Council favors two-lane Streetscape plan

If the predominant message of those commenting at the Dec. 10 special meeting regarding Bethany Beach’s proposed Streetscape plan for Garfield Parkway was, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” council members didn’t agree that things weren’t broken.

With six of seven members present at their Dec. 16 meeting (Mayor Jack Walsh was absent), the council voted unanimously to proceed with work based on the design concept known as Plan 2 or Scheme 2 (modified).

It was a rejection of the former concept, Scheme 4 (lately known as Plan 1), which had been championed by current Planning Commission Chairman Phil Boesch and others of his fellows on the town’s Beautification Committee (a commission subcommittee).

Scheme 2, as modified to remove a proposed traffic circle and parking on property belonging to the Christian Church, includes two 11-foot travel lanes (the same as exists now), situated between angled parking and a 3-foot bicycle lane.

The sidewalks would be approximately 24 feet wide, up from 15 feet, with additional pedestrian room provided by moving or burying utility lines. The scheme would retain 178 of 192 existing parking spaces in the area.

The plan, as initially mapped out, was shown by engineering firm JMT to have most of the same failings as the existing situation: one-lane travel with entry/exit from/to travel lanes in other lane; delivery trucks parked and obstructing one lane; and high pedestrian and bicycle interaction with vehicular traffic.

While some of those issues may be tackled in a limited way in a final design, the main focus of the plan for council members proved to be the retention of a bicycle lane and two travel lanes (not done in Scheme 4), as well as creating a wider sidewalk.

Calls to move more slowly, even incrementally, and test smaller elements of a beautification and functional improvement project were also rejected by council members in their vote to proceed with engineering based on Scheme 2.

In noting his basic support of those calls, Council Member Jerry Dorfman allowed that it was difficult — if not impossible — to get the Delaware Department of Transportation to go along with a series of small projects versus a larger, all-encompassing plan.

“You can’t go slow with DelDOT,” he said after the meeting. “It’s do or don’t do.”

Since DelDOT controls Garfield Parkway and would fund much of any Streetscape project for the roadway (a $144,000 grant was previously granted for engineering costs), that issue may be what decided council members in favor of pursuing the moderate Scheme 2 plan, in contrast with the more drastic changes of the one-lane Scheme 4 design.

Though he did not oppose Scheme 2, Dorfman did lament the loss of some of the town’s parallel parking.

Vice-Mayor Carol Olmstead, presiding over the meeting, said simply, “You can’t have it all. Something has to go.”

Council Member Tony McClenny added a measured tone, suggesting the issue might be too important to vote without a full complement of council members present, and most notably the mayor absent. If it was to be a close vote, he said, they might be better off waiting for all seven members to be there.

But there was a sense of urgency provided by Council Members Wayne Fuller and Harold Steele, and by Town Manager Cliff Graviet, who all expressed a need to get it moving forward after the conditionally-endorsed concept languished while waiting for agency approval.

Then, more recently, DelDOT requested the council unconditionally endorse a basic design that DelDOT officials could evaluate for funding and approval.

After the meeting, Graviet emphasized that — despite the comments at the Dec. 10 meeting — the support for the modified Scheme 2 among those contacting Town Hall in recent weeks had been greater than 10 to 1. A very few had proposed slow or no change, he said, with a few others endorsing Scheme 4. Those responses were provided to council members prior to the vote.

And with that vote Dec. 16, council members endorsed JMT moving forward into the design engineering phase for a more detailed version of Scheme 2, including detailed analysis of its potential impact on traffic and pedestrians.

JMT performed a pedestrian, bicycle and traffic study in the town in 2003 and 2004, and provided analysis of the looser Scheme 2 and Scheme 4 concepts for the Dec. 10 meeting on the subject.

Once the new, detailed plan is complete, the council can send it forward to DelDOT for consideration.

Closing the issue for the meantime, council members and those in attendance applauded the work of Boesch and other Beautification Committee members on the basic ideas behind the Streetscape proposal, even though Scheme 4 was not supported in the most recent vote.

The council members also tackled a series of future planning issues at the Dec. 16 meeting, commencing with a report by Boesch of recently proposed zoning ordinance changes under the recommendation of the town’s Zoning Ad-Hoc Committee (ZAC).

Boesch described four different initiatives, each intended to help improve the aesthetics of residences in the town. He then asked council members to set a public hearing on the proposals as part of the process of potentially putting them into force.

The four proposed changes are as follows:

1) A change in the front setback allowance to allow for the encroachment of uncovered stairs and landings for homes that have a front door clearly visible from the street. The move is designed to encourage a better aesthetic with a front entrance rather than a blank façade at the front of the home. Stairs would be allowed to encroach no closer than 10 feet from the front property line.

2) An increase in the maximum total height of a residence, from 31 feet to 34 feet, only for homes in which a 7/12 roof pitch exists for at least 60 percent of the roof area. The change would be targeted at encouraging a higher roof pitch (above the 5/12 minimum required now) and more varied types of roof pitches, in exchange for allowing those homeowners to have a little more height.

3) A new requirement to have at least two front wall planes, offset by a minimum of 2 feet from each other, on the front of a residence. One plane would have to be at least 25 percent and a maximum of 60 percent of the width or height of the front of the structure. The design requirement is aimed at breaking up those flat front planes that have been a lamentable feature of the disdained “big box” homes recently.

4) An increased requirement for off-street parking, from two spaces to four, to better accommodate the larger homes that are being built in the town and the larger numbers of people they can potentially accommodate. (Proposed definitions of parking space are still pending and would affect how the off-street parking would be delineated, such as by construction material or markings.)

Each of the proposed changes was reached after ZAC discussion of the issues raised at a meeting with local builders. (Additional changes are currently being considered, including a requirement to cover pilings and potential action on impervious surfaces.)

Fuller noted his opposition to the proposed height allowance for a 7/12 roof pitch, saying he was concerned it would allow additional living space. But Steele said he had attended the ZAC meetings on the subject and was comfortable with builders’ assurances that the height change was manageable.

Still, Fuller decided to vote against approving a public hearing on the four proposals. In a 5-1 vote, though, the council agreed to set the hearing, likely to take place before the council’s January meeting, but with a date to be determined.

A second public hearing was (by unanimous vote of council) set for Friday, Jan. 20, at 6:45 p.m., just prior to that night’s council meeting. The subject of that hearing is the planned abandonment of the “paper street” that is Maryland Avenue extended.

The unopened street is actually the border between the town’s two recently purchased properties — the former Christian Church and Neff parcels that the town plans to use for an undetermined open-space purpose. Closing the street would allow the parcels to be combined.

Council Member Lew Killmer said he didn’t expect there would be much conflict over the issue, since the town owns both bordering parcels, but Graviet was less confident, replying, “Oh, you never know.”

Indeed, Dorfman said Town Solicitor Terrence Jaywork had cautioned that such a hearing could bring any previously unvoiced conflict about the idea out of the woodwork.