Bethany debates antennas, guidelines

Presented with a revised set of guidelines for the formation of committees in Bethany Beach at their Oct. 21 meeting, town council members were quick to notice one particular change: an increase from two to three in the maximum number of council members allowed on a given committee.

Several of the council members, in addition to those on the Charter and Ordinance Review Committee (CORC) that developed them, had been present at a previous meeting where the limit had been set at two. But only three council members were present at the Oct. 20 CORC meeting where the upward revision was made, and two of them served on the committee.

The change came as a surprise to Vice-Mayor Carol Olmstead, who was quick to remark on it and note that the restriction was one of the main reasons the policy had been drawn up in the first place.

Council and CORC member Jerry Dorfman noted that the three-member limit still addressed any legal concerns with a quorum of council members being on a committee and reiterated his argument of the CORC meeting: that the hard-working members of the council were often needed for the work done on committees.

That argument didn’t sway Council Member Harold Steele, who said he had a problem with allowing three council members on any committee and again championed the two-member limit.

He said that with three members of the council voting as part of a committee, they only needed one more council vote to create a majority when later voting as council members.

Olmstead said she was concerned the increased limit wouldn’t serve to make committees more independent from the council, as she had desired.

Dorfman agreed that community members should take priority when there were dedicated people willing to serve but added that council members shouldn’t be excluded when seats were available, up to a maximum of three members.

CORC Vice-Chairman Council Member Tony McClenny admitted to mixed feelings on the issue, stating that he felt three should be the maximum number but two a better target when other committee members were able to serve.

Steele made it clear he was digging in his heels, saying the discussion of the issue hadn’t changed his mind. But council members eventually agreed to table the issue for further discussion at a planned council retreat, at the suggestion of Town Manager Cliff Graviet.

Council members also tabled discussion of ordinances related to antennas and antenna towers after the code’s author, Council Member and incoming CORC Chairman Lew Killmer, said it wasn’t quite ready for primetime.

Killmer did explain a number of issues related to the code, however, and answered some questions about its impact – including charges that it was targeted at preventing the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company from erecting its proposed antenna tower.

Council Member, outgoing CORC Chairman and fire policeman Wayne Fuller charged that the fire company was being “stonewalled” with a lack of recent action on their application for an exception for just such a tower after being rebuffed by the Board of Adjustments last year.

Fuller said he believed the proposed ordinance was geared to stop the company from raising its hoped-for antenna tower and noted that he opposed the ordinance as written because it lacked an exception for emergency-service providers.

Killmer denied the allegation, noting that the fire company had not presented a revised application for the tower for many months after its initial failure to win over Board of Adjustments members.

He reported that the town’s consultant on the issue had said there was a way for the fire company to make their existing antenna work adequately, but noted the fire company’s application for an exception would likely be grandfathered under existing ordinances since it had been made prior to the newly proposed code.

The issue is generally one of aesthetics, with some considerable objections having been made to the height of the proposed fire company antenna tower, while emergency officials have championed a “higher is better” philosophy to best cover the company’s extensive north-south territory despite the limitations of being bordered by water.

Killmer noted that height, safety and security were also targeted by the proposed antenna code, which he said was based on federal law, as well as his experience in writing similar code for his hometown of Media, Pa.

The councilman said the code update was needed as increasing levels of technology brought more and more need for antennas into the area. (He later noted that there were currently no plans to install any antennas on the town’s water tower.)

Along with Fuller’s worries, the ordinance raised concerns for the owner of Bethany Bytes, an Internet café in the downtown area. With plans for the business to move out of that location in the near future, would it still be possible to erect a roof-top antenna on the new location that would provide wireless Internet access to the down town area?

Killmer said the height restriction in the ordinance might come into play, with a possible exception needing to be granted by the Board of Adjustments. Mayor Jack Walsh noted the height restriction was 35 feet in a retracted state, with a maximum of 75 feet when an antenna was expanded.

McClenny also noted an exception for amateur (HAm) radio towers under county and federal law — up to 200 feet in height. He championed the value of the radio system as having been extremely useful during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and noted he planned to build a tower for his own use on his new home — but within existing guidelines, to be “a good neighbor.”

Killmer noted that efforts were being made by a number of antenna users, including cell phone service companies, to create aesthetically-pleasing housings, ranging from using existing church steeples to fake trees.

Despite the extensive presentation of the work in progress, the issue was tabled to the next council meeting to allow for further consultation on the ordinance’s final form. The need to set a public hearing to discuss zoning allowances for the erection of antennas (and prohibition thereof) was, however, passed on to the town’s Planning Commission for later action.

In his town manager’s report at the Oct. 21 meeting, Graviet reported:

• Replanting, reseeding and landscaping of areas on Wellington Parkway was proceeding;

• Repaving and regrading of east-west streets east of Route 1 had gone out to bid;

• Moving of the house next to the town hall had been set for Nov. 1, after a delay;

• Bandstand renovations were delayed due to a change in construction from concrete and steel

pilings to wood pilings, with pile driving set for Nov. 11 and razing of the existing structure delayed accordingly;

• Horticulturist Chantal Bouchard had left the town’s employ to start her own business, with applications being taken for the now-open position;

• A Nov. 4 (3 p.m.) meeting with DNREC officials was set to continue the easement process as part of beach renourishment plans, with 20 easements still needed.

Also at the Oct. 21 meeting:

• Council members unanimously approved a list of quarterly tax adjustments for some property owners in the town.

• Council also unanimously approved a $15,715 contract for a keyless entry system for the town hall, with funding from a Homeland Security grant.

• McClenny reported 63 percent of anticipated revenues collected and 50 percent of anticipated expenditures made for the fiscal year-to-date through Sept. 30. That was compared to 72 percent and 51 percent figures, respectively, from the same period in 2004. He noted that revenue had exceeded the 2004 amount by $65,000, with expenditures $120,000 above the 2004 amount.

• Walsh confirmed the town’s $5,000 donation to the Sussex County Association of Towns (SCAT) hurricane relief fund was to be put to use in Waveland, Miss.

• Council members heard, and rejected for the time being, a proposal from Sea Colony home owners to close the slip ramp from Route 1 to Pennsylvania Avenue in favor of a stop-sign-regulated series of turns and proposed Sea Colony parking area.

• Walsh reported that beach renourishment buff Paul O’Dell had been told to expect the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to “split the difference” between their Water & Energy bills for the 2006 fiscal year — a $750 million amount — and that some of that funding could potentially be designated for a Bethany Beach-South Bethany renourishment project. Officials planned to contact legislators to help ensure that is the case.

• Council members confirmed committee chairperson and membership appointments for the coming year.

• The council confirmed in a housekeeping measure the end of a sunsetting period for the “waiting-area bars” allowance that was initiated on behalf of Bethany Blues restaurant. Council members generally reiterated their votes from the September council meeting, with McClenny and Fuller voting against the allowance, Walsh abstaining and the other council members voting in favor.

Killmer requested all current and future bars be given a copy of the ordinance to help ensure they were aware of what portions applied to them and what the ordinance as a whole entails.

• The council held a first reading for an amended version of the town code regarding subdivisions, incorporating some minor changes recommended by the town’s planning commission as part of their review of all zoning code chapters.

• Council members unanimously approved a resolution that allows employees to borrow up to 50 percent of the funds they have personally put into their savings plan with the town, with up to five years to repay the loan. (Matching funds from the town are not accessible.)

Graviet noted that the idea had become popular because a number of employees were looking to invest in first homes or in a child’s college education.