Farmers’ market plans for fruitful summer

After searching for weeks for a location for a potential farmers’ market in or near Bethany Beach, John Himmelberg — president of the Bethany Beach Landowners Association (BBLA) — announced at the town council meeting on March 16 that the market is slated to be open this summer, at the corner of Garfield Parkway and Pennsylvania Avenue in Bethany Beach.

Himmelberg said the BBLA and Bethany Beach Women’s Civic Association, who have sponsored the effort, and a group of farmers had found the perfect spot at the bank parking lot right there in downtown Bethany Beach. The market is set to be open on eight consecutive Sundays, starting July 1 and running through late August. It will operate from 8 a.m. to noon on those days.

Already eight farmers have committed to being part of the market, and Himmelberg said the paperwork had been filed to incorporate the management group as a tax-exempt non-profit umbrella for the farmers, as many of the state’s farmers’ markets have done.

The plan for operation of the market is set to follow almost exactly that of the new Rehoboth Beach farmers’ market, and a market manager has been found. Himmelberg said that the presidents of the two sponsoring organizations, along with farmer Carrie Bennett will form a board of directors to help oversee its operation.

“We’ve already gotten 12 volunteers, just by word-of-mouth,” Himmelberg said, noting that the volunteers would be helping to actually run the market from week to week. He said more volunteers would likely be needed and anyone interested in volunteering should contact him.

Himmelberg, a registered lobbyist and consultant with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said he is also planning a big media campaign in an effort to promote the market. He said he was aiming at a federal grant to help with those efforts.

The support of the Bethany Beach Town Council was also something he said he appreciated. The council, while not actively helping get the market going, was unanimously in support of the concept of a farmers’ market in the town when the council voted at their January meeting.

At that time, a location and a market manager were still needed. But a few weeks has done wonders in getting the fledgling market going and it appears to be a done deal now and all but ready to provide fresh produce to residents and visitors to the town by mid-summer.

“It will fit in with the ‘Quiet Resorts’ nature of Bethany Beach,” Himmelberg observed. “And people will have fresh fruits and vegetables brought to them.”

Communication needs highlighted

Also at the March 16 council meeting, local Realtor and Bethany resident Lauren Alberti brought forward to the council her idea for improving communications between Realtors and the town.

Alberti said she would like to be the point person for getting real estate-specific information from the town to the many brokers and Realtors who deal with properties inside its limits.

While Alberti acknowledged that she receives the town’s e-mail postings of upcoming meetings and hearings, she said she felt other Realtors might benefit from a more targeted communication that would notify them of zoning changes or rental tax increase, for instance.

“This would be a way for the town to be more proactive in notifying them,” Alberti said.

Council members referred the matter to the town’s Communication Committee, headed by Council Member Tracy Mulligan, and to an ongoing project to improve communications with the town’s businesses, headed by Bethany businessman and committee member Jim Weisgerber.

Nature center displays funded by council

Council members on March 16 granted unanimous approval to two zoning-code housekeeping amendments, both of which had public hearings on Feb 16. With Council Member Steve Wode absent, the 6-0 votes passed into law minor changes recommended by the Planning Commission as they have reviewed town code for needed updates.

The council is also due to vote in the near future on proposed amendments to Chapter 100 of the town code, which will define a sidewalk, add the ability for the town to issue permits for sales from town property and establish procedures for non-compliance with other rules regarding commerce the public areas.

Also up for a future vote is an amendment to Article IV, Sections 238-24 and 238-36, which will clarify that the town is permitted to charge impact fees on properties that are improved or added onto.

Council members gave another unanimous vote, 6-0, to the $76,800 contract with Lynch Industries that is designed to outfit the former Natter property on Route 26 and the old Addy house that has been moved there, as a high-tech environmental education center.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet said the “moving wall” is a key component of the Bethany Beach Nature Center and will provide the center with the ability to make informative presentations to an endless variety of audiences inside the relatively small space.

The 10-foot plasma display system will not only be able to move and respond to touch but can be programmed with presentations on the area’s flora and fauna that can be adapted to audiences ranging from elementary-school children to scientists with master’s degrees, he said.

Graviet said representatives from the Center for the Inland Bays and its James Farm Preserve were in discussion with the town about collaborating on the project and might provide personnel to help man the center when it eventually opens.

The town purchased the property and house, and worked on renovating it as a nature center, with a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a $150,000 grant from the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and $150,000 in town funds, plus an additional $250,000 in DNREC grants for work on the property’s uplands and boardwalk.

Graviet noted that of the estimated $1.2 million cost of the project, some $900,000 came from grants. With the town’s recent shortfall in transfer tax revenue and budget cuts in mind, he emphasized that the project was nearly complete after years of work and major investments.

Mulligan was likewise focused on that aspect of the project. “This is part of a multi-year, $1.2 million project,” he said. “It was funded by other organizations that will have expectations. To fail to complete it now would be like building a house and not putting any furniture inside.”

Council Member Lew Killmer said he felt the facility would be used and appreciated by the whole community, and he noted the importance of preserving some 26 acres of land that otherwise would not be able to be built upon.