Bethany planners dispense zoning proposals

After putting forward a series of proposed zoning changes from its Zoning Ad-Hoc Committee (ZAC) in recent weeks, Bethany Beach Planning Commission members were left with the decision of what to do with some lingering loose ends from the committee’s work.

At their Dec. 17 meeting, they decided to put forward one more small measure: the idea to require covering of pilings on foundations, as unanimously recommended by ZAC. It will go straight to language drafting, due to the consensus of opinion on the issue.

The requirement would be for materials compatible with the exterior of the home, with the acknowledgement that it would mean a nominal increase in building costs in favor of the aesthetic improvements sought by the committee.

Commissioners were less supportive of any dabbling with “floor-area-ratio” or FAR – a method of controlling the size of a home based on its floor area compared to the size of its lot.

After extensive discussion of the notion, commissioners voted to indefinitely table the idea for the future, with the notation that it was likely less needed in Bethany Beach than other coastal towns due to the existing 40 percent lot-coverage maximum and building height restrictions.

Commissioners also extensively discussed how to handle the issue of impervious surfaces in the town. ZAC members had rejected the idea that they should weigh in heavily on the matter, citing a lack of expertise. The question remained of who should tackle it: Flood and Drainage? Charter and Ordinance Review? The Planning Commission itself? A new sub-committee?

In the end, they opted in favor of keeping the issue with the commission, having found no better authority to hand it over to.

Commissioners planned to begin initial research on the topic, dealing with lot coverage, driveway construction and other aspects, before they begin to potentially draft any related ordinance changes. They also planned to involve town engineers Kercher Engineering Inc. (KEI) to obtain their expertise on the issue.

One last loose end — special handling of the aesthetic needs and allowances for corner lots — ended up back in the hands of ZAC.

Mink was initially reluctant to bring it back to her committee, citing a lack of time to complete work on the topic before a planned mid-January hearing on the related allowance for front setback encroachments for homes with visible front entrances. But commissioners said any needed adjustments could be handled after the hearing, as a separate issue.

Despite assurances that it was basically a housekeeping measure to coordinate the relevant section of town code with new code (Chapter 239) on the location of communications towers, commissioners also gave extensive discussion to proposed changes to Zoning Ordinance Chapter 245 at their Dec. 17 meeting.

The discussion was focused on understanding exactly the implications of the various changes, which essentially limit communications towers (including cell phone towers) to locations on municipal land only, within Bethany Beach.

(A previous application for a tower by the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company is grandfathered as in prior to the proposed changes.)

Council Member and Planning Commissioner Lew Killmer explained that the restriction also eliminated the ability of existing owners of private land upon which towers are located to lease those existing towers for further use.

Under the new code, only the town and towers on municipal land can be leased for new use. The only possible exceptions would have to be granted by the Board of Adjustments on a case-by-case basis.

Those applying for such use, and those requesting the town lease room on towers on municipal land, would further be required to prove their need for a particular height, with scientific information to back up those assertions.

While expressing some limited concern for constraining property owners’ rights, commissioners were of the consensus that the town’s residential neighborhoods were not the appropriate place for a large communications tower and voted unanimously to approve sending the change to the council.

Commissioners also unanimously (5-0) approved the final plans for a grandfathered planned residential development (PRD) for H. Meredith Palmer at 816 Garfield Parkway in the town’s R-2 zone.

Building Inspector John Eckrich noted that all approvals for the Bethany Way project were in, with the review from Land Design completed and changes incorporated in the plan.

Mike Cummings of Miken Builders, who is the builder on the project, described plans for two single-family homes with six parking spaces for each and said he felt the project would be a great improvement to the property. He said it would be in the character of the Route 26 neighborhood, with cottage-style homes.

The existing house was targeted to be demolished within a week of receiving approval from the commission.

Asked whether the new homes would be identical (a bane for Bethany PRDs), Cummings noted plans to paint them different colors, but also that he’d modified the facades (including moving the garages) and had set them so they were not parallel to each other.

Killmer asked whether one additional change could be considered: an additional effort to avoid removing a tree at the edge of the planned driveway. Cummings said he’d look into the notion and, if it didn’t adversely affect stormwater management plans, they’d consider it.

He also noted plans for a stone driveway with a brick paver entrance. Boesch pointed out that it might be an indication the ZAC discussion of impervious surfaces was paying off. Mink replied that Cummings was one of the committee’s resident builders advising on such issues.

Cummings also had an interest in another commission discussion, on the finalization of language for detailed requirements in the grandfathering clause for small PRDs.

Commissioners noted the previously undiscussed issue of contiguous properties owned by the same entity and Town Solicitor Terrence Jaywork’s insertion of language allowing those properties to be combined for grandfathering purposes.

They pointed to two properties at the entrance to the Bethany West development that total 44,000 square feet and therefore might be affected.

Killmer asked why, if each were grandfathered, they should not be grandfathered as combined. But other commissioners reiterated the language of the grandfather clause, asserting the privilege for the “lot of record” and “owner of record” as of Oct. 15, 2004.

Killmer, however, noted certain circumstances under which a combined, formerly multi-lot PRD would be preferred by the town.

One such case may be the two lots mentioned, since Cummings noted that he has a contract on both, with plans to develop them as a PRD.

One of the planned homes in the PRD, Cummings said, is to be a duplex that would be part of the Contractors for a Cause program. It would provide a retreat for ill children and their families, along the lines of the Ronald McDonald Houses.

Two other duplexes are planned for the two-lot parcel, he said, lamenting the notion that he might be required to create two entrances and two separate drives for the homes.

But commissioners noted that there was room for providing for such unusual circumstances through an appeal to the Board of Adjustments.

Commissioner Kathleen Mink recused herself from voting on the issue, citing her ownership of two neighboring lots that could be affected by a decision to incorporate or remove the language on combining of lots and its impact on the grandfathering for PRDs.

Chairman Phil Boesch and Commissioner Steve Trodden voted in favor of removing the language allowing combining. Commissioner Steve Wode also added his support for the original version. Killmer voted to retain the additional allowance in the language, resulting in a 3-1 vote to remove it.

Also at the Dec. 17 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved the application for land partitioning of Lien and Vinh Nguyen for property at 303 Central Boulevard.

Eckrich explained that the property was already partitioned as two separate lots with a single duplex sitting on the property line between them. The owners wish to move the existing home onto one lot as a single-family unit and build a second single-family home on the second lot, requiring them to move the lot lines.

With the approval granted, the Nguyens said their timeline for the project was immediate.