Commercial guidelines taking shape in Bethany Beach

Members of the Bethany Beach Architectural Guideline Development Committee for the C-1 and C2 Zoning Districts (AGDC) worked to refine their initial concepts of the guidelines at an April 25 meeting with consulting architect Jeff Schoellkopf.

Among the refinements taking shape:

• An encouragement for builders to set back third-story construction some 8 feet from the front lot line, in consideration of a lack of setbacks on commercial lots in the town. Schoellkopf cited the potential for mixed-use residential-commercial structures with ground-level porches below residential decks in that 8 feet.

• A prohibition on residential use on the ground floor. Committee members were in agreement that the ground floor should be restricted to commercial use, to help guarantee that the area wouldn’t turn into an area of condominium projects. There may be special exceptions granted for commercial use on an exterior portion, with residential use inside, though. Currently, structures in the commercial district are not restricted from redevelopment as residential projects.

• Committee members rejected the notion of a ratio controlling height as relates to street width but favored capping building elements at 50 feet in width and requiring lots longer than 80 feet to have structures broken up into similar but differentiated building elements, to reduce the effect of width massing on such large lots.

• The committee allowed for some potential flexibility in the use of the additional 5 feet of height they proposed allowing for architectural elements only, to perhaps allow higher ceilings while not encouraging flat roofs as such.

• Committee members focused on possible requirements for off-street parking — particularly in the case of mixed-use structures. Such requirements could have interplay with their recommendation to raise structures as flood prevention (rather than “floodproofing” at ground level) by placing parking below a structure, as well as the potential to place mechanical elements in the roof height allowance area, freeing up space off alleys for parking. They all favored additional screening requirements for such elements on the alleys

• Signage issues were again put off for future consideration as a separate issue, with some emphasis put on attractive signage options. The committee also considered possible allowances for protruding awnings — currently prohibited as a permanent structure but allowed when temporary. The potential allowance would go forward providing some control is kept over materials, color and scale, to keep them from becoming signage or otherwise unappealing.

• Enforcement and administrative issues were discussed for the first time, with a proposal from council and committee member Lew Killmer. With Schoellkopf’s agreement on the basic elements, the committee favored letting the town building inspector make initial judgment calls and suggestions on planned commercial construction.

A committee comprising the building inspector, a consulting architect and a representative of the town council (possibly Killmer himself, as the council’s representative on the Planning Commission) would serve to review items that called for additional consideration and comment (beyond satisfying simple requirements). The town council would potentially serve as a board of appeals on items not involving zoning issues (upon which Board of Adjustments already holds sway).

The committee members also briefly considered the design options for how the final guidelines will be presented, getting into the details of layout (favoring a vertical booklet), fonts and how graphical elements will be presented. They agreed that most of the sample graphics will be photographs of existing structures, while more complex elements will be in diagram form to enhance understanding.

Remaining undecided also are the incentives the town will use to encourage property owners and designers to use the “encouraged” elements of the new guidelines. They will be tackled as work on zoning elements of the plan progress. The committee’s current focus is on having a draft of required, prohibited and many of the encouraged elements ready for public review by the pre-June deadline.