Boesch takes over as planning chair

The Bethany Beach Planning Commission saw a number of changes at its meeting Saturday, Jan. 22. First, resident Jerry Dorfman joined the commission, appointed to the seat vacated by Lew Killmer upon his selection to the town council.

Killmer was made ineligible for his commission chairman’s position by his selection to council. He remained on the commission, however, taking the council representative spot formerly occupied by Tony McClenny, who resigned from the commission in Killmer’s favor.

The shifts were all a result of the recent retirement of Mayor Joseph McHugh from his mayoral position and town council seat.

With its new membership in place, commission members then moved on to the selection of a new chairperson, unanimously selecting veteran member Phil Boesch to head the commission.

Boesch noted for those in attendance that the town’s bandstand project had been sent out for bids. Several companies had expressed an interest in the project, he said, but no bids had yet been received. The deadline for bids is some weeks off.

Town Building Inspector John Eckrich informed commission members that he had received documents regarding an easement to be included on the property of Christina Edgar at Routes 1 and 26.

The Edgars had previously requested the town open Maryland Avenue and the connected alley to allow them street access to interior lots on the property, but commission members had instead suggested the property be accessed with a private right-of-way within its existing setbacks.

The property owners had agreed to the idea, and all that remains to be done is the filing of the appropriate documents with the county. The easement will be 20 feet in width. Eckrich said he would personally file the documents with the recorder of deeds to ensure the easement would be permanently recorded. Edgar thanked the commission members for their efforts in finding a solution to the problem.

Another shift for the commission members came in their feelings about an architectural review board (ARB). Having heard a theming proposal that week from eight students and Associate Dean John Maudlin-Jeronimo of the University of Maryland’s School of Architecture, Killmer said he had changed his mind about the value of an ARB.

“Because it was the best chance of getting an ARB passed, we decided to make it non-mandatory, resulting in an advisory-only board,” Killmer said of the existing proposal. “This has the potential to be worthless. It might not have any muscle and may just serve to lengthen the process.”

Instead, Killmer said, the University of Maryland proposal that championed overlay zones might well prove to be a better way.

The overlays would provide property owners and developers a series of standards aimed at the town’s desired look, such as the seaside village theme presented by the students. The standards would be optional, overlaid on the town’s existing codes and still using them as a “minimum” requirement. But the town could use a series of enticements, or “carrots,” to encourage property owners to bring their buildings up to the optional overlay code.

The overlay code, as well as the enticements the town could provide, would have to be decided as part of the process of instituting the overlay zones, Killmer noted. But the enticements could possibly include things such an increased maximum building height to allow for a roof style encouraged by the town’s theme; or the town could also provide matching funds or assistance with grants to help property owners finance their renovations.

The process would be a matter of encouragement, rather than requirements under an ARB or town code.

Commission members reached a consensus that the idea of overlay zones be presented to the Town Council for further consideration and recommendations. Killmer agreed to present information and opinions to the council on the option of an ARB and that of the overlay zones. He also said he would consult with Maudlin-Jeronimo to see what degree of paid consulting would be required to develop a plan for instituting the overlays.

Driveways in the Sea Villas development within the town were also up for discussion at the Jan. 22 meeting of the planning commission. The existing driveways within the community exceed the town’s maximum width of 20 feet, some by as much as 10 feet. However, the town has previously discussed allowing them to remain under a new zoning area, or with a permit for non-conforming use.

But commission members stated their reluctance to create such alternative “spot zoning” and allowances during the discussion Saturday, instead championing bringing all properties in the town into compliance with the existing code.

Commission member Steve Wode encouraged a solution in restricting the driveways to 20 feet in width at the street, noting that the driveways’ width further into the property were not restrained and could remain at the existing 30 feet to allow maximum parking space.

Complicating the issue is a letter from the then-town manager of Bethany Beach to the developers of Sea Villas at the time of their construction. Noting that the existing driveways did not meet a town requirement of 500 square feet of parking space per dwelling, the letter instructed the developers to bring the driveways up to that standard. They did so, building them up to 30 feet in width and at least 16 feet deep.

At the time, the town did not have maximum width requirements for driveways, nor any other specific requirement beyond the 500 square feet of parking.

Property owners in the development have argued that the driveways are a direct result of an instruction from the town and should therefore be granted an exception to the newer maximum width of 20 feet.

McClenny argued that point from the audience, as a property owner in and resident of Sea Villas. He said residents of the community were troubled by the repeated raising of the issue over a period of five years, with varying opinions from the town councils and planning commissions of those times.

McClenny said he believed the next step for Sea Villas’ 41 property owners, if required by the town to comply with the 20-foot maximum, would be to hire a lawyer to argue their case. Commission member Kathleen Mink said she felt the idea of getting a lawyer involved should not be a deterrent to the town, but instead a possible method of arbitration and resolution.

But McClenny expressed concern that if they were required to comply, some property owners would — perhaps in protest — choose to do so in a way that would prove more of a headache and safety concern for the town than the existing driveways do.

Building Inspector John Eckrich said Town Attorney Terrence Jaywork had previously been asked to provide an opinion to the town on another non-conforming issue at Sea Villas — a variance to allow large decks which sometimes encroach on neighboring properties. The driveways, however, never received such a variance. They exist merely as a result of that instruction from a town official.

He said he would like to get more information from Jaywork about the issue, including ideas on how to obtain compliance, and when and what circumstances would allow the town to require compliance – such as the destruction of the home, change in ownership or a significant addition or remodeling.

Commission members agreed that information from the attorney would be a valid next step in the process of coming to a final resolution on the issue. Eckrich said he would discuss the matter with Jaywork.

On a side note, Eckrich also pointed out that the 20-foot driveway width had, in part, been an effort to increase the number of parking spaces available on the east side of the town.

However, he said, the actual result had been to decrease the number of spaces, with a 25-foot no-parking area near all stop signs and some property owners who had previously used a 10-foot driveway having taken the full 20-foot measure when the directive was issued by the town.

The town’s pilot project to mark all driveways east of Route 1 will be expanding in the coming months, and property owners who have not previously designated where their driveway space is located will be faced with the choice of left, right, center or somewhere in between when the painting crews start to make their marks.

As its final act before the end of the Jan. 22 meeting, with snow falling heavily outside town hall, the commission tackled the section of town code regarding subdivisions. As part of an overall review of town code, the commission has been designated the appropriate entity to review the sections of code relating to planning and zoning.

The commission members made their way through a series of definitions used in the section, in the process addressing concerns over the construction standards for roads inside planned residential developments (PRDs) that might someday be incorporated into the town.

Eckrich said Wode’s idea to require the same standard for private PRD roads as for public roads in the town was one the town should consider. Currently, PRD roads that are made public by incorporating the PRD are required to be brought up to those standards prior to the incorporation, he said. Requiring those same standards could smooth the transition and provide better roads in the long term, he said.

Finally, the Planning Commission members acted informally on the Town Council’s Jan. 21 request to have the commission supply an unofficial liaison to the town of Millville regarding planned developments.

Wode, a property owner in Bethany Beach, Ocean View and Millville, offered to keep the council informed on issues related to general development plans in the neighboring towns. Killmer said he would be willing to substitute for Wode in that capacity in the case Wode might be unavailable.