Hearing for zoning issues set in Bethany

Bethany Beach has a heavy slate of public hearings set for Friday, Feb. 10, at 3 p.m. The hearings will lead up to a special council session set for 4:30 p.m. that same day, at which at least some of the hearing issues will be voted upon by the council.

First, council will consider and vote on an amendment to Section 245-2 of the town zoning code to clarify the “grandfathering” provisions regarding planned residential developments (PRDs) containing less than 50,000 square feet.

The amendment was intended to clarify at what point in the zoning approval process a project would be cemented in terms of its grandfathering, since the original grandfathering provisions applied only to lots and owners of record as of the Oct. 15 council vote on the minimize size for PRDs. The point in the process at which such planned PRDs could be sold was not specified, leading to some confusion as PRDs have come before the Planning Commission.

To clarify that issue, the Planning Commission has since recommended that once the grandfathered PRDs have received a preliminary plan approval, the owner may choose to sell the lot to another party, including a developer with whom they may have partnered on the project — as has largely been the case thus far.

Council members will take input on that issue, and vote on it at the special council session. They may also consider another suggested version of the amendment that would further allow the grandfathered parcels — though only where they abut each other and are owned by the same owner — to be combined but still retain their grandfathered status to build a PRD.

Commissioners initially rejected the suggestion of Town Solicitor Terrence Jaywork but have since reconsidered, with the knowledge that only two or three properties would be eligible and that additional density over the current amount allowed would not result in either case.

The two locations include a planned six-unit duplex PRD being developed on two lots by Mike Cummings of Miken Builders that would feature two respite residences for the Contractors for a Cure charity, to benefit the families of those stricken with cancer. Cummings has said those plans might be derailed or need to be scaled back to a single respite unit if the combining were not allowed in the near future.

The other set of properties is owned by Planning Commission Chairwoman Kathleen Mink, who recused herself from the commission vote on the subject in January. The other commissioners reversed their earlier decision and recommended unanimously the combining of the grandfathered properties be allowed in those cases, citing the advantage of combining entrances, stormwater and other facilities.

Council members will be able to decide on which version of the amendment they prefer. If it is the latter one, Cummings could proceed with the planning approval process at the commission’s February meeting.

At the Feb. 10 hearing, the council will also consider a series of zoning ordinance changes recommended by the Planning Commission’s Zoning Ad-Hoc Committee (ZAC). Those changes would:

1. Authorize front steps to protrude into the front yard setback, provided the result allows the property owner to create an honest-to-goodness front entrance that would be visible from the street;

2. Authorize residential buildings to have a higher maximum height of 35 feet, provided the property has a 7/12 or higher roof pitch across at least 60 percent of its total size and that pitch is visible from the front;

3. Require new or substantially remodeled residential buildings to have a minimum of two wall planes for all walls facing a street; and

4. Require that perimeter pilings supporting residential buildings be covered with material compatible with the building’s exterior, i.e. some kind of siding.

The four ZAC recommendations came out of a meeting with local builders and architects, as well as property owners and town planning officials. The main emphasis of the various notions considered by ZAC was to reduce the “big box” appearance of homes being built in the town recently — primarily by breaking up sheer facades and encouraging a friendly, more aesthetically-pleasing street-facing façade.

The items could be accepted or rejected individually, but were to be presented as an overall package designed to improve the appearance of the town’s residential districts.

Doing the same for the commercial zones in Bethany Beach is the origin of another of the Feb. 10 hearing items.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet suggested to the council at their January meeting that they consider a 180-day moratorium on new construction, renovation or remodeling of the exterior of any commercial buildings in the C-1 and C-2 zoning districts in order to allow the Planning Commission and council to develop architectural standards.

The Planning Commission has, indeed, taken steps toward the same sort of “stakeholder” meeting that was held with residential interest, but this time with commercial property owners as a prime partner. However, they were concerned about getting new options and requirements in place for commercial structures before a number of pending commercial renovations are begun.

The moratorium could buy them the time to plan a meeting when more commercial property owners could attend, as well as to draft and have approved any recommended changes to the town zoning ordinances.

The notion has been floated of encouraging a “themed” downtown commercial district, along the lines of a traditional seaside village, with help from students from the University of Maryland through a workshop held last winter. Alternatively, the town could prove inclined to simply limit the construction of modern-style facades that might be considered out of line with the town’s character.

Those issues will be determined at a future date, but the moratorium would grant the town time to put some consideration in on the matter before drastic changes are made to existing structures.

Finally, set for discussion and possible vote by the council is the controversial request from the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company to allow a new antenna tower to be built at their revamped location next to town hall.

Fire company members have championed the taller tower as necessary to achieve greater reach for their emergency communications as they tend their extensive north-south territory. But some in the town have opposed the tower, citing it as a potential eyesore due to the requested height variance.

The issue has languished for the better part of a year, between a Board of Adjustments appeal that was denied and the board’s request for additional supporting testimony that the height requested was required. There was also limited information on design plans for the tower, and that was further cited as an area where the fire company could provide more detail before an approval would be granted.

Now that the item has turned up for council consideration again, the fire company will have a chance to provide that additional information on both fronts, with the council members able to make some accommodations, if they see fit.