Bethany council discusses priorities

Despite the recommendation for tax and fee increases in Bethany Beach to help offset transfer tax revenue shortfalls, council members at the March 12 meeting were still highly focused on a number of capital projects that were among their list of priorities for the council to deal with in the short and long term.

Beach replenishment — which shouldn’t cost the town much, if anything — topped the list of priorities for most council members as they awaited word on federal funding this week.

But pedestrian and bicycle safety issues (likely to include talk of sidewalks), the Garfield Parkway Streetscape project, improvements to infrastructure and drainage on Pennsylvania Avenue, the nature center on the former Natter property and the town’s notorious shortage of parking were also on that combined list.

Council members were also mindful of the need to consider the town’s long-term fiscal future, with Council Member Tracy Mulligan calling on them to “anticipate future fiscal challenges” and plan ways to meet them. Council Member Wayne Fuller also had the budget and taxes on his list. Council Member Lew Killmer said he wanted to find “outside-the-box” ways to deal with the problems.

Recycling, the county’s comprehensive plan, changes to state election statutes, enhanced communication with citizens and the business community and emergency preparedness closed out the list.

Council members stopped short of prioritizing the items within the list on Monday, aiming instead to ensure that they were able to identify short-term projects from those that will require the town to consider and work over the longer haul.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet told council members that they might have the former Christian Church/Neff property on their plate again in the near future. He said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had officially released the parcel from its scope of concern, after initially asserting its control over a previously identified federally protected wetland.

The town had contested that ruling but awaited a court decision that last year was decided as favoring a property owner elsewhere in the U.S. who had a similar plot of land. The decision effectively eliminated much of the Corps’ ability to assert control over wet areas that are not directly affected by tides and adjacent waterways, such as the town’s property. The entire parcel is now “buildable,” Graviet said, though it is intended to remain as modified green or open space.

Graviet also said that some 95 percent of the work on the nature center on the Natter property on Route 26 has been completed. Remaining work will largely consist of educational and interior improvements, he said, with another grant to be sought in the fall.

Council members appeared to generally support the idea of the council signing on to a letter authored by the town’s planning commission as input on the Sussex County comprehensive plan. That letter urged consideration by the county of impact on infrastructure that leads to and is inside of the town limits, such as beaches.

The council tabled action on their protocol manual until April, seeking to further review some aspects and listen to Mulligan’s suggestions for how the initial manual can be further improved.

Board of Adjustments changes discussed

The council members were more ready to pursue recommended changes to the town’s Board of Adjustments, however. Killmer discussed his list of reasons to support those changes, including hiring an independent attorney to represent the board, increasing its numbers from three to five members, requiring members to complete a series of training courses prior to taking their seats and scheduling meetings regularly.

The change in number, while generally supported, has an additional impact that the council has been weighing heavily. If made, the state would require the town to not allow any non-residents to serve on the board. That has raised concerns from BoA Chairman Bob Parsons, who has suggested that the town should seek an exemption from that requirement if it does pursue a larger board, or leave their number at three.

However, council members seemed generally in support of the increase in membership regardless of that result, with Killmer suggesting the town should not even consider asking for the additional leeway for non-resident board members, lest the state find an opportunity to curtail its non-resident voting rights. Killmer said some in the state legislature were already unhappy over the voting situation that is unique to its coastal towns, with their majority non-resident property owners..