Bethany sets hearing on development plan


The creation of a comprehensive development plan for Bethany Beach will take one more step on Friday, Feb. 18, at 6:30 p.m., when a public hearing calling for comment on the final draft plan is held. The hearing is set for the town meeting room in Bethany Beach Town Hall.

The process of developing such a plan is currently mandated to take place every 10 years, with reviews of the plans to take place every five years.

Though it is self-stated to be a “flexible guideline” that should meet “changing needs,” once the plan is developed and adopted by a town, it has the force of law “and no development shall be permitted except as consistent with the plan.”

Bethany Beach’s current draft plan was begun on the basis of the questionnaire distributed to property owners in early 2004. It was refined through public hearings held in the following months and with input from the town’s planning commission.

The overarching theme of the final draft document is a desire to maintaining the existing character of town, with emphasis also placed on ensuring appropriate resources for residents and visitors, and on encouraging public involvement in the processes involved in working toward the plan’s stated goals.

“Community interest and cooperative commitment to practical planning and the timely implementation of the goals and objectives of comprehensive development planning will contribute to a higher quality of life in Bethany Beach,” the draft opines.

Along with being a guideline for the town’s future development, the plan is designed to be an informational document.

“Citizens, business people, and government officials can turn to the plan to learn more about Bethany Beach and its policies for future land use decisions. Potential new residents can use the documents as an informational resource about the town, including its characteristics and facilities, to help them make decisions about moving to Bethany Beach.

“This document contains the most current information on population, transportation, housing, employment, and the environment, which may be of interest to land developers, economic-development professionals, and financiers.”

Growth is a key factor in the plan. Projections of the town’s growth rate are made in two scenarios, each projecting growth from a population of 935 in 2005. According to the scenarios (which were noted to be far from concrete), the population of Bethany Beach could be 1,200 to 1,500 by 2010, and as much as 1,500 to 4,500 by 2030.

The plan aims the town’s growth goals at preserving its character as a “quiet, community-oriented and family-friendly beach experience,” and clearly states the town has no annexation plans in foreseeable future.

Also of emphasis are existing efforts toward preserving open space and creating parks; improving stormwater and drainage issues (including current studies and projects); and maximizing pedestrian and bicycle safety (also under study in the town). The Garfield Parkway streetscape project is also among the planned projects in the town to receive official recommendations in the plan.

Unsurprisingly, the plan’s recommendations include continued focus on the town’s efforts to get a 50-year beach-reconstruction project under way, for both safety and recreational factors.

Perhaps more controversially, it also notes a possible need to increase employees who come from outside the area, as locals age and retire, in combination with an increasing demand for local retail shopping. Further, the plan recommends the town look to increase public transportation options to increase regional access for residents and visitors.

Intergovernmental cooperation and communication are also points of emphasis in the draft comprehensive plan for Bethany Beach.

It is also clear that the growth experienced in Sussex County is not just a local issue; indeed, the regional nature of recent development growth in the county necessitates that the State of Delaware, the county and other municipalities dependent upon Bethany Beach’s local beaches all must be involved in the establishment of policies and projects that will preserve the integrity of the town’s shoreline, the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists, and the protection of local natural and cultural resources.”

Getting down to the detailed elements of the draft plan, the plan itself is divided in to two major sections: plan goals and recommendations for achieving those goals. Each of those sections is divided into sub-sections, which are in turn supported by individual objectives that are at the core of what the plan will mean for the town.

The major goals are three in number.

The first goal is to “create an attractive and healthy environment that preserves the quiet atmosphere that makes the town an attractive community for living, working and family recreation.”

Included in that goal are the objectives of:

• maintaining a residential land use pattern that will achieve a moderate density of population sufficient to support adequate community services without creating congestion or overloading community facilities;
• preserving the present quality of housing in Bethany Beach and prevent the emergence of blighted areas;
• maintaining a high standards of administration of the town’s zoning code and subdivision ordinance to ensure the quality of present and future residential and commercial property;
• encouraging and supporting a commercial land use pattern that serves the needs of town residents and reflects the attitude of residents who envision Bethany Beach as a resort community, including the limitation of commercial areas to existing zones;
• focusing public investment in the development, redevelopment, and improvement of land within the existing town boundaries rather than investment in expansion or annexation; and
• encouraging the development of a local, year-round medical facility supported by the major regional medical institution (Beebe Hospital).

The second goal of the plan is to “protect natural resources and environmentally sensitive areas in and around the town and reduce the dangers posed to town residents and visitors by natural and manmade disasters.”

That second goal includes sub-objectives of:

• providing a system that will reduce flooding in the community;
• encouraging the participation of federal, state and county agencies to assist in the town’s program to fight beach erosion and increase public access to all existing shoreline beach areas, including associated parking facilities, both locally and regionally;
• encouraging and supporting an effective program of planning in Bethany Beach and Sussex County that will achieve quality development and ensure protection of coastal natural resources and the environment in general;
• firmly establishing a commitment to provide and maintain an adequate supply of potable water;
• designing and developing a town-wide stormwater-management system, addressing drainage problems by the continued maintenance of effective swales and ditches; and
• engaging in a dialogue with state agencies and other local governments that recognize the local impact of regional development patterns in Sussex County and seek cooperative solutions to sustainable development and resource protection.

The third goal of the plan is to “create a safely navigable community for all town residents and visitors.”

That third goal focuses on objectives including:

• developing and maintain an efficient, balanced and safe street-and-highway system with adequate facilities for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists;
• constructing and maintaining adequate, safe bicycle and pedestrian ways along all major streets;
• encouraging the participation of county and state agencies to assist in promoting and funding a safe and efficient system of multi-modal transportation in Bethany Beach, including the possible expansion of the Town Shuttle;
• ensuring the adequacy of regional transportation for town residents to access employment, recreational, and commercial opportunities in other areas of the state;
• working to ensure the safety of pedestrians when crossing major and minor roadways, considering implementation of sidewalks in areas that present safety risks; and
• engaging in a dialogue with state agencies and other local governments that recognize the local impact of regional development in Sussex County and seek cooperative solutions for efficient and equitable transportation services and infrastructure.

In making recommendations for achieving the goals and the sub-objectives, the plan addresses specifics regarding housing; land use and annexation issues; community services and facilities; water, wastewater and stormwater management; transportation; environmental protection; and economic and community development.

For housing objectives, the draft plan recommends the town: 1) establish an architectural review board (ARB) (consideration of the idea, or an alternative, is already under way); 2) develop an affordable-housing strategy; and 3) devise building standards for flood plains and flood fringe areas.

Land-use and annexation recommendations include: 1) review and revision of existing codes (an effort that is already in progress); and 2) maintaining land uses and promoting appropriate redevelopment.

Community services and facilities recommendations focus on maintaining optimal intergovernmental relations. Water, wastewater and stormwater management recommendations start with 1) determining future water needs; 2) mapping and planning systems; 3) making system improvements and policies regarding such; and 4) drainage and stormwater management (a major focus for the town and its budgets in recent years).

Transportation recommendations again focus on intergovernmental coordination, with the planned Route 26 project singled out for special attention. Other transportation recommendations include data collection; local public transportation; regional public transportation; and pedestrian safety and bicycle paths (currently undergoing study).

The plans stated environmental protection recommendations include: 1) responding to existing and expected TMDL (total maximum daily load) standards for pollutants; 2) developing strategies to achieve the much-discussed 50-year replenishment project (potentially starting in 2006); 3) developing policies to maintain critical natural areas; and 4) maintaining inter-agency coordination for emergency management.

Recommendations for economic and community development include: 1) creating a comprehensive local economic development plan; 2) completing a local historic and cultural resources inventory; 3) encouraging historic-preservation activities (already a mandate of the town’s historical committee); 4) maintaining public involvement in future projects; 5) implementation of the streetscape plan (currently in the preliminary phases of planning); and 6) implementation of the bandstand renovation plan (set to begin construction in 2005).

After he was sworn in to replace former Mayor Joseph McHugh in his seat on the Town Council, Planning Commission member Lew Killmer noted that many of his objectives — and those of other council members — for the town’s future were already contained in the draft of the comprehensive development plan.

Indeed, many of the recommendations and objectives contained in the plan have already been stated as goals for town officials and even put into the early stages needed for them to reach fruition.

Nonetheless, the town and the state’s adoption process require that continued public input be made as the plan nears adoption, and the detailed goals and recommendations of the plan suggest the serious consideration due any piece of legislation with the weight of law.

Anyone with comments to make on the substance of the draft is being encouraged to attend the Feb. 18 public hearing on the matter. A full copy of the draft is available at the town’s Web site at www.townofbethanybeach.com.