Beaches to re-open to Delawareans on May 22

Beaches state wide will re-open at 5 p.m. on May 22 to Delaware residents and out-of-state residents who have been quarantined in Delaware for at least 14 days. As of May 15, the Town of Bethany Beach re-opened its beach and boardwalk for walking and exercise only. The Town will begin lifeguard season on May 23 at 9 a.m., and will control crowding on the beach and boardwalk using parking limitations.

The Bethany Beach Town Council on Friday, May 15, unanimously approved a plan for the re-opening of the Town’s beaches and boardwalk, as well as modification to parking regulations for the C-1 commercial district downtown, leading into a re-opening of beaches statewide on May 22, per Gov. John Carney’s most recent modification of his state-of-emergency declaration.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet made three recommendations to the council that were subsequently adopted on unanimous votes:

(1) Bethany Beach will fully re-open its beaches and boardwalk to the public at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 22. Its lifeguard stands will be fully staffed, with guards on duty, beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 23, officially marking the start of the lifeguard season for the summer of 2020. Graviet said the Town may consider expanding the guarded section of beach this summer, if needed to encourage appropriate distancing.

(Note: Out-of-state residents who come into Delaware are still required to self-isolate on their Delaware property for 14 days, or for the length of their time in the state, whichever is less. Once those out-of-state residents have completed the 14-day quarantine, per Carney's May 14 declaration regarding re-opening of beaches statewide, then and only then are they permitted to use the beaches.)

(2) A two-hour parking limit will be established in the C-1 downtown commercial district, with 50 to 60 free 15-minute parking spaces to be set aside in that area for customers of restaurants the C-1 district to park for purposes of picking up carry-out orders. The parking limits will be enforced by Town parking enforcement staff.

(3) The pay-to-park spaces on Atlantic Avenue, as well as on the beachfront street ends and beach parking lots, will be converted temporarily to resident-only spaces, requiring a resident/property-owner parking pass from the Town to park there. (Non-residents will be able to park in a limited number of two-hours spaces in the central downtown C-1 area.) Property owners who are not full-time Delaware residents will need only their Town-issued residential parking permit to use those newly-restricted residential spaces, regardless of what state has issued their vehicles license plate.

Business permit parking locations will remain as they have been in the past, but business parking permit fees will be waived by the Town.

Additionally, Vice-Mayor Rosemary Hardiman suggested that the council direct Town staff to monitor the number of people on the beach and boardwalk, and in the C-1 commercial area, and make official Graviet’s authority to make changes to the parking regulations accordingly, on as-needed basis. Graviet would report to the council and to the public regarding any such changes, and the council would not meet to approve them, leaving those decisions in Graviet’s hands.

Graviet said the town shuttle will not be running, nor out-of-town shuttles permitted, during this initial re-opening period.

The effort to control the number of people on the beach and boardwalk are part of the requirements of municipalities issued in Carney’s re-opening of the beaches statewide.

All four measures were approved unanimously by the council on Friday.

Graviet fielded a number of questions and comments during the streaming video meeting on the Zoom platform on May 15, several of which came from business owners complaining about the proposed parking restrictions. Graviet emphasized that businesses have not fully reopened and thus the parking restrictions will have less impact than they would were all businesses fully reopened.

Council members emphasized a number of competing interests involved in making their decisions, including the safety and health of the town’s residents, visitors and tourists, as well as the state of the small-business community.

Graviet said the Town will be posting signage to indicate to motorists exactly where they may park and for how long, but he rejected the notion of temporarily allowing dogs on the beach and boardwalk, citing the need to create signage to do so and then needing just a few days later to once again prohibit dogs on the beach and boardwalk. The Town normally prohibits dogs on the beach and boardwalk beginning on May 15 each year.

A number of questions asked of Graviet were about issues he said he could not address, including the potential end of a statewide ban on short-term rentals and of the 14-day quarantine required of non-Delaware residents coming into the state. Those issues, he said, were in the hands of the governor, who did not address with coastal mayors and town managers any specific time target for removing the bans, only referring to the beginning of Phase 1 of re-opening based on a number of factors.

Graviet said he anticipated that might be June 1, which Carney has stated is his target for Phase 1, but the governor has also repeatedly referenced a number of fluid trends as markers for when Phase 1 could begin.

We will have additional information on this story for our May 22 issue of the Coastal Point, online and on newsstands on May 21.