Bethany planners move ahead under new leadership

The resignation of Bethany Beach Planning Commission Chairman Phil Boesch at the commission’s Jan. 21 meeting was sudden, but the commissioners quickly reorganized and charged ahead with an agenda full of zoning issues, under the new leadership of Kathleen Mink.

The Zoning Ad-hoc Committee (ZAC) chairwoman was selected on a unanimous vote of the remaining commissioners — Town Council Member Lew Killmer, Steve Trodden, Steve Wode and Mink herself.

It was then on to a quick review of ongoing commission tasks, including discussion of permeable surfaces, a series of zoning changes recommended by ZAC and now scheduled for a public hearing, and the approval process for two small planned residential developments (PRDs) — both in the sketch-plan phase.

Commissioners received a sketch plan for a proposed six-unit duplex-based PRD to be developed by local building Mike Cummings of Miken Builders. The PRD had come to the commission’s attention even before the plan was presented, since it is proposed for one of two locations in the town whose status was questioned under recent clarification of the PRD grandfathering.

Commissioners had, in December, recommended that adjacent properties owned by a single owner, and both grandfathered to allow development of a small PRD under higher size requirements enacted in October 2004, not be allowed to subsequently be combined so that a PRD encompassing both properties could be built.

That issue came up because Town Solicitor Terence Jaywork had written an amendment clarifying at what point in the approval process a PRD had to be before it could be sold and still maintain its grandfathered status — specifically, receiving preliminary approval.

Jaywork also created a variation that included the allowance to combine such adjacent, same-owner properties, but the commissioners were concerned that the potential existed for higher density as a result. In December they recommended the original version to the council, and that went forward at the council’s Jan. 20 meeting.

At the council meeting, Killmer had mentioned new information that had been revealed since the December commission meeting — that there were only two or three sets of properties that were: 1) grandfathered, 2) adjacent, and 3) owned by the same owner (the third still being investigated to see if it actually qualified). In the two known cases, Killmer said, neither would allow additional density if they were allowed to be combined and a PRD to be built.

The first set of properties, coincidentally, is owned by Mink. She recused herself from votes on the issue in December and again Jan. 21. The second property is the property owned by Helen Loftus — two adjacent lots on Garfield Parkway outside the entrance to Bethany West. They’re under contract to an investor working with Cummings, and he emphasized a need to complete the preliminary approval of the project as quickly as possible, since Loftus is ailing and her heirs would not be eligible to complete the PRD process with the grandfathering.

Cummings’ plans for the property include three duplexes, for a total of six units. Two buildings would be built on the larger of the two parcels, while a third duplex would be built on the other. The design includes a shared entrance, shared stormwater management and shared utility connections, for all six units, along with a shared green area. But that could not be the case unless the lots are combined.

If they’re not combined, it throws a wrench into the works for Cummings — the inability to combine the access and other elements would mean one of the duplexes would, by necessity, have to be a single-family home instead. And that potentially eliminates one of what Cummings plans as two respite units for the Contractors for a Cause/Justin Jennings Foundation charity.

Contractors for a Cause has been raising funds to purchase land on which to site a respite house where families affected by cancer could have a week at the beach. But Cummings landed investor Michael Mann for the Garfield Parkway project, and Mann (a founder of non-profit agreed to donate a portion of the land for a duplex so two families could use the respite house at the same time and each have another family to lean on.

Cummings told commissioners the inability to build all six units and to get the project under way quickly might kill the deal, though. At the least, it could mean one less family could come to the beach each week.

So, Cummings — and his charity — have a lot at stake in the town’s decision about whether the two lots can be combined and still qualify for grandfathering under the PRD ordinance. After the commission’s negative decision in December, wherein they reminded Cummings he could apply for a variance for his special case (a lengthy process), it wasn’t looking good.

It looked better after commissioners revisited the decision Jan. 21, voting 3-0 (Mink abstaining due to her conflict of interest) to recommend the combining of abutting grandfathered properties (same owner, only) be allowed. They emphasized that there were only two or three locations involved, and that none of them would be entitled to additional density if combined. The benefits of combined entrances and infrastructure were clear pluses, too.

The Town Council will still have to approve the change, but commissioners also recommended the item be added to a planned Feb. 10 public hearing and the agenda of the subsequent special council meeting. If approved there, it would allow Cummings to move forward on a workable schedule for his project.

Commissioners further recommended Cummings apply for the lot combining and be able to move forward with the PRD application after that point, just in case the provision is approved Feb. 10. The commission could then hear that application at their February meeting. If not, he could withdraw the application for the combining and proceed with alternative plans for the two separate lots.

The commissioners also heard a sketch plan for a PRD at 3 Kent Avenue, owned by Thomas Haley. That plan calls for part of the existing single-family home to be moved to the rear of the lot (the rest demolished), with two additional single-family homes constructed at either side of the front part of the lot.

The resulting PRD would use a shared driveway, with separate parking areas for each of the new homes and a new garage for the relocated, existing home. Cummings — also the builder on the Haley PRD — said the decision had yet to be made on which way the two new homes would face, either toward Kent Avenue or toward each other and the center of the lot.

Taking a page from the ZAC recommendations for architectural aesthetics, commissioners expressed a preference for the “front” facades of the new homes to face the street, even if the main entry for residents would be on the rear or facing the shared driveway that would divide them. Cummings took that under advisement, particularly as a ZAC member himself. He also pointed to efforts to retain a large tree on the property.

Those two issues will likely be decided based on setbacks, since a wider setback (required at the rear of a home) could threaten the tree.

Cummings said he would also likely be using the town’s new roofline recommendations — 7/12 pitch — with the resulting permissible 35-foot maximum building height. That is, of course, assuming that the new ordinance allowing that payoff for the higher roof pitch is passed by the council after the scheduled Feb. 10 hearing for the issue.

In other business, commissioners agreed to continue work on the sticky issue of the two street-facing sides of homes on corner lots, as relates to the multi-plane façade requirements and front stair encroachment allowance proposed by ZAC. They wrangled with the issues for a lengthy period before deciding it would better taken up again later.

Discussion of permeable surfaces — spurred by a need to define a parking space under ZAC-proposed requirements for four off-street spaces — resulted in a decision to hand the technical aspects of the subject off to the town’s Flood and Drainage Committee, with its higher level of expertise. The commission will still handle the ordinance aspect of any decisions on permeable surfaces, but Flood and Drainage will be able to contribute recommendations for material types and installation practices.

Finally, Killmer passed out information on a proposed change for the town’s zoning and zoning map. He recommended the town eliminate the “Parks, Recreation and Open Space” zone (PROS) in favor of “Municipal, Education, Recreation and Community” (MERC).

He said the town’s own property was represented on the current zoning map by blank space and noted a designation of “no restrictions” for allowed use on those municipal elements contained in PROS. The new MERC zone, as Killmer proposes, would specify uses appropriate for the namesake types of properties.

Commissioners were to take up that issue at a subsequent meeting. It would, of course, require council action to be put in place.