Bethany Beach formally closes Maryland Avenue Extension

Having heard from the community in recent weeks their positions on both sides of the question of whether to close the “paper street” called Maryland Avenue Extended or the Maryland Avenue Extension as a site for relocation of the historic Dinker Cottage, the Bethany Beach Town Council on March 18 voted 5-0 to make the closure official.

That process mirrored the process used years ago to close the northern section of that “road” ahead of making it part of the future “Central Park.”

Fresh on the heels of another public hearing just prior to the council session, the council emphasized that the public record had been closed and no further comments could be permitted, outside their own discussion.

The hearing and other comments from the public had led to a few minor changes to the proposed resolution to officially close the street to vehicular traffic. Those changes included that the Town, at its discretion, would continue to allow traffic access to an existing paved/gravel area that has been used as a cut-through between Hollywood and Parkwood streets, which would be preserved in that graveled/paved state.

The revised ordinance also allows that the public’s access to some open portions of the property will be preserved, aiming to address complaints from neighbors that the Town-owned and –maintained property had long been used a sort of communal back yard and should, in their view, be kept solely as open space. (Five neighbors on March 10 filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the proposed closure and cottage relocation — see story on Page 1.)

Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman stated that, after the hearings and other public discussion of the issue, she had been surprised at the “number of people who were unaware that the Town owned that property and that they could use that property. By locating the cottage there, it is a sign to everyone that it is Town-owned property and, yes, you can come and use it.

“The closure is in the best interests of the town,” she said, “and this will let everybody in town know it is their property and they’re able to use it.”

Councilman Chuck Peterson said he felt the closure for placement of the cottage as a museum was “probably the best use of the land. Vice-Mayor Killmer noted that the Town had also established a precedent for moving historic homes for museum-type uses when it moved and restored the former Addy cottage to become part of the Bethany Beach Nature Center.

With Councilmen Brue Frye and Jerry Morris absent, the council’s 5-0 vote to officially close the street was the next step in the Dinker Cottage museum project, pending the outcome of the lawsuit by the neighbors.

Also on March 18:

• The council voted 5-0 to remove hotels, motels, boarding houses and tourist homes as permitted uses in the C-1 Commercial Zoning District, citing the change of zoning in recent years for the only such uses that had been in existence — the Blue Surf Motel and Bethany Arms Motel. Both properties were re-zoned into the new CL-1 Commercial Lodging district.

• The council voted 5-0 to add “freeboard” to Footnote (p) of the Town’s Table of Dimensional Requirements, after having approved in 2015 an 18-inch mandatory freeboard (increased building start height, to reduce flooding impacts) for all new construction and substantial improvements to existing structures.

• The council also voted 5-0 to amend Section 425-85 (Dimensional Exceptions Sections) (B) and Subsection (D-1) of the Zoning Code, pertaining to bay and bow windows and residential front steps, per changes proposed and approved by the Planning Commission after a public hearing in February.

The revision dictates that chimney eaves, and bay and bow windows may project out a maximum of 2 feet from a structure and that bay and bow widows are limited in size to 10 linear feet. It also revises encroachment limits for front steps and landings, and dictates that they must fall within a 10-by-10-foot area.

• Town Manager Cliff Graviet reported that Town staff were working on bid documents for construction of a storage complex for the Town’s property in unincorporated Frankford/Clarksville and should soon be ready to open the project for bidding.

He also reported that the contractor who will be refinishing the Town’s water standpipe would be beginning that work in the next week or two, with three to four weeks of work anticipated, and hopes of being done before Memorial Day. He said they had also scrapped the notion of using a pole barn for the water plant’s mineral pond and would instead be putting a new pond in roughly the same location as it was before the site was re-developed to put in the new water tower.

• The council voted 5-0 to appoint William E. Baxter to the Town’s Audit Committee, replacing the late Mike Horne. Chairman Pat Shepley noted that Baxter had already attended a committee meeting and, as the Town’s annual outside audit is pending, would be an important addition to its membership.

Shepley also reported that the internal auditing process in the last fiscal year had specifically focused on payroll procedures, as well as the process for voiding parking tickets. For the coming fiscal year, he said, they would include a statistical review of a report from the parking department manager on the numbers of tickets written and avoided, as well as a review of new municipal software. The committee also recommended the Town continue to use the TGM Group for the external audit. The committee will meet again in May, after the external audit field work is done.

• The council voted 5-0 to appoint retired municipal attorney Tempe Steen, whose family also operates the town’s beach rental concession, to the Charter & Ordinance Review Committee (CORC). Hardiman, who had asked as the committee’s chairperson that Steen be added to its membership, said she felt Steen would be “a very valuable addition to the committee.”

• The council voted 5-0 to approve awarding beach and boardwalk exercise class concessions to providers for another season of bootcamp classes, yoga on the beach, yoga on the bandstand and Pilates, adding barre classes for 2016.

• Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee (CHAC) Chairwoman Carol Olmstead reported that the committee had recently discussed their February cultural evening and its presentation on Fort Miles, which was so heavily attended that they needed to bring in extra chairs.

On April 19, she said, Saul Brody, an expert in American occupational folk song, will bring his guitar and harmonica to town hall and discuss music’s role over the years in the lives of workers. A planned program on the First State National Historical Park, which was approved three years ago, will be aimed for the fall, due to scheduling issues involving U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, who championed the park’s creation.

Committee members, she reported, had also recently attended the Small Museum Association Conference in Ocean City and visited the historic Dinker Cottage for a tour led by former owner Christina Edgar.

• Killmer reported that the Non-Residential Design Review Committee had unanimously approved signage applications from Atlantic Shoals Surf Shop at 113 Garfield Parkway, which is re-using the existing sign box for the former Sandy Toz/Sandy Pawz but with external illumination; and from Patterson Schwartz Real Estate for new vinyl decal signs at the bottom of its storefront windows and on its recessed front door.

• The council heard appeals from neighbors of the Town’s property in unincorporated Frankford/Clarksville that was proposed to include a new shooting range for the Bethany Beach Police Department’s use, under an application before the Sussex County Board of Adjustments. (That application was denied on March 21 — see story on Page 1 — with the County BoA having heard from many of those residents about their opposition to the proposal.)

Resident Jane Richards said that, while she supported the Second Amendment and law-enforcement, she opposed the shooting range location and felt it would lower the property values of the property’s neighbors, so she had invited the neighbors to speak at the council meeting “as a goodwill gesture.”

Speakers cited their concerns and encouraged the council to withdraw the application, while Steen said she had had some difficulty finding in Town documents the purchase price of the property or the council’s approval to apply for the special-use exception needed from the County. She urged the council to publish more information on Town actions, such as the figures for grants to the fire company and library that were made March 18, and to add live online streaming of council workshops, at which much of the council’s discussion of issues takes place.

• Peterson reported that, for the current fiscal year, through the end of February (92 percent of the fiscal year), the Town had received 101 percent of budgeted revenue and had spent 89 percent of budgeted expenses, with revenue having already exceeded the budgeted expenses for the fiscal year.