Bethany amends commercial moratorium

Bethany Beach Town Council members voted unanimously at their Feb. 17 meeting to amend a recently passed moratorium on commercial construction, to allow simple replacements and repairs after an administrative review by the town.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet said the move would allow commercial property owners to make needed fixes before the upcoming summer season. The amendment also provides for appeals to the council in cases where the requested repairs are not allowed.

Graviet said several such property owners had come to town Building Inspector John Eckrich immediately on the heels of the passage of the 180-day moratorium, with plans to perform work that required a permit but would not substantially change the structure’s façade. The amendment should allow such projects to move forward.

Council members also unanimously agreed on second reading to adopt a revised property maintenance code compiled from existing town code and the International Property Maintenance Code that is a companion to the International Building Code adopted by the town last year.

They gave another collective thumbs-up to two changes to the town code that serve to place town fines and fees in a single section of the code, set out in a separate table of fines and fees. The move was designed to make easier the updating the amounts for the fines and fees, as well as to make referencing them easier for town officials and citizens.

Town council members also unanimously approved the appointment of resident David Evans to the recently vacated seat on the town’s planning commission. Evans and his family have owned property in the town since 1984, becoming full-time residents in 2004.

His resume includes 35 years in research and development with General Foods, Kraft and Pepsi. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s degree in food science. Evans said his focus was on collaboration and timely decisions, with an emphasis on the importance of beach replenishment and maintaining a family atmosphere for the town’s future.

Evans served on the Zoning Ad-Hoc Committee (ZAC) that recently recommended a series of residential zoning changes to the council as a way of encouraging builders and property owners away from “big-box” building styles. That work earned him the recommendation of new Planning Commission Chairwoman Kathleen Mink.

In other planning action, Mink declared ZAC’s work done at the Feb. 17 meeting, citing the recent adoption of three of the committee’s recommended changes and continued work by the commission on a fourth item relating to roof pitch and a related building-height allowance. She thanked committee members for their work on the issues.

Mayor Jack Walsh returned to the council after six weeks in Boston for medical treatment. He said the treatment had been successful and he was glad to be back. He thanked Vice-Mayor Carol Olmstead for serving in his stead and welcomed grandsons Sean and Ian Carpenter to the council meeting.

Walsh proposed, and council agreed, that the town would send a letter to neighboring Millville, officially congratulating the town on its upcoming centennial.

He also noted continuing work by beach-replenishment firm Marlowe and Co. to obtain additional funding for the Bethany Beach-South Bethany project. The federal funding needed in the 2007 fiscal year is estimated at $14.7 million, in addition to the $3.1 million granted in the 2006 budget. Walsh said he’d received assurances from Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) beach guru Tony Pratt that the state funding share would be ready when the federal funds were in place and that the project was the top priority for the department.

Council members agreed to set a March 17 hearing on the town’s draft budget for the 2007 fiscal year. Secretary-Treasurer Tony McClenny noted “a conservative increase” in the draft budget.

Reporting on the period ending Jan. 31, McClenny said the town had received 95 percent of its anticipated revenue for the current fiscal year, compared to 97 percent for the same period in 2005. Revenue for the year is up some $664,000, he said. Expenditures, while also up some $259,000, are only 78 percent of the anticipated amount for the year, compared to 82 percent in 2005. He emphasized that the town’s expenditures continue to be less than its revenue.

Olmstead reported on another successful cultural event for her Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee (CHAC) in January, with Don Sharp and the Jazz Pioneers performance of some New Orleans-style jazz. She said approximately 150 people had attended the event, leaving the town hall “bursting at the seams.” Addition events were set for Feb. 22 and March 22, with historical themes and an art show planned.

Graviet noted that work on Phase I of the town’s stormwater project, in Bethany West, was set to begin this week. He said the town had also retained additional legal counsel to represent its view at a Board of Adjustments hearing on the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company’s request for a 150-foot communications tower, in deference to Town Solicitor Terrence Jaywork’s position as council for the Board at that meeting.

While any possibility of obtaining property from the Disciples of Christ Christian Church, across the street from town hall, for parking purposes had been roundly dismissed during recent Streetscape design discussions, Graviet said the town had approached church representatives regarding a possible lease of strips of land on the south and east sides of the property for diagonal parking. They had agreed to discuss the matter, Graviet said, and he obtained a consensus from the council to proceed with the talks.

Graviet also specifically requested public input on the new boardwalk benches installed by the town. He said there were now two types: the traditional, grey, salt-treated benches the town has used for years, and new, white-stained benches — contrasting with the thickly painted white benches used in Rehoboth Beach. Graviet said he wanted public input as to which finish was preferred — the salt-treated or white-stained.

Other ongoing projects in the town: stone work on the eastern shoulder of Route 1, sodding of medians and planting of flowerbeds, planting at Centennial Park, and a topographic survey of the former Christian Church/Neff properties, which has now been submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers for re-evaluation of their partial wetlands designations.

Also at the Feb. 17 council meeting, council members heard a first reading of the proposed erosion control requirements for tidal-waterway-fronting properties in the town — particularly the Loop Canal.

Council Member Lew Killmer noted a longer compliance period than the 180 days provided might be required in some cases, due to lengthy permitting processes through state and federal entities. He also wanted to ensure the town was able to perform needed work and bill property owners for that work if they refused to comply.

Walsh noted that the proposed legislation is almost identical to requirements for such properties in neighboring South Bethany. The requirements do not affect properties where they abut the Assawoman Canal, since there is a state easement at those locations. And it does not include Lake Bethany itself, though it does include the tidal water areas where the canal meets the lake. Graviet said the intent was to include all public tidal waters in the town’s incorporated area.

Finally, concluding the meeting with some public comment, council members heard the concerns of businessman Dick Heidenberger about the proposed new restriction of parking locations for holders of the town’s “gold” parking permits.

Traffic and Parking Committee members recently recommended the permits be restricted to use outside the areas where two-hour meter limits are in place, pushing them a bit farther away from the central commercial area.

But Heidenberger said he was concerned about the potential loss of safety and convenience for his managers, who have to travel to the outlying Wilmington Trust branch to perform banking functions several times a day. He said the catering business of his Bethany Blues restaurant required parking at the front of the building and allowing the staff members to come and go throughout the day.

Council Member Wayne Fuller said the idea for the change had been to help preserve parking in the commercial zone for potential customers, versus the various businesses’ staffs. And Graviet said there had also been some concern about the loss of revenue to the town when gold permits were used at high-traffic spots.

Heidenberger said he was aware there had been some abuse in terms of all-day parking by business owners and their staff, but he recommended that problem be discussed with individual business owners rather than further restricting the associated parking area.

With those objections in mind, Graviet said he didn’t feel another meeting of the Traffic and Parking Committee was required prior to planned council consideration of recommended parking changes. He said he would ensure the concerns were brought to the council’s attention again when the changes were considered.