Bethany passes erosion ordinance

Bethany Beach Town Council members enacted a series of charter changes and other measures at their March 17 meeting. The bulk of the items were in the nature of housekeeping measures, officially moving forward items recommended by various committees and signing off on contracts recommended by Town Manager Cliff Graviet.

Topping the list of approved items was, on second reading, an ordinance enacting erosion control requirements for property owners living along the public tidal waterways of the town — namely the Loop Canal and other such waterways.

The measure was designed to halt the erosion problems reported along the Loop Canal, in particular, where some property owners have seen their land begun to be eaten away as neighbors have failed to control erosion on their own properties.

Under the ordinance, which was unanimously approved by all seven members of the council, property owners are required to maintain their properties to prevent erosion and to implement the “construction of approved bank stabilization and/or erosion control devices, if needed, as allowed under applicable state and federal law and penalties for non-compliance.”

In some cases, the latter part of that requirement could mean getting permits from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources (DNREC) and/or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which could be a lengthy process. On that basis, the town will plan to check on compliance every 90 days, to ensure the property owners in question are at least attempting to move their projects forward.

If they are found to be out of compliance and not making good-faith efforts at complying — and providing a state or federal permit is not required — the town will perform the work itself and bill the property owner on their annual town tax bill.

The council members also unanimously agreed to a series of five charter amendments, which will now be forwarded to the state legislature for final approval before they are officially enacted. The amendments:

(1) Allow the town to collect attorneys’ fees and court costs if it is the prevailing party in a legal case where a property owner contests an enforcement action;

(2) Remove the “cap” on the amount the town can collect for violations of town ordinances and to allow the council to set the amounts without any charter limitation — Councilman Lew Killmer noted the fines were so low in some cases that violators opted to pay them rather than comply with the ordinances;

(3) Allow the town to have more than one assistant alderman (likely three), to increase flexibility and coverage for the part-time position, even during the busy summer or when an alderman might be ill or unavailable;

(4) Remove the one-year term limit for aldermen in favor of an unlimited term, the end of which would be determined by the council, possibly with an annual or semi-annual review of performance — the move would save annual trips to Dover for certification by the governor’s office; and

(5) Adopt, by reference, the state motor vehicle statutes and corresponding penalties (including future amendments thereto) without further action by the town council, as the motor vehicle ordinances and penalties of the town — the offenses in the statues were previously paralleled in town code but the move now makes them automatically up-to-date and matches the associated penalties.

One controversial item on the agenda for the meeting was dropped: the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company’s request for an exception to town code to allow for a 125-foot emergency radio antenna at the downtown facility. Mayor Jack Walsh said the town was still awaiting a drawing it had requested for the project.

On that subject, Councilman Wayne Fuller — a member of the BBVFC — announced the fire company’s plans to remove its four audible sirens from the location, if the radio feed to its emergency beepers should prove reliable. The height of the radio antenna could be key in providing that reliability, and Fuller emphasized that only if the beepers could be relied upon as emergency devices would the sirens be silenced.

The notion pleased some of those in attendance, but the town — through the Board of Adjustments — has yet to decide on the requested exception, and the scheduled council vote on whether the town, as an entity, would officially support, oppose or remain neutral on the application had already been postponed from that night’s agenda.

A series of contracts was considered by the council on March 17, though, with each receiving unanimous approval:

(1) Trice, Geary and Myers LLC, for auditing services for the 2006 fiscal year, with a contracted $500 increase over the first-year (2005) audit costs — the company received high praise for their work last year;

(2) Standard Change-Makers Inc., for the purchase of three bill changers, at $12,219.08, on the basis of a favorable first year with such machines in 2005;

(3) Jeff Schoellkopf (JSD Inc.) for design guidelines for the C-1 and C-2 commercial zoning districts, at $19,500, with an initial timetable of a draft by the end of May and a final document by the end of July — prior to the expiration of the town’s 180-day commercial construction moratorium; and

(4) JMT Engineering for Garfield Parkway Streetscape improvements, at $105,000, funded from a Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) grant for the design phase of the project — to take the project to a detailed design incorporating topographic surveys and council input.

Council members also favored the elimination of free parking for those with handicapped placards and tags — a measure designed to reduce the flagrant abuse reported by the town’s police department and thereby free up spaces for those truly needing them.

While those with handicapped parking permits will now be required to pay at metered spaces (including those reserved for the handicapped), the council also favored increasing the number of available reserved handicapped spaces from 24 to 48, with 12 to be added in the metered parking areas and 12 more in the residential permit area (requiring both residential and handicapped permits to be displayed). The new metered spaces for the handicapped will have at least a five-hour time span on the meters, to reduce trips back to the meters to pay.

Rounding out the action for St. Patrick’s Day, council members unanimously approved their approximate $9 million total budget for the 2007 fiscal year and gave a unanimous thumbs-up to officially abandoning the unopened section of Maryland Avenue between Central Boulevard and Garfield Parkway, freeing the town to combine its property to the east and west (the former Neff and Christian Church properties) for open-space uses.