new signage and exterior lighting regulations.

Those regulations are the final components of the town’s new commercial architectural guidelines, which were adopted last year. Once the commissioners have finished their review and recommendations, the regulations will go back to the Design Review Committee, where those recommendations could be added to a final draft.

The finished document should go to the town council from there, where a public hearing on the regulations could be set and followed by a formal council vote on adoption into Chapter 245 of town code, under Land Use.