Bethany considers parking, driveway rules

The Bethany Beach Traffic and Parking Committee (T&P) meets rarely — usually only the mandated twice a year — despite its purview over what has become an increasingly difficult summer traffic and parking situation in the town.

Though it hasn’t met since January (and then under the chairmanship of former town council member Bob Degen, rather than new councilman and committee chairman Jerry Dorfman), committee members took the opportunity of their second required meeting for the calendar year Nov. 12 to begin to reclaim its apparent domain over the interaction between driveways and parking.

That subject was recently considered by the town’s Charter and Ordinance Review Committee (CORC), which has been tasked with a larger overall review of the town’s code and ordinances.

With the assistance of Public Safety Officer Ralph Mitchell and other town officials, CORC decided to recommend only minimal changes to the section of town code that relates to how driveways are designated and how the related parking codes enforced.

Mitchell had originally developed a series of several recommendations but told CORC members he had scaled those back to one minor change after consulting with other town officials about the situation. They decided the situation was working as it was and didn’t really call for a big fix.

T&P members took that decision under advisement, but rejected domain over the ordinances by CORC, whose membership also includes Dorfman. Taking over leadership of T&P under a new set of committee chairpersons, he revived the issue there.

The differences between the town’s east and west sides was again a cornerstone of the discussion on the issue inside T&P, with Dorfman noting that requirements to mark driveways at a maximum of 20 feet in width at the road would be essentially impossible to do on the west side.

He said landscaping and trash can enclosures that were placed in the rights-of-way long ago would prove a challenge to performing a similar marking project as was done on the east side.

Council and committee member Wayne Fuller objected to the notion that east and west would be treated differently — they’re part of the same town, he said.

Former council member Jane Fowler, who was among the council members presiding over codifying the 20-foot limit in the first place, replied that the town was already divided east and west by varying R1 and R2 zoning standards. On the other hand, she said, she couldn’t see the town taking the time and expense to mark every driveway in town, as it did with paint markings on the east side.

With marking done on the east, committee members were in agreement that the marking of driveways was needed in all other areas where permit parking occurs, to help ensure driveways are not blocked by those parking in the spots, which are in high demand during the summer. The marking also helps drivers assure they’re parked legally and that parking enforcement officers evenly enforce the law.

It’s been widely considered an improvement over some of the unmarked driveways in the town, with its history of frontyard parking on undifferentiated sand or grass. And it has helped enforce the 20-foot width limit, preventing some property owners from claiming their entire lot width was driveway and thereby preventing any parking in front.

Indeed, town officials told T&P members some 10 additional permit parking spaces were created by the east-side marking project, simply by virtue of solidifying the 20-foot driveway width limit.

So the question has remained — is official marking of driveways on the largely non-conforming west side a worthwhile endeavor? Would it pay off for the town in some manner when demand for the on-street parking is considerably less and situations much more varied?

Mitchell’s statement to CORC that parking enforcement officers held the west side to a different standard could shed some light on the issue in either direction.

He said officers were disinclined from enforcing parking rules about blocking driveways unless the property owner made a complaint. Otherwise, they never knew when the property owner was blocking their own driveway because they temporarily needed extra parking (technically, not allowed).

On the other hand, town code appears to allow latitude in a requirement to “register” driveways with the town — a requirement that would largely fall into place, CORC determined, only when the driveway borders aren’t demarcated by materials (asphalt, gravel, etc.) or other markers (reflectors, trash bins, landscaping). “Marking” the driveway could be sufficient, and that accomplished by the above methods of demarcation.

All of this discussion by T&P was deemed largely preparatory — an effort to determine if the committee wanted to claim domain over the driveway statutes under parking concerns (affirmative) and how they would likely proceed if they did.

Fowler said she felt the ordinance should indicate that the town would mark driveways, with the work already done on the east side and some of the west and the option to do the rest as needed. The consensus of committee members agreed it was a good starting point for any revisions they would make.

Dorfman said he would take the issue of T&P domain over the subject back to CORC.

T&P also reviewed the town’s resident permit parking system at the Nov. 12 meeting, primarily focusing on any perceived need to allow residents to park at metered spaces – without feeding the meters – under their town-issued resident permits.

Fowler said she believed the issue had been raised by concerns that the proximity of metered spaces to prime boardwalk locations was unfair to property owners in the town. Some had felt that visitors who parked at meters should not receive apparent preferential treatment in parking locations, versus those who own or rent property in the town.

By opening the meters to permits, it was possible that visitors would be pushed a few blocks farther out, while residents who wanted to park closer to the boardwalk would have more parking options.

The notion met limited support from the committee members, though, with Fowler herself saying that freeing a limited number of close-in parking spaces for dual use by residents and visitors — such as those on street ends, Fuller suggested — might be a more appropriate solution. Visitors could handle walking another block or two, Fowler said.

But the committee was largely in agreement that designating some areas for dual use while others remained metered or permit-only was an unwieldy concept. Adding in the increased use of the town trolley — theoretically reducing the number of residents needing east-side parking in the summer — and the additional accommodation was not clearly supported.

Dorfman said an associated concern had been that some people were abusing the town’s policy on handicapped-accessible parking, using the handicapped spaces with a placard or plate that wasn’t necessarily medically appropriate, just to avoid having to pay for a meter.

That led to complaints — including to Alderman Court Judge Sally Byrne, a member of the committee — that handicapped spaces were in insufficient supply for the demand of truly handicapped people who visited the town. (Byrne also expressed concern that dual-use would bring even more complaints from visitors on the lack of metered spaces.)

Dorfman noted that Rehoboth Beach had recently changed its policy of allowing free parking for those with handicapped plates or placards, partially over the same concerns about abuse.

Fuller said he would really like to see the town’s figures on parking revenue to assess what kind of dent would be made in revenue if metered parking were switched to dual-use for permits or if additional handicapped spaces were created.

Other committee members wondered at how meaningful the numbers might be, but agreed to defer the issue to the committee’s next meeting, when more consideration had been given to the issue and figures might be available.

On that subject, Dorfman said he wanted to ensure that the committee remained accessible to part-time residents and out-of-town property owners, two of whom serve on the committee. T&P has been one of the few Bethany Beach committees to meet on Saturday on that basis, but it has limited their access to town support staff and caused other difficulties.

Committee members present at the meeting — all of whom were full-time residents — said they could continue to make a Saturday meeting time but encouraged Dorfman to check preferences with the out-of-town members before setting the committee’s next meeting.

He warned that it might well be that the committee would meet more than twice in the coming year, with several important items on its plate.