It was a week of adjustments for Bethany Beach government, as the town council sought to fill the vacated council seat of former Mayor Jack Walsh, as well as a long slate of Planning Commission and standing committee posts that were affected by the Sept. 9 elections that brought two new members to the council.
Additionally, the council set about making the first appointments to the town’s new Design Review Committee, under the new architectural guidelines for its commercial districts.
The reformulated council met for its first regular meeting on Friday, Sept. 15, under the leadership of new Mayor Carol Olmstead, and an agenda that was originally nearly empty of any major matters of substance was instead focused on dealing with the important matter of finding a replacement to fill Walsh’s unexpired term on the council, set to run until September of 2007.
Bethany Beach code allows the council to decide how it will fill such vacancies, which has generally been done by advertising for would-be council members and then having existing council members vote among those candidates.
But filling Walsh’s seat would go a little differently. In a post-election rush, council members were already considering whether one of the unsuccessful candidates in the Sept. 9 elections should be quickly appointed to fill the vacant seat.
Lew Killmer’s name was being bandied about early last week, as the top finisher among the unsuccessful candidates and as a consummate contributor on the council since his initial appointment in 2005. Thus, despite his narrow loss — by just five votes — in the Sept. 9 polling, Killmer was well poised to potentially rejoin the council when they met again Sept. 15.
Though council members were free to discuss other candidates or even a different — and more lengthy — process, they unanimously opted to immediately reappoint Killmer to a council seat last Friday, reflecting his narrow loss and, they hoped, the will of the people so shortly after a hotly contested election.
“I’m happy,” Killmer said of his return to the council after the disappointing and narrow loss in the election. “I’m glad the council members felt it was the right thing to do.”
The move did, however, set up some further contention among the old guard on the council and the challengers who had unseated Killmer and two-term Council Member Harold Steele, between status quo and calls for change.
Killmer opts for planning post
The chief opportunity for that division to be aired came Tuesday, Sept. 19, with a special meeting of the council designed to appoint commissioners for three vacant Planning Commission seats and chairpersons for the town’s standing committees.
Olmstead came prepared with a list of nominees, including recommendations for three Planning Commission seats.
With the protest resignations of Commissioners Steve Trodden and Dave Evans in the last two months, two citizen seats were open.
Killmer’s election loss on Sept. 9 also left the council without a formal representative on the Planning Commission, though newly elected Council Member Steve Wode appeared poised to keep a seat on the commission from which he had made his successful bid for council.
However, Olmstead’s nominations did not include a seat for Wode on the Planning Commission.
Instead, she recommended Killmer remain the council liaison to that body – a choice Killmer himself supported, citing his two decades of planning experience in Pennsylvania and his intensive work on ongoing and recent planning issues in Bethany, such as the new architectural guidelines.
Olmstead praised that work, supporting Killmer’s further involvement with the architectural guidelines as the council and commission’s representative on the new Design Review Committee.
For his part, Killmer said he’d decided to limit himself to just two committees during his appointed term, ceasing involvement with the Charter and Ordinance Review Committee (CORC) that he had chaired for more than a year. He said more than that would simply be “too much.”
Serving on the Planning Commission was his preference, he said, and he wanted to remaining involve with the architectural guidelines — a subject he said he had put “a lot of time in.”
Wode argues for change
But Wode was prepared to contend for the seat as well, saying, “The council will be making a statement with these appointments. What will it be?” he asked.
Wode said he’d been taught the importance of public input during his previous service on the council and planning commission. And he urged council members to remember that Killmer had not been elected to the council but rather appointed by other council members. “He’s only here because Jack Walsh resigned,” Wode said pointedly.
Wode further pointed to Killmer’s late reversal of opinion on the issue of an 8-foot setback for commercial structure above 24 feet during the architectural guideline development and adoption process, as well as the lack of notice he had provided to the other planning commission members about that reversal prior to council consideration.
The other commissioners had remained staunchly in support of a requirement for the setback, while Killmer decided in the end to favor it only as a strong recommendation.
And Wode further said that citizens had made a statement with their votes to oust two of four incumbents on Sept. 9. “They indicated they don’t want business as usual,” he said, suggesting a change to the planning commission should also reflect that voting result.
While not requesting nomination to the contended planning post, Vice-Mayor Tony McClenny noted that he, as well as Council Members Jerry Dorfman and Wayne Fuller, also had planning experience in Bethany, making any of the five council members suitable for the appointment on that basis.
Olmstead agreed that the council’s decision was between two qualified people — Wode and Killmer. And it was thus that the council took a vote to decide between them.
Fellow challenger Tracy Mulligan sided with Wode in the voting, supporting Wode’s appointment to the commission post and cementing a divide between the old and new on the council. Fuller voted in both tallies, for both candidates. But the weight of the other four continuing council members fell for Killmer, reappointing him to the planning commission.
Likewise, there was division on the issue of the citizen appointees.
Olmstead presented a slate of Fulton Lapatto, Lonny Moore and Don Doyle for the three open citizen spots. Lapatto has been serving on CORC, Moore on the Parking and Traffic Committee and Stormwater and Drainage Committee, and Doyle is chairman of the Audit Committee and a Budget and Finance Committee and CORC member.
But Fuller placed himself again directly on the line between the incumbents and challengers, suggesting that Dan Costello also be considered for a Planning Commission post.
Costello has been active in opposing the recently passed residential roof-height allowance and larger structures in the town as a whole. He has spearheaded the petition drive to have the residential allowance put up for a referendum and possible reversal.
“Sometimes you need disagreement,” Fuller said in making the nomination.
Mulligan agreed with that, saying there was value in a diversity of opinion. “This would indicate to the citizens that you are open to that kind of diversity,” he said.
But the council again split their vote, with the challenger contingent of Mulligan and Wode supporting Costello’s nomination by Fuller and continuing council members Olmstead, Dorfman and Killmer favoring Moore for the spot. In a second vote, McClenny also favored Moore, officially confirming the appointment.
Doyle received five council votes in his favor, from Olmstead, McClenny, Dorfman, Mulligan and Killmer. Lapatto received four votes, from Olmstead, McClenny, Dorfman and Killmer. Both men were thus appointed to planning seats.
Doyle, Lapatto and Moore will join Killmer and current Chairwoman Kathleen Mink on the commission for their October meeting, at which time the commissioners will select a chairperson from among their number.
Committee appointments unanimous
In contrast, council members were united behind the slate of committee chairpersons. Olmstead read from her list of nominations: Doyle to continue as Audit Committee chairman; Dorfman to head Budget and Finance as the new council treasurer; McClenny to succeed Killmer as the head of CORC; Mulligan to take over from Walsh as the head of the Communications Committee.
In a turn from the usual, Steele — who finished just one vote behind Killmer on Sept. 9 — was selected to continue to head the Stormwater and Drainage Committee, despite no longer serving as a council member.
Olmstead will continue to head her Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee. Jean Wode will take over from Dorfman as head of the Parking and Traffic Committee. Julia Jacobsen will remain as head of the Intergovernmental Affairs group, while Robert Graham will serve as chairman of the inactive Zoning Committee.
It was a similarly unanimous vote of acceptance for the slate of members to serve on the new Design Review Committee, which will review proposed plans for all exterior modifications and construction in the C-1 commercial district and approve those that meet the guidelines and their own sense of the included aesthetic.
Olmstead said architect John Hendrickson had agreed to serve as the body’s consulting architect. Building Inspector John Eckrich will also serve, as required in the proposed makeup of the committee. James Weisberger of Bethany Blues restaurant will represent the business community. And Killmer will serve as the council representative and council-planning commission liaison.
The Planning Commission will also choose a citizen representative from their number, at a future meeting. Olmstead asked that Mink serve as that representative if a DRC meeting should be needed in the meantime, to avoid delaying any proposed commercial development plans.
At the Saturday meeting of the commission — Trodden’s final meeting before his resignation took effect — commissioners sent two sets of potential ordinances back to the town council for further action.
Signage ordinances for the C-1 and C-2 commercial districts were sent back with a request to assign work on the subject to an Architectural Guidelines Development Committee (AGDC) — this time under the auspices of the Planning Commission, rather than as an independent body.
The existing AGDC tabled signage issues for later action, in interest of completing the rest of their guidelines prior to the expiration of a commercial construction moratorium in August. Recommendations to look at signage ordinances in Nantucket and Annapolis for comparison remain on tap. Mink was adamant that the committee should be formally under the direction of the planning commission this time, however.
The commissioners also sent back to the council the issue of porous-surface requirements, which has been handed around to several town bodies since its original consideration. Citing the technical considerations involved and lack of planning issues versus materials rules, Mink said the commissioners felt the issue best handled by the Stormwater and Drainage Committee.
An initial list of porous surface materials was made by the planners, but they ceded the issue on the basis of their own lack of expertise. Side issues for the subject include parking requirements and the definition of a parking area, as well as possible lot coverage issues related to how much of a property is covered by impervious surfaces.