Bethany preparing for new museum, docent program

Bethany Beach’s history will be getting some attention in the coming summer season, as the Town’s Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee (CHAC) prepares for the opening of the historical Dinker Cottage as a museum, which is anticipated to happen in the coming months.

At the Jan. 20 town council meeting, CHAC Chairwoman Carol Olmstead reported that the committee had most recently reviewed an updated brochure for the Heritage Trail — a self-guided walking tour of historical locations in the town — and was expecting the next edition to include the Dinker Cottage, once it is moved to its new location on the former Maryland Avenue Extended.

At the same meeting, Town Manager Cliff Graviet’s report to the council noted that progress had been slow on the relocation, with the Town having to deal with the county approval and permitting processes for the sewer line at the cottage’s new location, which had needed to be moved. Graviet reported that the sewer line is now done, with a final inspection having taken place on Jan. 18 and finding no issues with the installation.

Mayor Jack Gordon reported that plans were to grade the property as soon as soil conditions were dry enough and that, depending on weather and ground conditions, the Town expects to see the structure-moving contractor on-site within three to four weeks.

“I think we’re getting pretty close now,” Gordon said.

With that milestone on the near horizon, Olmstead said CHAC is now seeking volunteers to serve as docents in the museum. She noted that the Town had had a docent program some years ago that was offered only on weekends.

“We didn’t find that during summer people were choosing to come off the beach and go to the museum instead,” she acknowledged. “As we look forward to the Dinker Cottage being moved” in the next few months, “docents will be a central part of that plan,” she said, adding that the committee hopes to have the docent program ready to go when the Dinker Cottage opens as a museum.

With the Dinker Cottage set to be added to the Heritage Trail, Olmstead also reported that the bronze markers placed at historical locations identified in the brochure are set to be re-installed on new 3.5-foot-tall posts.

She said that when the markers were originally installed, eight to 10 years ago, they had been placed on posts much closer to the ground that had proven to make it difficult for visitors to read the markers themselves. The new, taller posts are expected to help make them more accessible for those seeking the historical information and walking along the trail.

Olmstead said the committee also recently voted to expand its criteria for structures that are considered historical within the town. She said they had discovered that the National Park Service identifies structures that are 50 years old or older that have not been significantly altered as eligible to be considered historical places.

“We decided when we first started marking these houses that they had to be built before 1930,” she explained. Now, the committee will consider homes built up until 1949 as historical, as long as they have not been significantly altered and continue to represent the early cottages of Bethany Beach.

Finally, Olmstead announced that the committee is seeking six or seven families to play host to visitors from France as the Town prepares to celebrate Periers Day on July 27. The annual event honors the “twinning” of the towns of Bethany Beach and Periers, France, and has in recent years included French- and World War II-themed entertainment.

Olmstead said they are expecting about a dozen visitors from France for three or four days starting around July 22 and are seeking about a half-dozen local families to host them. The host families should be able to speak French, she said, though most of the visitors will likely speak at least some English. She noted that Gordon and his wife, Joan, were the first family to volunteer as hosts this year. Anyone interested in serving as a host should contact Olmstead or Town Hall.

Projects, future expenses under review

The relocation of the Dinker Cottage isn’t the only project the Town has under way or on the horizon. Graviet’s report at the Jan. 20 meeting also noted that work is under way on the new mineral pond at the Town’s water plant.

He noted that some of the existing trees that have recently been put on the property to serve as a buffer for neighbors will have to be removed, but he said new plantings will be put in after the pond and work at the water plant are done.

“There will be some good landscaping going in that will make it very attractive for you,” Gordon told the water plant’s neighbors.

Graviet’s report also included an update on the Town’s Blackwater property near Clarksville, stating that the site plan for the new steel building is being prepared and submitted to DelDOT for its approval for the entry off the road, as well as to the Conservation District for drainage approval.

“Nothing is simple and quick,” Gordon said in giving the report, adding that the Town was “keeping its fingers crossed” that it can get started soon on the storage facility for its trolleys and more. A concrete pad is to be laid as soon as possible, with the steel to be delivered late in February.

With a number of other pending projects for the Town, Graviet also asked the council in his report to prepare to decide how and when to fund each of them.

He reported having received a rendering of improvements planned for Atlantic Avenue from contractor Kercher Engineering and said that it appeared that doing the southern portion first would create fewer problems and immediately serve the larger populations of people coming downtown from the south end of town.

Graviet asked if the council felt the Town should proceed with the plans. If so, he said, the staff would present funding options for discussion at a future meeting.

Among the projects currently planned is “Central Park,” with Graviet noting that about $100,000 in funding is expected to be needed to develop the plans so that they are ready for bid and/or in-house construction. He said he had asked design firm Oasis not to include the planned pergola or pavilion in the initial plans, in an effort to reduce initial costs, but that the Town could decide later on the design and location for those elements.

“We will try to do as much as we can with the Town maintenance staff,” Gordon reported on Graviet’s behalf, noting that the in-house effort would help make the project less expensive than it would otherwise be. Currently, the Public Works staff is performing its regular off-season cleaning of drainage swales throughout the town, including in the Bethany West area, he noted.

Graviet also warned the council in his report that the staff may ask them to purchase a new trolley in the near future, with staff already working on a service history for the three existing trolleys and their ridership numbers. If the council believes a new trolley is needed, that would be an expense of about $140,000 that would need to be addressed.

Graviet suggested that the council consider the issue and plan to discuss it and other projects, including the Atlantic Avenue project, at a February workshop.

Asked about a prior suggestion to consider a jeep and tram-trailer system in place of another new trolley, Gordon said that the combination had been determined to be impractical for safety reasons, and that consideration had fallen back on getting another trolley as the existing ones continue to require considerable maintenance and repair.

Councilman Joseph Healy referenced his arrival on the scene in Dewey Beach last fall, shortly after the Jolly Trolley, which was carrying wedding guests at the time, had its tram-trailer overturn on Route 1, injuring a dozen riders. Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer also noted that he believed a jeep/trailer combination would require two Town employees — one to drive and another to man the tram — which would increase operating costs.

Finally, Graviet reported that the Town’s parking department had been looking for ways to make it more operationally efficient and had targeted the labor-intensive residential parking permit process for one immediate change.

Graviet said the Town will now automatically mail out one residential parking permit in an initial mailing to property owners, eliminating a second mailing to about 900 property owners who only request one permit. Those wanting additional permits beyond that permit can contact Town Hall to request them. Previously, the Town sent out information on the parking permits in one mailing before sending permits in a second mailing.

Town getting involved in beach issues with ACT, ASBPA

Councilman Bruce Frye reported on Jan. 20 that a delegation from the Town plans to attend the Feb. 28 American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) gathering in Washington, D.C., in support of federal funding for beach preservation. During the annual meeting, local officials typically meet with the state’s Congressional delegation to request their efforts on behalf of federal funding for local projects.

Healy noted that he had recently attended the first meeting of the East Coast chapter of ASBPA, which covers areas from Delaware to Georgia, and would present a written report to the council for their next regular meeting.

“I found it interesting to know how much help we get from DNREC, as opposed to other states, where so much is done internally with the towns,” he said.

Killmer asked whether the regional group could help with the efforts to obtain funding, and Healy said he wasn’t sure how much clout the newly-formed group has at present.

Noting that the Town is in the process of getting the Association of Coastal Towns group running again, specifically to address such issues, Killmer said of ASBPA’s regional group, “The beauty of that organization is that it is multiple states talking and not just one. If we all get together … that’s a lot of coast, a lot of states with more representatives than we have. It’s another voice and another level of speaking to Congress about funding this.” He also urged coordination with any regional group representing states farther to the north.

First readings held on alcohol code, more

At the Jan. 20 council meeting, the council heard first readings of three proposed ordinances.

The first ordinance would add a section regarding hotels to the existing town code on the sale of alcoholic beverages. Killmer noted that the town previously did not have a hotel that served alcoholic beverages and that he had borrowed sections from state code to ensure the Town’s regulations mirror the state ones.

He pointed out that the Bethany Beach Ocean Suites and 99 Sea Level restaurant are separate entities, and that while the restaurant already serves alcohol, the hotel itself could apply for a license to sell alcoholic beverages — something that currently isn’t addressed in the town code.

The second proposed ordinance would extend permitted construction hours in the town on Saturdays between Oct. 1 and May 30, from 8 a.m. to noon, to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Killmer noted that the off-season typically includes more inclement weather, less daylight and a considerable number of official holidays that limit the construction time available to contractors.

“People are anxious to move in” as soon as they can, he said, “but may not be able to” due to those limiting factors. With a four-hour limit on Saturdays, he said, “Many contractors feel it’s not worth their while to work on Saturday.”

The extended hours on Saturday would only be during the off-season, providing contractors with the ability to work a full eight-hour day, if they so choose.

Finally, Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman introduced for a first reading an ordinance addressing residential outdoor lighting, which she said had stemmed from complaints from some residents that light — especially from security and other outdoor fixtures — from neighbors’ properties was interfering with their enjoyment of their own properties and constituted a nuisance.

The ordinance, which would apply to all residential zones in the town, aims to regulate the light while also ensuring it remains adequate for visibility and safety, she said. As a result, light would be required to be shielded so that it remains within property lines and avoids spilling over onto neighboring properties.

At the property line, light would be limited to 0.2 foot-candles, to be measured by light meter and enforced by the Town’s code enforcement officer. Fines for violations would range between $25 and $100, she said, but, “We hope it would serve to give neighbors something to point to so that if they do have a problem, they can go to their neighbors, rather than having to go to code enforcement.”

Healy asked about whether the restrictions applied to holiday lighting. Hardiman said the Charter & Ordinance Review Committee had decided not to be specific there, as holiday lighting is generally minimal. But, she said, extreme lighting, such as spotlights, would be covered under the ordinance, while still allowing people to put up a typical holiday light display.

She also noted that the ordinance does not apply to businesses, as it doesn’t pertain to the Town’s commercial district, where existing guidelines from the non-residential guidelines already include a higher level of lighting that is permitted for commercial areas.

Each of the three proposed ordinances will have a second reading and possible vote on adoption at the February council meeting.

Also on Jan. 20:

• Resident Larry Fischel offered his compliments to the Town’s road crews for their efforts during “the little dusting” of snow on Jan. 14, calling them “as good as the people in Syracuse in getting roads cleared quickly, and they kept them cleared.”

• Frye reported that the Fourth of July Parade Committee had decided on the theme for the 2017 parade: “Celebrate Bethany Beach.” He said they had picked a design for the fund-raising T-shirt and had also decided to crack down on parade participants throwing items from floats and other vehicles.

“We recognized throwing items from floats is a danger,” he said. “Our policy is to prohibit it, but it hasn’t been well-enforced.”

In the future, he said, the ban will be actively enforced, using expanded communication with parade participants that will include marshals talking to people on individual floats.

• Graviet offered his thanks to the council, volunteers and Town staff for their help with numerous holiday events during the 2016-2017 holiday season.