Bethany council asked to support SB100

Bethany Beach Town Council members were not prepared to officially put the town behind efforts to gain two at-large seats for the Sussex County Council when the issue was put before them at their Nov. 18 council meeting.

Resident Dennis Cleary had obtained time on the meeting’s agenda to present his case for the town’s endorsement of state Senate Bill 100. His presentation was greeted warmly by some in attendance at the meeting, and by Council Member Harold Steele, who moved the council vote on making a resolution of support. But the motion died for lack of a second.

Council Member Tony McClenny said he would like more time to think about the matter, while Council Member Wayne Fuller argued that a vote was premature since the item hadn’t been on the council’s agenda for official action.

Steele objected to the notion that council members hadn’t had enough time to consider the idea, since it has been in wide discussion in the community for some months.

“You should have some opinion on this by now,” he admonished his fellow council members. “But that is that,” he conceded on lack of a second for his motion.

During his presentation Cleary had cited anticipated development figures — some 35,000 to 40,000 new residences in the next eight to 10 years. He criticized the current county council’s actions in the face of that growth, saying there was no plan to accommodate the current population of the county, let alone the additional population.

In particular, Cleary said he was concerned about the impact of development on Bethany Beach, citing its destination as a beach location.

Beyond immediate infrastructure issues, he said the outlying developments that traded off that location could cause long-term problems with property values once people moved to the area and realized that the supposed short trip to the beach wasn’t as easy as they expected. The resulting glut of housing, he said, could affect property values throughout the area.

Calculating only 25,000 new homes at an average of five residents per home, he predicted at least 125,000 new residents. At 1.5 cars per home, an additional 40,000 cars could be expected he said. Lined up end-to-end, that would make 151 miles of cars, he said — enough to go down Route 26 all the way to Annapolis, Md., he emphasized.

He also anticipated a shortage of beach space, as those 125,000 residents compete with the existing residents for an average of 5 square feet of space on the sand – an additional 3 million square feet of sand needed, with only a mile of beach inside the town limits.

To help remedy what he considers an ongoing lack of planning from the county council, Cleary proposed Bethany Beach officially support the addition of the two at-large council seats, resulting in three council members who would be voted into office with votes of the coastal towns counting toward their election — or lack thereof.

He said he believed the existing council districts had been gerrymandered to be pro-growth, with only coastal councilman George Cole standing in opposition to pro-development councilmen, such as Council President Dale Dukes.

He cited a Dukes e-mail to one county resident wherein, he said, Dukes suggested the concerned property owner hurry to sell all their property before the negative impact of all the development reduced their property values.

Concluding his statement, Cleary asked council members for a resolution supporting the at-large council seats, but he did not receive it. Mayor Jack Walsh was prepared to move forward with the meeting with no action taken until Steele made his own motion to draft such a resolution, commenting that it would be nice for the council to address Cleary’s request — one way or the other.

But he also failed to obtain the support of the other council members, who opted to move on without taking action.

Also at the Nov. 18 meeting, council members unanimously passed on its second reading modifications to zoning code Chapter 200, regarding the subdivision of land. The bulk of the modifications are housekeeping-type changes to streamline the timeline of the application an approval process.

They also passed, 5-0, on second reading an ordinance regarding permitted locations and heights for wireless communications towers and amateur radio towers. The ordinance provides for safety requirements (such as fencing), requires engineering plans and asks applicants to document their need for a particular height.

McClenny abstained from the vote, citing his own status as an amateur radio operator. Fuller abstained as well, citing his connection to the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company, which operates a radio tower and has applied for a variance for added height for a new tower.

Other items at the Nov. 18 council meeting included:

• McClenny reported on the town’s financial picture for the fiscal year-to-date as of Oct. 31. He said the town had collected 82.6 percent of its anticipated revenue, compared to 84.67 percent at the same point in 2004. The town’s capital expenditures were at 60.3 percent of anticipated spending, compared to 56.4 percent in 2004.

Revenues for thus far in the 2006 fiscal year exceed the previous year’s amount by $572,000, McClenny noted, compared to $530,000 in additional expenditures for the current year versus last year.

• Walsh reported that a number of initiatives had been adopted recently by the Sussex County Association of Towns (SCAT), including a Bethany Beach-sponsored initiative to study the area’s “carrying capacity,” focusing on the impact of continued development on the towns and to determine exactly how much population can be sustained.

Another initiative focused on stormwater and flood mitigation work, particularly on how municipalities can fund improvements such as those the town is contemplating.

• The council presented to Friends of the South Coastal Library a check for $10,000 toward the group’s fund-raising efforts for an expanded library. Friends President and Bethany Beach resident Lois Lipsett accepted the check on behalf of the group, thanking the town for its generosity and support of the library. She noted the Friends would like to triple the size of the library but said the county will make a final determination with concerns about parking mentioned.

• Council Member Lew Killmer thanked town staff for their work to clean up debris from the recent nor’easter, particularly noting much tree damage. Town Manager Cliff Graviet praised the public works department.

• Council members unanimously approved the appointment of Chuck Peterson to the Charter and Ordinance Review Committee (CORC), noting his background as a former commissioner for the Internal Revenue Service and as a business owner.

• Council formally sanctioned CORC’s continuing work to close a loophole regarding fences on commercially zoned property that is contiguous to residentially zoned property.

• Graviet noted work on the town’s new bandstand was proceeding, following the former structure’s destruction earlier in the week. He said pilings were expected to be driven for the new bandstand in the first week of December. The timetable for completing the project is May or June, or Graviet jokingly said a new town manager would provide the next update on the project.

He also promised to check on concerns about the safety of the new town clock during the course of the construction.

• Graviet remarked on the removal of the home on the lot next to the town hall. He said there were currently no plans for the town to do anything with the lot beyond sod and plantings, with short-term use to be for open space. He also announced that Melinda Lindy had been hired as the town’s new horticulturist.

• Council members passed on to the Planning Commission a request for an urgent ordinance change to allow the temporary erection of structures for handicapped access to homes under an expedited and cost-only Board of Adjustments procedure.

• The council agreed to hold a December meeting, noting a longer-than-usual period between the scheduled meeting and the Christmas holiday. In past years, the council has often voted to skip a December meeting. Fuller supported continuing that tradition but was alone in his negative vote on holding one.