BBVFC tower is one step closer

Just in time for the dedication of their new fire station on Sunday, members of the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company got some good news: the Bethany Beach Town Council unanimously voted April 21 to support the company’s application for a variance to allow a scaled-down communications tower at the facility.

Originally proposed as a 120-foot tower topped by a 5-foot aerial, the steel, pyramid-shaped structure had been highly controversial, since it would have stood out as by far the tallest structure in the town. Board of Adjustments members, other town officials and members of the public had asked the company to justify why so much height was needed. Poor reception for the BBVFC members’ paging system was cited as the source of that need. But opponents were unconvinced.

After more than a year of retooling their supporting information, the detailed plans for the tower and — in the end — the proposed height for the structure itself, the BBVFC finally decided to go with a shorter structure. Instead of 120 feet, the tower is now proposed for just 60 feet in height. That’s the same height as the existing telephone-type pole upon which their equipment is installed.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet said, “It sounded like a reasonable compromise” when the new height was proposed to the town.

The new tower will still be an upgrade, despite having its height chopped in half. With plans to install additional communications equipment for the station, and a clearer need for a highly wind-resistant structure than when the original pole was installed, the tower proposal still calls for the same pyramid-shaped steel construction. And, it is still proposed to sit on a 20-foot concrete pad, surrounded by security fencing.

Further, the tower, despite the height shrinkage, is still planned to start with a 7-foot width at the base, tapering to 5 feet instead of the 3 feet proposed with the full 120-foot height. Council members questioned the need for that size, saying they would prefer something more in scale with the reduced height.

Graviet noted that with the additional equipment to be added that the fire company felt a stronger structure was needed and that the tower had originally been designed to weather a Category 3 hurricane. “It’s off the charts now,” he commented.

Still, Mayor Jack Walsh said he felt the new scale of the tower was “overkill,” saying the design would resemble an oil rig and stick out among other structures in the area. He recommended the town require the tower to be more in proportion to the reduced height.

Apparently concerned the long-running process could be derailed by new demands from the town on the heels of the height reduction, Graviet emphasized that the fire company officials felt the new proposal was “a good compromise.” He reminded council members that it was still possible for the BBVFC to reinstate their original variance request, asking for the full 120-foot tower, and to just take their chances on the possible support from the BoA members.

Council Member Harold Steele took the opportunity to praise the BBVFC and town officials who had hammered out the compromise. “I’m disappointed to see the scale, but it’s good that it’s cut in half,” he allowed.

Despite the concerns about the scale of the shorter structure, Council Member Lew Killmer also declared the revised proposal “a reasonable compromise.” He did suggest the Board of Adjustments could request the fire company change the proportions of the tower when the variance application comes up for review, though.

While there was consensus on that issue, council members still roundly favored the new plan. The possibility of formal opposition from the council had loomed over the planned Board of Adjustments hearing (date still to be determined). Though the board makes its decisions independently and despite the lingering concerns, the thumbs-up from the council members was welcome news for the fire company.

Council Secretary/Treasurer Tony McClenny further showed his support for the firefighters by suggesting the town could also assist the company with financial issues related to the construction of the new tower. Graviet was to investigate how much the project would cost before the town commits to that financial support.

In another bit of good news and good will between the town and the BBVFC, the town also presented the fire company with two checks at the April 21 meeting.

The first, for $20,000, is the usual annual donation the town makes to the company that provides the bulk of its emergency services. The second, for $10,000, was specifically for the company’s building fund, which is still collecting funds to pay for the new station.

The town also donated $10,000 at the April 21 meeting to the Millville Volunteer Fire Company, which supplies the town with ambulance service.

As for the new Bethany Beach fire station, town officials were among those who turned out for a dedication ceremony on Sunday, April 22.

McClenny was joined by fellow council members Jerry Dorfman and Wayne Fuller (himself a member of the BBFVC, where he serves with the fire police), as well as state Sen. George Howard Bunting and Rep. Gerald Hocker. Also attending the event were members of the fire company, the ladies’ auxiliary and other fire company supporters. They all received tours of the new facility and a chance to review the company’s equipment, including its new tower truck.

The new station will officially be opened with a planned public open house in September, at which the company will draw the winner of its latest fundraiser — the raffle of a Harley Davidson motorcycle. The motorcycle is on display at the fire station, and tickets are still available from the BBFVC.