Bethany approves ordinances, sets hearing

Bethany Beach Town Council members approved two code changes at their Jan. 19 meeting, following a quiet and sparsely attended public hearing that night.

With a unanimous vote (6-0, with Mayor Jack Walsh absent), they approved a new allowance for temporary handicapped access structures to be built through an expedited Board of Adjustments process. The structures could be built with encroachments on existing setbacks — even for non-conforming structures — and require only a 10-day notice for a variance hearing.

The applicants would be required to pay only for town expenses in the process, to eliminate any financial hardship issues, and the property owner would be required to remove the structures within 60 days of them no longer being needed.

It was also a unanimous vote in favor of some housekeeping changes made in conjunction with the recent changes to town ordinances regarding wireless communications towers.

Council members also unanimously gave the thumbs-up to Charles McMullen for assistant alderman in the town, again. They repeated their earlier confirming vote in resolution from Jan. 19, as required by state law.

Council members opted to push consideration of the proposed new property maintenance code until their February meeting, to allow renumbering of the combined portions of existing code and the International Property Maintenance Code to be completed.

They agreed to hear the ordinance as a second reading at that time, waiving a new first reading after it failed to meet a 90-day maximum completion time requirement on the first go-round due to the numbering delay. It will be voted upon at that time.

More public hearings — this time for a series of proposed zoning ordinance changes — were set for Feb. 10, at 3 p.m. The ordinance proposals came from the town’s Zoning Ad-Hoc Committee (ZAC) with the goal of improving the aesthetics of residential buildings by moving away from the “big box” style of construction.

Some of the ordinances are allowances — a higher maximum building height of 35 feet in exchange for a desired 7/12 roof pitch, for instances — while others are requirements (a mandate for multiple planes on the front facades of new homes).

Town council members are expected to vote on the proposed regulations at a special council meeting after the hearing. Newly elected Planning Commission Chairwoman and ZAC Chairwoman Kathleen Mink is to give a presentation on the four proposals at the hearing, which will also cover several other issues.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet reported to the council that approximately one dozen easements remain to be collected from property owners whose properties will be impacted by planned beach reconstruction activities in the fall. He said the voluntary easement phase had ended, pushing the government into condemnation processes for the remaining properties. They are to be appraised, with condemnations (for easement purposes only) expected in the spring.

Graviet said that, assuming funding is forthcoming for the project, construction should start in October.

Graviet also proposed a 180-day moratorium on commercial building and exterior renovation, giving the town time to study possible ordinance changes that could steer the commercial zone’s aesthetics in desirable direction. Council members approved the notion with a 6-0 vote.

Secretary/Treasurer Tony McClenny reported on the town’s financial status, concluding the month ending Dec. 31.

Revenue collected for the year to that point was 90.95 of the anticipated annual total, compared to 94.31 percent from the same period in 2005. That works out to an increase of $566,000 for 2006.

Expenses paid out were 73.92 percent of the anticipated annual amount, compared to 76.78 percent in 2005. McClenny said that figure was up $288,967 over 2005, but he emphasized that the town’s expenses continue to be less than the revenue coming in.

First readings (with no vote) were held on two code changes that allow the town to move its fines and fees to separate tables for easier access and updating.

A planned first reading on an ordinance change to strike prohibitions on sewage transportation through the town was pushed up to a second reading with a council vote.

Council members were told the existing prohibition was unenforceable and contradicted both their code and laws regulating commerce on Routes 1 and 26. Since the town requires construction sites to have portable toilets, the resulting sewage must be transported through town.

Council member Harry Steele recommended waiving the first reading, since the issue was so clear-cut, but McClenny objected, saying he felt first readings should not be waived except in emergent circumstances. Steele’s opinion was in the majority, however, and with a 5-1 vote they waived the first reading, completing action on the topic with a 6-0 vote to strike the outdated restriction.

Another first reading served to clarify the town’s grandfathering of existing lots for small planned residential developments (PRDs) under tighter size restrictions enacted in October 2004. Under the clarification, property owners of those lots can sell them and still retain the PRD grandfathering status once they have had preliminary plan approval.

Council members voted 6-0 to approve a contract with Clean Delaware for sludge removal from the town’s water plant. The $32,000 was approved for the one vendor who could do the whole job without many trips. Graviet noted the sludge removal had been needed sooner than expected due to a change in water processing techniques. Normally, it is needed every three to four years. It had been four years since it was last done, Graviet allowed.

The council also gave unanimous approval to a “Yes to Beaches” resolution that affirms their support for federal funding of shoreline protection projects, such as the one planned for Bethany Beach and South Bethany in the fall.

They also gave the go-ahead for the semi-annual tax adjustments, based on the usual list compiled for the purpose.

And it was another unanimous approval for a contract with Dieste Construction to repair water-damaged elements on the south exterior wall of the town hall. Graviet said the exterior was only five or six years old, but the damage was substantial. The contract amount — the smallest of submitted bids — was for $26,051.