Need storage? South Bethany amends zoning

Date Published: 
Dec. 8, 2017

The South Bethany Town Council recently approved changes to the town’s zoning code, allowing people to enclose ground-level space under their homes, for storage, HVAC systems or parking.

People still have to follow FEMA rules, but they can get a little more privacy. Councilmen Tim Saxton and Don Boteler led the crusade, wanting more enclosed storage on their own properties.

Strict building codes were drafted around 2004 to stop the pattern of building what some called “mini-hotels” with many bathrooms and bedrooms. The intent now is to allow ground-level spaces to be enclosed for some semblance of storage privacy and security, but not for living space.

In an attempt to prevent people from circumventing the code, homeowners would also sign a non-conversion clause, promising not to turn the space into something else. The goal is to prevent clever architects from skirting the code and building bedrooms outside of the permit.

Previous councils considered doing that but couldn’t agree on an enforceable distance between slats covering the spaces, so they voted down the whole measure. This year’s council decided on half-inch space minimum between lattice or boards. Ordinance 188-17 passed unanimously.

In other South Bethany Town Council news:

• Gov. John Carney has certified the town’s 10-year comprehensive plan, which guides future laws and development for the next decade. In her written report, Mayor Pat Voveris thanked the citizens who made it possible.

• The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responded to a letter about beach replenishment from mayors of the area’s coastal towns. The Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company (GLDD) has been awarded the 240-day Bethany Beach/South Bethany/Fenwick Island project, which will likely begin construction in the spring of 2018 and could bite into the summer season, which had prompted concerns from the municipalities.

Owing to seasonal concerns, the timetable for dune grass planting for the project was extended until sometime before May of 2019, although it is expected to be in the ground before that.

• Town staff are brainstorming improvements to the parking-permit process, which could involve kiosks and online purchasing options that Dewey Beach officials said they have found to be simple and cost-effective.

• Town Hall will consider outsourcing payroll to an outside firm, which will free up staff time and increase financial controls. There is money in the budget for the next few months’ worth of fees, and then outsourcing costs can be debated into the 2019-fiscal-year budget.

• Now halfway through the current fiscal year, the council approved budget amendments to four items.

Legal expenses were higher than expected this year. “We’ve incurred to date a balance of $44,000,” nearly double the original $25,000 legal budget, Boteler said as the council approved an additional $40,000. So far, South Bethany had paid more than $19,000 in regular legal expenses; $17,575 responding to the police demand letter; and $7,532 for legal expenses related to the CPSM police study.

Also, $17,000 was added for the CPSM study itself (of which, $10,000 had been spent).

Since estimates for the police station expansion were much higher than expected, the council had canceled the renovation in favor of “repurposing” existing space, and they moved $182,450 out of the building fund back to reserves.

There was also a housekeeping item of moving Municipal Street Aid into the right category.

• Treasurer Boteler reported that South Bethany received a clean audit for the 2017 fiscal year. That means the Town has accurately presented its financial standing. Although the auditor did not present the findings directly to the council, the audit will be posted online, Town staff said.

Currently, the Town has received about 76 percent of expected revenue and paid out about 59 percent of the budgeted expenses.

• South Bethany is unique among many local towns in that council members may participate in meetings via remote access, which in South Bethany’s case means participating via speakerphone. The council upgraded the details of that option by passing Ordinance 190-17. Instead of the old “three strikes” rule, council members now cannot use remote access for more than 20 percent of scheduled meetings annually. The rule now extends to all committee and commission members.

Saxton sponsored the ordinance as a means to encourage remote access use, over absences. Council members may not use remote access for two consecutive meetings.

Mayor Pat Voveris opposed the 6-1 vote. Although she joked about being a dinosaur who hasn’t missed a meeting in seven years, she said she didn’t support a rule that allows for less in-person participation. In addition to excused absences, she said the allowance equals “35 percent of the time somebody doesn’t have to attend.”

South Bethany’s next regular council meeting will be Friday, Dec. 8, at 2 p.m.