The Bethany Beach Planning Commission met for the first time on Oct. 21 in its new form. Fulton Loppatto, Lonny Moore and Don Doyle joined Kathleen Mink and Town Council Member Lew Killmer on the commission, after the shake-up caused by a series of protest resignations and the election of Planning Commissioner Steve Wode to the town council.
But there the shake-up stopped, with Mink unanimously selected to continue her chairmanship of the commission.
The new commissioners received a briefing on standard commission practices, along with some perspective from sitting commissioners and council members.
Following on discussion of a “memo of understanding” between the commission and council that would define the commissioners’ source of work and how items of shared concern would be pursued, Council Member Tracy Mulligan noted that he believed, “The Planning Commission is important as a check-and-balance” in the system of town government.
Mulligan suggested commissioners look into the future and consider the impact of the commission’s budget on their ability to independently investigate issues of concern. He said they should make sure that enough was allocated in advance so that they didn’t have to possibly face going to the town council to ask for additional funding when the council might not support such an investigation.
Vice-Mayor Tony McClenny also had advice, reminding the commissioners of University of Delaware Institute of Public Administration courses offered on municipal government and planning issues. McClenny was the first council member to complete an entire series of eight courses with IPA and has urged that all council members and commissioners should take pertinent courses.
Killmer brought to his fellow commissioners an update from recent town council action, noting from the previous night’s council meeting the request that the commission again take up the issue of residential roof pitch, after the council repealed the related height allowance recommended by the commission and adopted in April.
Zoning Commission not MIA
Also of note Oct. 21 was the renewed realization by many in the town that Bethany Beach actually has a zoning commission. Killmer said the commission hadn’t met in eight years.
Chairman Robert Graham — the required Board of Adjustments member on the zoning commission, who was recently reappointed its chairman — had told town officials that they hadn’t met because they’d never been called with any work that needed to be done.
Meanwhile, what are commonly considered zoning issues — in addition to planning issues — have been handled by the Planning Commission, with most ignorant that the zoning board even existed.
Planners have dealt with issues concerning future growth, such as the town’s controls over planned residential developments (PRDs), but they have also created new zoning districts, such as the new R-1B district for Sea Villas that was created just this summer, and handled other zoning matters.
Killmer emphasized that state law mandates planning and zoning commissions for the town, as well as a Board of Adjustments, and said Town Solicitor Terence Jaywork had strongly recommended the town not move to combine planning and zoning under a single commission, as many smaller municipalities have done. Killmer said Jaywork had feared that the law’s language technically doesn’t allow for anything but two separate commissions.
Commissioners were split on how they felt the issue should be handled, but a decision will have to be made by the town in the future.
With those potential shifts in mind, commissioners proceeded with a long list of issues that will need discussion in the future.
Off their plate are recommended housekeeping amendments to town ordinances, which they agreed to send on to the town council for adoption.
Also cleared from their agenda for the immediate future is consideration of parking changes for Garfield Parkway, since council members the previous night had also abandoned a Streetscape plan that called for significant changes to existing parking.
Commissioners did deal with one element of their regular business, hearing a request for partitioning from Michael Gichner and Robert Svenson, trustee, for repartitioning of 2.5 lots at 220 Second Street into two lots.
Building Inspector John Eckrich explained that a series of lots on the street had been divided for years, with individual owners sharing ownership of half or otherwise partial lots, which in turn shifted the designation of lot numbers down the street. The lots in question were actually made up of Lots 24 and 20, and part of 18, while a neighbor owns the other part of 18.
With a straightforward case and quick, unanimous approval of the commissioners, those lots will get new numbers from Sussex County and become simply two full lots.
In other business on Oct. 21, Mink appointed Commissioner Don Doyle as the commission’s representative on the new Design Review Committee, which will review plans for commercial construction under the town’s recently adopted architectural guidelines for the C-1 district.
Killmer will also serve on the DRC, as the council’s representative to the Planning Commission. They will be joined by Eckrich, a representative of the business community and architect John Hendrickson, who previously served on the Zoning Ad-hoc Committee that developed the roof-pitch ordinance. Hendrickson will be a paid consultant this time out.
The DRC will likely be charging a fee to cover its work in the future, but Killmer said that fee would be waived for the initial period of its operation, since the town has no idea how much costs will run for the review process.
Over the coming weeks, the commissioners will be looking at the roof-pitch issue, the town’s official zoning map, the table of dimensional requirements (reflecting recent changes to building standards), that memo of understanding and possible appointment of a vice-chairman for the commission, preparing their input for future discussion and decisions.