Bethany moves on commercial guidelines

With a moratorium in place on commercial construction in Bethany Beach and no ability to extend that measure, town officials pushed forward this week toward developing a set of design guidelines and related zoning ordinances that they hope will encourage architecture in the town’s commercial district in a desirable direction.
Coastal Point • M. Patricia Titus: Bethany Station was designed by Jeff Schoeollkop, who may be hired as a consultant for Bethany Beach’s commercial architectural guidelines.Coastal Point • M. Patricia Titus:
Bethany Station was designed by Jeff Schoeollkop, who may be hired as a consultant for Bethany Beach’s commercial architectural guidelines.

It was a semi-official first meeting of the Commercial Architectural Guideline Committee on Tuesday, March 14, with committee membership named but not yet formally accepted by the town council. That step is set to take place at the Friday, March 17, regular meeting of the council, and expected to go through without incident.

But the committee members plunged ahead on Tuesday, receiving information on the consultant who may help them through the process of developing the architectural guidelines and the related zoning ordinances.

The man in question is a familiar face in Bethany Beach. Jeff Schoeollkopf is not only the man behind the downtown design guidelines in nearby Ocean City, Md., he is also the designer behind Bethany Station and renovations of the Holiday House.

An Eastern Shore native (his father owns Old Pro Golf), Schoeollkopf was contacted by the town based on his work on the Ocean City architectural guidelines, which served as inspiration for Council Member Lew Killmer during early efforts at an architectural review board for the town.

Schoeollkopf has since submitted a proposal for his consulting work with the town, asking for $19,500 for him and his staff to produce work over a timeline running between now and July, when he indicates a finalized document could be published and ordinances in place.

The interim target for Schoeollkopf and the committee is a set of draft design guidelines, on which the finished package would be based. That, Killmer said, could be ready by the late May deadline the council set for it. The Schoeollkopf timeline calls for a public meeting on the project in late May or early June.

Along with Schoeollkopf, the committee — as yet unofficial in its makeup — comprises Vice Mayor Carol Olmstead, Killmer, Building Inspector John Eckrich, entrepreneur and business owner Dick Heidenberger and developer Jack Burbage.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet emphasized that his involvement to date has perhaps been disproportionate compared to the normal procedure — a step he said was taken to get the process moving in light of the moratorium and target dates. He told the proto-committee members at the Tuesday meeting, though, “From here on, it’s your project.”

Their first task was to decide whether to recommend the council accept Schoeollkopf’s proposal for the consulting work. And they did so unanimously.

Burbage, in particular, championed the choice. He cited his past experience working with Schoeollkopf on projects including the Seaside Village project in Ocean City, referencing Schoeollkopf’s emphasis on environmental issues, as well as the proffered contract price. He said the $19,500 proposal was a “super price” to get the project started. “This guy’s a genius at design.”

Graviet said he believed Schoeollkopf had seen the project as a way to showcase his work and thus given the town a good price in the proposed contract. Killmer added, “He wanted to do this. He sees it as a win-win situation.” Schoeollkopf, he said, realizes that he might even be called upon to do some of the design work on the commercial structures once the guidelines are implemented.

Mayor Jack Walsh, present at the meeting, expressed concerns that the work done by University of Maryland architecture students toward developing a seaside-village theme for the town not be forsaken by the committee. Killmer said the students’ presentation had been given to Schoeollkopf as part of his background information and noted that the proposed contract with him included the stipulation that the presentation be considered as part of the process.

As it stands, designs for the existing Bethany Station and Holiday House speak very clearly of the same kind of aesthetic the architecture students displayed in their presentation to the town last winter — one that was a resounding hit among those in attendance.

It will be up to Schoeollkopf and the committee to bring such an aesthetic to life in a living, breathing set of guidelines and ordinances that will encourage the architectural shift.

Killmer emphasized that Schoeollkopf’s work in Ocean City took the form of three types of guidelines: (1) prohibited elements, (2) those merely permitted, and (3) elements the designers wanted to encourage builders to use. He said the model provided great flexibility for builders while still encouraging a desired architectural shift.

That model has remained in Killmer’s mind throughout the Planning Commission’s work on both residential and commercial ordinances on building and design, and it will likely be a core element of the commercial design guidelines developed by the committee.

On that front, Graviet said a second meeting had already been set for the group — on Friday, March 17, at 10 a.m. Schoeollkopf is expected to attend — his first meeting with the committee.

Members previewed the agenda for the upcoming meeting with an eye toward preparation and forethought. Schoeollkopf has asked the committee members to bring along their “dreams and visions” for the commercial district, requesting photos of what they like or don’t like, as well as for them to consider just how the town might enforce the guidelines.

Though the proposed contract calls for Schoeollkopf to develop guidelines within the current 31-foot maximum height for the commercial district, there was already some concern expressed about that height restriction.

Property owner Tracy Mulligan suggested the height limit be kept as low as possible, since many of the existing commercial structures are below that height and could potentially shift higher in the future.

On the other side of the issue, Burbage recommended some flexibility on height, allowing for non-inhabitable structures to exceed the stated maximum. “It will allow for a much nicer building,” he said, citing the aesthetic benefits of cupolas, for example.

Graviet pushed discussion of the height issue to a future meeting, saying the process had enough flexibility in it to allow for the committee members to thoroughly weigh the matter before making a decision, even though the contract specifically calls for the height limitation to be enforced in the design guidelines.

Committee members, business property owners and the community at large will have a chance to give their input over the course of the coming months, as the town works toward a draft of the guidelines and the ordinances that will enforce them.