Bethany CORC addresses driveways, fences

Bethany Beach Charter and Ordinance Review Committee members on Oct. 20 tackled the section of town code dealing with the registration and enforcement of driveway designations, with the input of Public Safety Officer Ralph Mitchell.

Mitchell noted that he had initially formulated a list of recommendations that he had since discussed with Town Manager Cliff Graviet, Police Chief Michael Redmon and other town officials. The result of that discussion had been for Mitchell to scale back his recommended changes to one, on the grounds that what was working should not be altered.

The change would reference that entrances to driveways should be clearly marked and/or registered in order for parking restrictions to be enforced by town police, a minor retooling of existing registration requirements to allow for wider enforcement of parking regulations.

Committee Member Don Doyle noted that he had been unaware of any requirement for the registration of driveways with the town and asked why the requirement had been made. Mitchell noted a need to ensure the proper permits for constructing a driveway were obtained and that driveways met standards required in the town.

Building Inspector John Eckrich commented that the requirement for registration was old but still relevant, especially considering the town’s history of grass or sand parking areas in the front yards of homes.

With such undefined driveways, registration had been the method by which town authorities could determine parking violations (blocking a driveway) and tow offending vehicles.

Eckrich noted that defined driveways were becoming the rule in the town, with more home owners tending toward concrete or asphalt driveways (which require a permit for their construction) and the pilot driveway-marking project recently marking preferred entrances (at 20 feet maximum in total width) on the east side of the town.

Other driveways have simply been marked with driveway reflectors or other marking devices.

The west side of the town, however, remains a more difficult area for police to patrol. Mitchell said there was a double-standard applied between the east and west sides, with enforcement on the west side coming down to officers’ judgment, since many driveways there are not only not marked but non-conforming to the 20-foot maximum.

Doyle inquired as to whether driveways not marked or otherwise registered per town requirements would get “proper attention” when parking violations were reported.

Mitchell replied that officers seeing apparent violations on the west side would be unlikely to enforce parking laws unless there was a complaint made in those cases, seeing as some property owners might give permission for visitors to park in a way that blocked their driveway. (That is technically still a parking violation, and one generally enforced on the east side of town, where driveways are now clearly marked.)

Doyle suggested the registration/marking requirement be eliminated on the town’s west side if it is not enforced there and so many driveways are non-conforming. CORC’s mission in reviewing the town code was, in part, to eliminate vagueness and non-uniformity of enforcement, he said.

But Eckrich said the driveway requirements were being enforced for new construction and driveway renovations, leading more and more to conform. He further said that when the wide variety of ways in which a driveway could be marked (markers, differing materials from the yard, etc.) were taken into account, most of the west-side driveways were indeed marked.

Town Council Member and CORC Vice-Chairman Tony McClenny said having the code to fall back on in cases where enforcement (under officers’ judgment) was taking place was important.

McClenny further noted that he would prefer to follow the recommendations of the town’s police officers in revising the code and voiced support for the requirement that driveways be marked and/or registered on that basis. Committee members unanimously agreed to accept the changes.

Despite that agreement, Doyle and Killmer both expressed continued consternation over the uneven enforcement of the parking regulations. Doyle said he expected the day would come when someone would cause trouble over the enforcement issue and said he hoped the code would be considered again in the future, with better wording the result.

CORC members also agreed unanimously to add a section to town code regarding requirements for fences on commercial property that is contiguous to residential property. The move came to correct an oversight that covered all the various permutations of commercial and residential borders except that one.

While on the issue of fences, Killmer passed out a series of photographic images showing tall, dense plantings on property lines.

He said he felt such plantings might be an issue the committee needed to tackle in the future, as some — particularly those making use of Leyland cypresses — were regularly being allowed to grow to heights nearing or exceeding that of neighboring homes. (Landscape plantings are not subject to height restrictions in the town, while traditional fences are.)

Killmer said the plantings blocked light and air from neighboring homes, especially when property owners on both sides of a given home chose to grow such a living barrier.

Eckrich noted that the only time such an issue was generally raised with him was when one neighbor questioned whether they were allowed to trim plantings that grew over the property line into their property. (They are.) Height had not come into question, he said.

McClenny said the issue could be included on a future agenda.

The committee also made further progress on an effort to remove specific amounts of fines to a separate “schedule of fines,” mirroring the schedule of fees the town already uses. Town Solicitor Terence Jaywork had pointed out legal problems with doing so during an earlier effort to remove both fees and fines to separate schedules for easier access and updating.

With a series of two ordinance changes recommended unanimously by the committee Oct. 20, successfully removing the fines to a separate schedule is one step closer. The changes were to be forwarded to the town council for action, but Killmer noted that fines relating to police matters had been included and did not support such a move.

Committee members agreed that had never been the intent, that police fines were to have been kept in a separate area of code so as to keep them coordinated with county fines. Indeed, McClenny noted, Jaywork had said specifically that they were not to be included with other consolidated fines.

They agreed to review the sections of related code to make sure only pertinent sections of town fines were included before the changes were forwarded to the council.

McClenny provided an update to a previously considered issue before CORC: codes relating to flooding on properties adjacent to the Loop Canal.

The issue had been forwarded to Graviet and then to Jaywork. And the town solicitor recently said CORC could take up the creation of codes to require bulkheads, rip-rap or other methods of securing the canal bank so that neighboring properties were not adversely affected when the waters began to encroach on a given property.

Along with such code changes, Killmer also put forward a number of issues for future agendas, over which he will be the presiding CORC chairman.

First, he suggested intermediate updates of the town’s code books be made for the use of CORC and other committees, rather than waiting until the full books can be reprinted by an outside firm (done on a yearly basis). Doyle suggested the hefty tome could also be broken into two for better portability.

Killmer also suggested the town map provided in the code book — dated 1985 — was in need of an update. Eckrich said the town engineering firm could be tasked with that update, with the help of new GIS systems, once drainage projects were no longer their top priority for the town.

Finally, Killmer said he believed a provision for a governmental/municipal development zone might be needed in the town — an idea resulting from recent dealings with ordinances regarding antennas.

Committee members agreed with the concept but Town Council and CORC member Jerry Dorfman said it was an issue for the Planning Commission to deal with, under the authority of the town council. Eckrich noted that existing municipal-use designations exist under the town’s comprehensive development plan but are not zoning designations.

McClenny said CDP designations would give the town a leg up on developing such a zone, while Dorfman volunteered to bring the idea before the town council in the future.

In closing the meeting, McClenny noted that he would be leaving CORC after five years on the committee, due largely to the new restriction on the number of council members per committee to two. (Dorfman and Killmer will both serve on the committee.)

Dorfman praised McClenny’s long service on CORC, while Doyle praised McClenny for “caring enough to do what is right.”