Planners move to provide aid

Bethany Beach Planning Commission members found a way out of a difficult situation at their Nov. 19 meeting, agreeing to put forward an ordinance amendment that would allow an expedited Board of Adjustments hearing in cases requiring an emergency accommodation for a handicapped person residing in the town.

The issue was referred to the commission after weeks of effort on the part of Mayor Jack Walsh, Town Manager Cliff Graviet, Town Solicitor Terrance Jaywork and Building Inspector John Eckrich to find a way the town was legally allowed to quickly permit a handicapped access ramp on an already non-conforming structure in the town, due to the health crisis of one resident.

They hadn’t found a way to do that, except to go through the Planning Commission to create an expedited Board of Adjustments process solely for hearing applications for such temporary structures — and one that would also allow an at-cost application process, with no additional fees.

The process is still a slow one, requiring town council approval and advertising periods of at least a week. Council can choose to waive a first reading on the ordinance, Eckrich noted, slimming down the time a little. It could even have a special meeting (after seven days public notice) to speed things up from the scheduled December meeting.

Then it’s a matter of advertising and scheduling the Board of Adjustments hearing. Unfortunately, it’s not a short process and time is of the essence.

Commission members admitted they felt like they were between the proverbial rock and a hard place in dealing with the issue. They wanted to help the citizen in question, but they didn’t want to write a blank check that could come back to haunt them in the future.

Ideally, they would have liked to consider the issue at length, study it and discuss details before approving it, but in the end, the heart won out over the head, and with the condition that the ordinance be reviewed and reconsidered during the commission’s regular review of town code.

Commissioners Kathleen Mink and Lew Killmer voted in favor of the change, while Chairman Phil Boesch abstained. Commissioner Steve Wode said he, too, would vote in favor — if reluctantly. No word of town council or Board of Adjustment hearings on the ordinance change was available at Coastal Point press time.

Commissioners also heard a series of recommended zoning change from the commission’s ad hoc committee, chaired by Mink.

The committee had recommended several new items since the last commission meeting, all of which were up for commission input and action.

• On the subject of encouraging a higher and/or varied roof pitch, commissioners accepted the committee’s recommendation to allow a higher building height (34 feet maximum instead of 31 feet) when homes are built with a 7/12 roof pitch over at least 60 percent of the roof area at the front of a home.

• Commissioners largely supported allowances for a front setback encroachment by uncovered stairs and their landings, as a tradeoff for creation of an honest-to-goodness front door and in light of recommended increases for off-street parking requirements. They settled on a setback encroachment that placed the stairs or landings no closer than 10 feet from the front lot line, after considerable discussion.

Belatedly, it was realized that existing ordinances require all structures a foot above the ground or higher be counted as part of lot coverage toward a maximum of 40 percent. Since the intent of the encroachment allowance was to allow structure to contain the same amount of interior space while allowing more flexibility for the creation of a front door, commissioners opted to support a change to allow the uncovered stairs to be excluded from lot coverage calculations. Boesch noted that such a move would garner a negative vote from him, despite support from the others.

• Commissioners were unanimous in their support of a new requirement suggested by the ad hoc committee — emphasizing that it would be a requirement and thus a departure from the carrot-and-stick approach of other elements they had suggested.

The new requirement would be designed to break up the front façade of a home to avoid large, sheer faces created by attempts to maximize interior space. It would require at least one plane of the front façade to extend beyond the other(s) by at least two feet, across 25 to 60 percent of the total height or width of a structure. Something as simple as a screened porch of that size would qualify.

Each of the suggested ordinance changes from the ad hoc committee, if approved by the Planning Commission, is to be presented in a white paper to the Town Council for their approval before it heads to Jaywork for ordinance wording.

Commissioners asked Eckrich to put a hold on ordinance suggestions previously submitted to Jaywork (including a four-space off-street parking requirement) so they could also be considered by council members before legal bills were generated.

The committee is due to present a recap of the revised suggestions at the conclusion of its work, and several of the items also remained on the commission’s agenda for consideration as time drew short in the Nov. 19 meeting.

At the meeting, commissioners also:

• Granted a one-year extension to Robert and Linda Maxwell for a partitioning granted in November of 2004. The Maxwells said they’d run into problems getting the existing home removed from the site, and because they were planning to live in one home on the resulting lots while building another, needed an extension to get the partitioning finalized and the homes started on their individual lots.

The commission granted the extension (4-0), noting that it was an unusual circumstance, a Catch 22 of sorts. The debated whether a one-year extension was normal or needed, but Building Inspector John Eckrich noted there was no finite timeline for extensions in town code. They granted the one-year extension as requested.

• Deferred action on code relating to the location of wireless communications towers, to allow commissioners to further review the impact of new legislation on the subject.

• Renewed plans to present a commission report at town council meetings to help keep council members abreast of developments in the commission’s work.