Letters - August 18, 2006

Current Bethany council is doing a fine job

This is a message to Bethany Beach property owners. Please vote Sept. 9 to continue good government in the town by retaining the four council members who are up for reelection. The current Bethany Beach Town Council is doing a great job of taking care of the town’s business.

I heartily agree with Mr. Don Doyle’s letter in this paper last week that eloquently reviewed the Council’s accomplishments and pointed out the true facts behind the referendum petition that is circulating pertaining to building standards. The beautiful landscaping, the new bandstand, additional shuttle, fiscal responsibility, enforceable standards on contractors and developers, etc., are just a few of the council achievements.

The referendum petition is deceiving in that the council action sought to be referred to the people for vote will not lead to any overdevelopment or “McMansions” as been charged, but will in fact make our skyline more pleasing.

We are fortunate to have a hard-working town council where each member puts in long hours, without pay, in workshops and committee meetings, studying and listening to residents. It is a thankless job and it takes a truly dedicated person to be successful at it. Each of the council members up for reelection — Harry Steele, Tony McClenny, Jerry Dorfman, and Lew Kilmer — deserve to be reelected. Vote that they will retain their seats.

In particular, I would single out my good friend and neighbor, Councilman Jerry Dorfman, and strongly recommend that you vote for him. He was selected by the council 16 months ago to fill a vacancy on the council. He was not a novice at that time, since he has been working on various town committees and task forces for all of the seven years he has been a full-time resident of our town.

Here are some of the committees and task forces he has been on: Planning Commission, Charter and Ordnance committee, Traffic and Parking Committee (Chairman), Trolley Committee, Transportation Working Group, Bethany Beach Pedestrian Committee Steering Committee, and the Board of Elections.

That makes him fully qualified and I know for a fact that he puts in long hours taking care of the town’s business. He is always available to talk to constituents see to their needs and complaints.

As a property owner in Bethany Beach for over 30 years and a full-time resident for seven, I am proud of my town and the Town Council that governs us — best I have ever seen.

Dowell H. Anders
Bethany Beach

Height limits not the only issue in Bethany

It is with interest, confusion, and a few grins that I read about this roof-height issue that is up for a referendum vote next month.

In my opinion, the proponents of rescinding the roof-height increase are promoting a valid cause. In recent years, far too many of the now-ubiquitous mini-motels that squeeze lot-line setbacks and impede their neighbors’ sunlight and breezes have been allowed to be built.

Whether the tabled issue is roof height, roof pitch, third-floor volume, or some other esoteric calculation, the end result is larger, more invasive structures being forced on the town’s architectural and community esthetic. All one has to do is take a stroll down any one of the town’s streets to get a feeling of being closed in and visually suffocated by the height and mass of these structures. This is the beach. It is supposed to be a place to relax, not a duplicate of the big city lifestyle most of us have gladly left behind.

I think some observers may choose not to get involved by adopting a “What do I care about roof height?” attitude. Well, the ramifications of increased roof height, interior volume and short lot-line setbacks are already evident.

It doesn’t take much thought to understand why developers and self-styled real estate speculators want to build larger structures on small lots. Obviously, the builders want to be able to charge more for constructing a larger structure, while the speculators/owners want to maximize potential rental income and subsequent resale.

In order to maximize rental income from such monstrous structures, many are rented to multiple families at the same time during the peak rental season. This means that one of these properties might be responsible for bringing up to four vehicles (usually SUVs) and 12 to 16 occupants to Bethany Beach.

The impact of three or four more vehicles with six or eight more drivers is already quite evident from a quick look at our traffic congestion and parking frustration.

On a related note — have the building permit fees, property taxes, and parking tickets generated by these structures and their occupants come anywhere close to covering the additional costs incurred by town management and our police, fire and public works departments for the services these people require and demand?

On the surface, those additional occupants may seem attractive to local business owners, but this is actually a “Catch 22.”

Most local businesses have a hard enough time finding enough competent help to handle their existing customers. How will they be able to efficiently and profitably serve more customers? It is the “economies of scale” argument in reverse: Without a plan (and the ability) to handle additional business, efficiency and sales actually decrease due to customer dissatisfaction brought about by poor service.

In essence, the frenzied, greed-driven development that has been allowed here has destroyed the very heart of what Bethany Beach was intended to be, what it was to many of us in years past, and what it could have been with thoughtful and responsible upgrades and improvements.

I have read some submitted letters accusing those who are against the roof height increase as being against “progress.” Is progress now being defined as gridlock traffic congestion, inability to find a place to spread your towel on the beach, or having to wait an hour or more to eat at a local restaurant?

This roof-height issue is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Bethany Beach residents and property owners having a democratic say in how the town is managed, how it appears esthetically, and even how easy it is to get around when seasonal visitors are here.

There is much more at stake here than trying to maximize rental income or building the largest house on the block. We need to stop this detrimental trend now and pursue a course of intelligently managed progress based on community standards, not based purely on greed.

Chris Carter
Bethany Beach

Special thanks to Bethany police chief

On Friday, Aug. 4, at 10:30 a.m., it was brought to my attention that one of my most faithful [St. Ann’s] bazaar volunteers, Dan Okolita, had not been seen since Thursday evening.

When checking with neighbors and being told Dan’s car was in the driveway, it was obvious that something was very wrong. After many telephone calls and referrals to other numbers, Bethany Beach Police Chief Michael Redmon appeared at St. Ann’s and was very concerned. He took all the information from me and said he was going himself to Dan’s home in Murray’s Haven.

Finding the outside doors locked, he borrowed a ladder and entered the house through an open upstairs window, where be discovered Dan had passed away. Chief Redmon made instant contact with me and decided, since I knew Dan’s adult children very well, that it would be better for me to call them, which I did.

I put them in touch with Chief Redmon, who gave them the particulars concerning their father’s death.

This was a very sad day for the St. Ann’s community and especially for Dan’s children.

I was impressed during the whole process with the sensitivity, compassion and calmness displayed by Chief Redman. He said this was part of his job, but it is never easy handling a situation like this. Thank you, Mike Redmon.

Pat Duchesne
South Bethany

County land use plan is not realistic

The Sussex County Comprehensive Land Use Plan isn’t a plan at all. It is a wish — actually a resolution, like the ones we make on New Year’s Eve.

The Land Use Plan doesn’t work because it isn’t backed up by law and, like most of our New Year’s Eve resolutions, it’s just wishful thinking.

And at an August Council hearing (when council approved the mammoth Isaacs Glen subdivision) Councilman Dale Dukes (D-1) stated that the 2007 Land Use Plan will be exactly like the 2002 plan except for possible protection of well-head recharge areas.

We have Mrs. Mable Granke and other good people to thank for the council’s attention to well-head recharge areas. Mable and others have worked on this for many years and have finally gotten Mr. Dukes’ attention. Congratulations!

But I ask you, if the 2007 plan is to be the same as the 2002 plan, why bother with charades at taxpayer expense? Why pay to hire expensive planners? They will only do what their employer, the council, wants anyway.

Why have the so-called “land use update hearings”? Council doesn’t take our testimony seriously and our reports go into File 13.

Why re-write the plan in order to please the state Office of Planning Coordination? The state will probably let the county get away with an insincere effort again anyway.

So maybe they should save the taxpayer money and just copy the old plan and send it in. It won’t matter in the scheme of things anyway. Mr. Dukes’ council will see to that.

Joan Deaver
Rehoboth Beach

Bethany council has many issues to consider

Once again, Coastal Point reporter Patricia Titus has done an excellent job reporting the facts about the Bethany Beach Town Council activities. Her two articles in the Aug. 11 issue of Coastal Point captured exactly what transpired at the Council’s hearing and meeting on Aug. 7. Some big-city newspaper reporters could learn a lot from Ms. Titus’ objectivity and professionalism.

The two meetings described in the articles demonstrate why we are losing confidence in the fairness and judgment of the Council in its procedures, decision-making and regard for public opinion. The manner in which the issue of height allowances in the new design guidelines for commercial buildings was decided is a prime example.

The most controversial question was whether or not a new building height allowance increase from 31 to 35 feet would require that any structural elements over 24 feet would have to be set back 8 feet from the front of the wall of the building. The Council decided that an 8-foot setback would not be required, contrary to the unanimous recommendation of the town’s independent Planning Commission, but rather, would merely be “highly encouraged.”

In our opinion, the process established and followed by the Council in this matter was seriously flawed from the start in several respects. The Council initially bypassed the established Planning Commission and created a separate “Architectural Guideline Development Committee” to develop new commercial building guidelines, even though a traditional role and expertise of the independent Planning Commission was to do exactly that, with input from all interested parties.

Furthermore, someone — presumably the mayor — appointed a local developer and another businessman to the new committee, one or both as voting members, even though the individuals had direct personal interests in the outcome. That fact should have constituted a disqualifying voting conflict of interest for them. That’s not to say that they couldn’t have provided expert input into the process, but without voting.

Moreover, Vice-Mayor Carol Olmstead and Council Member Lew Kilmer were appointed as voting chairwoman and member of the AGD Committee, respectively, even though each would later be expected to vote objectively on any committee recommendation as council members. The town manager was also appointed to serve on this committee.

This separate committee eventually recommended a much weaker standard for the 8-foot setbacks, namely, that they would only be “encouraged,” a standard that could be easily circumvented by developers and builders.

The Council ignored the Planning Commission’s unanimous recommendation that the setbacks be required and voted unanimously (with Member Wayne Fuller absent) for the weaker AGD Committee recommendation, with a slight modification. The Council decided that the setbacks would be “highly encouraged.” Whether that small change will make any difference remains to be seen.

Furthermore, Council Members Olmstead and Kilmer did not recuse themselves in voting in favor of something their committee had developed and they had already voted for.

Here are two other thoughts about the meetings on Aug. 7, the first critical, the second complimentary. First, the Council continued an apparent practice of providing for public comment immediately before deciding the matter involved, without providing even the appearance of taking sufficient time for full and fair consideration of or deliberation on the views expressed before voting. In this case, the Council provided an opportunity for comment on the final AGD Committee recommendations at a 1 p.m. meeting, and then immediately moved to decide the matter at the 2 p.m. meeting.

Second, unlike some previous votes (the Streetscape comes to mind), and to their credit, Council members this time explained their views about the setback issue and their reasons before voting. They should be complimented for that.

Developers, builders and other business interests won a big victory on this issue. Make no mistake about it — a straight-up, flat-front 35-foot building, without the setback requirement, allows for both second- and third-floor condominiums and apartments in the commercial buildings along our main street, Garfield Parkway.

One developer’s claim that the setback would reduce upper-story space for commercial uses, such as the display of merchandise, is not persuasive. You’re not going to find many shoppers who will climb to a third floor for beachwear, jewelry or hermit crabs. As our mothers used to say: “Do they think I was born yesterday?” We should note that currently residential use is prohibited on the first floor of commercial buildings, except by special exception.

While obviously we do not agree with the outcome, our main criticism is with the manner in which this Council conducts its business on this and other issues. We are not questioning their integrity. They all seem to be hardworking volunteers trying to do a conscientious job on some admittedly complex issues. However, we do question their fairness, judgment and regard for public opinion.

The manner in which the commercial building guidelines were developed creates a reasonable impression that this was an orchestrated plan to control the process and outcome. In addition, the effect of the new guidelines, to allow for the development of condos and apartments on at least the second and third floors of commercial buildings, is contrary to strong public opposition, expressed most recently in the 2005 resident opinion survey, to bigger buildings and high-density development, such as condos and apartment buildings.

As far as public opinion is concerned, by holding public hearings immediately prior to voting, the Council has given the impression that finding out what the public wants is an afterthought or pro forma exercise, and that their minds have already been made up and decisions made beforehand. Fully accurate or not, that is an unfortunate impression to give voters.

Again, we appreciate Patricia Titus’ excellent reporting on Council activities. With other voters, we are looking forward to Coastal Point’s traditional Q&A exchanges with the candidates for the Council positions contested this year. All voters should take the necessary time to consider carefully the responses of the candidates on the issues raised in deciding who will best represent their interests in our community.

Jerry and Rosemary Hardiman
Bethany Beach

Frederick thankful for time with town

I want to thank you and your staff for the excellent coverage you have given Fenwick Island over the past five years. Your reporters have provided an accurate assessment of the Town Council’s actions and kept our constituents very well informed. I am proud of what we have accomplished and you have reported.

We have installed new accounting software, a new computer system, a new telephone system and implemented numerous improvements to the town’s operations. The auditor has given us a completely clean record the last three years, our reserves are now in line with the auditor’s recommendations; cost containment has resulted in three years of budget surpluses.

We contracted a new police chief, financial advisor and lifeguard captain. We have modified town policy to share healthcare insurance increases with employees, implemented a new pension plan, and reduced staff turnover dramatically. We obtained additional proposals for insurance coverage, which yielded better service, and improved coverage.

We reinstated the quarterly newsletter, and instituted the monthly Workshop Without Agenda to facilitate communications with our residents. We were among the first municipalities in Delaware to complete the National Incident Management System emergency planning activities.

We expanded lifeguard protection to all Fenwick Island beaches and received state and county grants to cover 40 percent of our total expenses. We expanded the beach patrol that has been very successful in both local and national competitions. We built and dedicated the town park and arranged for some very enjoyable town activities. We renovated and planted the median strip on our main street, completely changing the appearance of Fenwick Island.

Thanks to our congressional delegation and DNREC, we rebuilt the best beach in Delmarva with federal and state funds. I am proudest of our placing benches on each street-end so all our residents can sit and enjoy the results. In addition to the millions spent on the new beach, we have obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding and project financing from Sussex County and federal agencies.

I am sure your files are filled with even more examples of the progress in Fenwick Island. None of this would be possible without the support of the entire council and town staff. Our overriding objective has been to make Fenwick Island more of a home town than a summer resort. I think we have been successful.

I sincerely thank my colleagues on town council, our town staff and most importantly, all of our residents for giving me the opportunity to serve as your mayor. I love Fenwick Island and am committed to public service. Thank you for allowing me to combine the two.

Peter G. Frederick, Former Mayor
Fenwick Island

Council member gives his side on issues

Ms. [Lois] Lippsett said she presented the ordinance to amend [Bethany Beach town code] section 245-2-2 to two lawyers and a builder. She said they laughed. Her letter gives the impression that this Council does not know what it is doing.

Fact: this ordinance was designed by Planning, passed by Planning (after Steve Wade made such a motion) and given to our town attorney, who in turn wrote the ordinance. We, the Council passed the following:

Synopsis: This ordinance amends the definition of “Height, Building or Structure” and the “Table of Dimensional Requirements” to: (1) allow any residential structure i1 the R-1 zoning district with a roof pitch of at least 7/12 for at least 60% of the roof area to have a Maximum Height of 35 feet measured from grade of the lot, provided that under no circumstances shall such a structure contain more than three floors of HV AC-controlled living space; and (2) make a “housekeeping” amendment to the “Table of Dimensional Requirements” to reflect the owner’s option to have the height of a building or structure to be measured from the elevation of the base flood elevation to the highest point of such building or structured if located in a flood zone regulated by the Town Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance and having a roof pitch throughout of not less than 5/12.

Section 1. Amend the definition of “Height, Building or Structure” in Section 245-2-2 (Definitions and Word Usage) by inserting the following as a new last sentence to such definition:

Additionally, whenever a residential structure in R-1 has a minimum 7/12 roof pitch for at least 60% of the roof area, that structure may have a Maximum Height of 35 feet measured from the grade of the lot; (my emphasis) provided however, under no circumstances shall such structure contain more than three (3) floors of HVAC-controlled living space. Section 2. Amend the “Table of Dimensional Requirements” by:

(a) insert (p) after “Maximum Height,” ....such footnote to read as follows: (P) Any structure located in the flood zone located in a flood zone regulated by the Town Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance, the roof of which has roof pitch throughout of not less than 5/12, may, at the option of the owner therefore, have its height measured from the elevation of the base flood elevation to the highest point of such building or structure rather from grade.

(b) insert (p) after the number “31”....

(q) Any residential structure in the R-1 zoning district which has a minimum roof pitch on not less than 7/12 for at least 60% of the roof area may have Maximum Height of 35 feet measured from grade; provided however, under no circumstances shall such structure contain more than three (3) floors of HVAC controlled living space.

She also states that Mr. Costello presented a “white paper.” No one from Council, the chair of Planning, or the Town Manager’s office, are aware of such a paper. He did present a request for a referendum, not a “white paper,” and ask that we reconsider our vote to approve 245-2-2. We denied that request.

I have repeated myself a number of times. What we passed will not — will not — allow larger homes than was previously allowed. I do not care how often people say otherwise, we have maintained our integrity.

Harold Steele
Bethany Beach Town Council

Community unites behind opposition
Editor’s note: The following letter, dated Aug. 7, was addressed to Millville Town Council members and forwarded to the Coastal Point for publication.

We are the residents of Townsend Acres along Route 17 which is considered “unincorporated Clarksville.” There are 18 lots in our development and currently 10 families who call Townsend Acres home.

We’ve purchased our homes in Townsend Acres for various reasons. For some, it was to escape the crime and crowds of city life, for others a warm retreat in which to retire and, for several of us, a safe, welcoming environment to raise children.

Regardless of our reasons for choosing Townsend Acres in which to live, we share a common goal: to maintain the safety, peace and quiet and integrity of our development we all treasure and value deeply.

On Thursday, Aug. 3, 2006, the town of Millville hosted a workshop for the proposed Home Depot on Mr. Banks’ property alongside our development. We feel the representatives from Home Depot did a poor job answering our questions and addressing our concerns. After much thought and consideration, the residents whose names appear on this letter have decided to work together in protest of Home Depot moving beside our development.

During that meeting Mayor Willey suggested we form a home owner’s association and create a list of our concerns regarding the Home Depot to be presented to the Millville Town Council. While we’ve decided against an official association for many reasons, we have chosen instead to unite as one group of who we are Townsend Acres residents.

Additionally, we have no list for changes to the proposed Home Depot. Contrary to that, we’ve created a list of the top 10 reasons why we don’t want Home Depot moving beside our development at all. Our reasons include the following:

• The Home Depot would jeopardize the integrity of Townsend Acres as a safe, family-oriented, residential development.

• Placing the Home Depot beside our development would undoubtedly depreciate our property value.

• There is inadequate space to suit the needs of the adjacent community.

• There is inadequate parking proposed as required by the county.

• Home Depot moving beside an already existing residential development contradicts the Home Depot’s own Corporate Governance.

• The safety of our Townsend Acres residents, children and travelers along Route 17 would be jeopardized.

• Deliveries to and from the Home Depot pose hazardous and inconvenient conditions for Townsend Acres residents and our neighbors.

• There would be noise pollution affecting our development from traffic, deliveries, their intercom system, their building and moving equipment.

• Home Depot’s trash invading our development.

• Home Depot’s building and parking lot lights.

We feel that the proposed Home Depot does not belong beside our Townsend Acres Residential Community at all. It would invade our right to privacy, peace and quiet and the quality of life we’ve become accustomed to and have the right to enjoy.

We feel very strongly about our position and will continue to oppose the proposed project. Currently, we’ve been in contact with numerous agencies, attorneys and political representatives throughout the state who have agreed to hear our concerns.

We will be forwarding copies of this letter to the following: Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, Delaware Department of Transportation, Home Depot corporate headquarters, Sussex County Council, Sussex County Planning and Zoning, Delaware State News, The News Journal, Sussex Post, The Cape Gazette, The Wave and The Coastal Point.

The decision Millville Town Council makes regarding the proposed Home Depot will affect many lives. We feel that your votes against Home Depot’s application will have a positive affect not only on Townsend Acres current residents, but generations to come.

Townsend Acres residents are requesting that Millville Town Council make this a matter of public record. We thank you in advance for your time and consideration in this very serious matter and look forward to your response.

Townsend Acres Residents
Whitney Price
Alecia Budesheim
Chris Budesheim
Kim Roseberry
Denise Limmer
Lauren Mitchell
Frank Limmer
Brian Aisquith
Janice Aisquith
Bruce Sheppard
Charlotte Bryant
Shirley Spangler
Ruth Whaley
Paula Victri

More from resident against Home Depot

Attached is a letter to the Millville Town Council which was read at their Aug. 8, 2006, monthly meeting and submitted officially on Friday, Aug. 11, 2006, regarding the proposed Home Depot on Route 17 beside Townsend Acres Residential Community.

Townsend Acres residents do not feel a Home Depot should be located on this property. In fact, it contradicts Home Depot’s own Corporate Governance, “We understand our responsibility to behave ethically, to understand the impact we have on people and communities...” Clearly, based on their Aug. 3 workshop and the evasive and condescending manner in which they responded to our questions, Home Depot does not respect or value Townsend Acres residents or community.

In addition, the Town of Millville defends its position for rezoning this small piece of property Commercial based on its Residential Planned Community Conditional Uses. However, under Section 8 — Conditions, it’s written, “In approving RPC Conditional Use the Town Council may impose conditions to such approval to ensure that development of the RPC is in accordance with the goals of the Comprehensive Plan and protection of values and uses of neighboring properties.” Meaning, any structure built there for commercial use is for the benefit of the planned community. Such as seen in Bear Trap, Sea Colony or Bayville. Not a huge, mega-chain store like Home Depot.

I urge your paper to continue to responsibly and accurately investigate and report its findings. Feel free to publish our letter to the Millville Town Council, as our group will continue to pursue this matter diligently. If you would like to contact any of our residents for further comment, do not hesitate to contact me and I will gladly make arrangements.

Townsend Acres residents are working collectively to stop this project for the reasons noted on the attached letter and appreciate your publication’s interest in our cause.

Whitney Price
Townsend Acres