Bethany council gets a peek at proposed Central Park

Coastal Point • M. Patricia Titus: An aerial perspective of the proposed Central Park project in Bethany Beach, as prepared by Oasis Design Group.Coastal Point • M. Patricia Titus: An aerial perspective of the proposed Central Park project in Bethany Beach, as prepared by Oasis Design Group.A possible future vision for Bethany Beach’s proposed “Central Park” was unveiled last week, as the Bethany Beach Town Council heard from Oasis Design Group’s Scott Scarfone at their Feb. 12 council workshop.

Scarfone’s presentation showed the latest design ideas for the park that is planned to be constructed on the former Christian Chuch/Neff properties, on the northwest corner of the intersection of Routes 26 and 1, with public comment to-date now taken into account.

The park’s proposed design features elements that the council has specifically asked be present, including walking paths, gardens, open lawn, an open pavilion and benches, as well as a limited amount of parking on the north side of the park on Central Boulevard, “earth sculpting” or mounding to add visual interest, and natural screening of the homes along the west side of the park property.

Scarfone said other possible elements that could be incorporated were lighting and a “gateway” signage monument that could serve as a focal point for those driving past the park on Route 1, letting them know with a strong visual that they were in Bethany Beach.

Using a diagram depicting existing vegetation, including some mature trees, Scarfone described the proposed design as creating a series of “rooms,” such as the large open lawn space, a smaller lawn space on the opposite side of the pavilion and a more secluded “reading garden” in the northwest corner.

The resulting “hallways,” Scarfone said, led to the design for pathways, as well as entry/exit points for the park and related crosswalks.

A service driveway would allow the Town access off Route 26, next to the existing pump building. “Plaza” gateway areas would be constructed at the Route 1/26 intersection and the central section of the park along Central, with another gateway planned nearer the southwest corner of the park property, accessing that smaller lawn area.

Scarfone said two new crosswalks were planned as part of the design, allowing pedestrians to cross Routes 26 and 1 on the west and north sides of that intersection.

While the Town has been asking DelDOT, unsuccessfully, for some time to allow some changes to the existing crosswalks in that area, Scarfone said his office had been in touch with DelDOT on a preliminary basis and believed the two proposed crosswalks wouldn’t be an issue.

“We see no problems. It’s just a procedural thing,” he said.

He said the signals there would need some modifications as well, and there would need to be pedestrian “refuge” islands created in the roadway. An existing crosswalk on Central Boulevard would also be utilized, as is.

Once pedestrians cross the highway or Route 26, they could enter the park from the proposed “gateway” entrance at the intersection there. It would be “a very strong visual gateway for people driving north on Route 1 and off Garfield, and south on Route 1 also,” he said. “It will need to be treated specially.”

Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer said, “It’s important to make that entrance grand, to get the most bang for our buck.”

Under the proposed design, the small “monument wall” on the north side of the gateway could have “Town of Bethany Beach” or “Central Park” written on it, and small islands of plantings would be used to create paths to the left, right and center of the gateway that would then lead to the pathways that run to the left and right.

“I would envision it would be heavily planted with ornamental plantings,” Scarfone suggested, pointing to the heavily planted medians already in place along Garfield Parkway downtown.

Councilman Bruce Frye asked about the use of the various entrances proposed for the park, saying he felt people would enter off Route 26 at the west, rather than the “gateway” entrance at the intersection corner.

Scarfone noted that he had vacationed in the area for more than 30 years and had observed that both entrances would likely be equally heavily used, but at different times of day. During the day, he said, most would enter from Route 26; while, at night, with the number of people downtown for events, shopping and dining, they’d use the main entrance on the corner.

Rain gardens would run along Route 1, draining the area when needed but also providing visual interest, becoming a feature when mixed in with the existing pine trees in that area.

Taking note of council members’ concerns about the existing drainage problem on parts of the property, Scarfone said he and an engineer from his firm had walked the site already and had purposely placed the rain gardens where they had in order to deal with the issue.

He said future study would be done on the soils on the property, to look at the volume of water that would be able to percolate, and that if it couldn’t drain in 24 to 36 hours, they would look to add an under-drain to the rain gardens to deal with the excess.

Killmer noted that, historically, the northeast corner of the property has been a problem area for water. Scarfone said plans were to utilize the existing culvert, and if there was potential for overflow from the rain gardens, an overflow pipe could be run from them to the culvert.

Pavilion, lawn areas to be major features

“The predominant use is lawn,” Scarfone emphasized of the overall park design he proposed. “You’re not dramatically changing the use from now. You’re just providing more organization to it.”

Under the design, amidst that lawn the park would have .75 miles of pathways, providing “a sense of connections and spaces,” Scarfone said.

The major feature of the park itself would be the pavilion or similar open-air structure, which Scarfone said offered “a multitude of events opportunities,” as well as shade. In the design, it is placed southwest of the center of the property, with the large open lawn space stretching to the northeast and the smaller one to the southwest. A trellis or pergola on the north side of the park, to the eastern side of a central entrance there, would be designed to match the pavilion.

“The pavilion location will be a very iconic element as you drive south on Route 1 and look into the park,” Scarfone said.

Working with an architect, he said, they had come up with two options for the pavilion.

The first is a somewhat traditional round gazebo-type design, with its architecture to play off that found in the area’s beach houses, but also remaining open and airy. It would feature wood construction and a metal roof, custom-constructed for the town and “nicely ornamented.”

The trellis would match it in style and provide built-in seating in the shade the trellis would offer.

The second design involves a tensile structure that would emulate sails — similar to designs found elsewhere along the coast, including at the entrance to Cambridge, Md. — constructed out of a plastic-type material that has a long life, Scarfone said, adding that designers were particularly excited about that concept.

“It gives the flavor and character of the beach. It would be an iconic visual element,” he described, citing that it would provide the functions of shade and shelter, as well as the visual element of design. The configuration of the sails, he said, would evolve during the design process, with the example shown just to offer a feel for what it could look like.

He said it would be possible to create some kind of seating around the edges of the pavilion, leaving sections open for people to walk through and for clear viewing of events set there, as well as options for height and construction to further minimize any concerns about views and ease of access. Or, he said, the seating could be eliminated entirely from the design.

Again, a trellis or pergola-like structure would offer shade, and possibly seating, on the north side of the park, with a design to match the pavilion.

Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman asked Scarfone if the pavilion sails could withstand hurricane-force winds, and he emphasized that there were hundreds of examples of them being used in coastal communities and that they had been tested in 160 mph winds.

She also asked about the maintenance differences between the two designs. Scarfone said the round pavilion would require more maintenance than the sails, though it could be constructed (at additional cost) entirely of metal that could be dipped and powder-coated, eliminating the need to paint a wooden structure every several years.

Gardens, mounds and paths to add interest

The reading garden in the northwest corner of the park would feature an open lawn, “with earth mounding to provide a little refuge from the main lawn area,” Scarfone said, as well as benches for the comfort of those sitting down with a good book.

The design’s pathways through the park include some side pathways off the main large oval pathway, with “gentle earth mounding” in between to offer screening and seclusion. The result, he said, is a series of major open spaces with smaller adjunct spaces off to the side.

“If people wanted to sit out in the open, they can. If they want a more secluded area, more privacy, they can have that. It’s all predominantly done with walkways, plantings and earth mounding.”

The paths themselves are proposed to be constructed of an ADA-compliant sustainable material that Scarfone said looks like exposed aggregate but is actually a pervious material made of pea gravel with a binder. “It’s beautiful. I’ve seen it done at botanical gardens. It’s suitable for wheelchairs, walkers, strollers. We’re very excited about it.”

To screen the homes adjacent to the park along Gibson Avenue, the existing berm will be retained, he said, but will be more heavily planted, “to essentially take those houses out of play and give them more privacy, to provide a more official separation.”

The west edge of that area, he said, would be heavily planted — a process he noted that the Town had already begun. The plantings would be naturalized and random along the berm, Scarfone said, with a more formal hedge around the smaller open lawn area on the southwest corner, to help define the space. “That first room would have a wall,” he described of the resulting hedge.

Behind the gateway entrance, a small garden secluded within a grove of trees at the southeast corner of the property would, he said, be “more of a shrub garden,” moving away from the use of annual plants to perennials that require less maintenance.

The landforms planned for the northeast corner of the property, between the paths, Scarfone said, are being inspired by the shape of dunes, to create relief in an otherwise flat area.

“The park is pretty flat,” he acknowledged. “This will define spaces and add some visual interest,” he said of the 3- to 4-foot-tall mounds. “They’re also great places to play. The kids can somersault and tumble down them.”

Hardiman said she was concerns the mounds would block the view and wouldn’t be pretty, and that she was ambivalent about breaking up the view of the park instead of being able to see it as a whole.

Scarfone said the intensity of the mounding could be reduced, but that its intent was just to break up the visual space. “It’s so flat now,” he emphasized, adding that the slope of any mounding would be designed so that it would be easy to maintain. He also pointed out that the mounds were not intended to block the view entirely but just to filter it.

Scarfone did offer a few alternative design elements to the main proposal, including simplifying the gateway entrance by featuring a circular garden that would place the monument wall more centrally but still offer some separation between the roadway and the park paths.

He said the decision on that would be based on whether the Town wanted to keep the view at that entrance open or to soften and screen it, and whether they wanted the focus to be on the monument wall signage or elsewhere.

The reading garden, he said, could be kept simple, with just the lawn and some grading, or made more elaborate and secluded by creating a garden around the space, using some minor changes to the pathway and more intense plantings.

He noted that the trellis/pergola structure on the north side of the park could be eliminated entirely and the area planted with a few street trees instead. The main lawn could also be simplified by removing the earth mounding and side paths, and utilizing a few new clusters of trees instead, he added.

“You really have an opportunity to create something nice,” he said of the project.

Timeline, costs, public comment to be considered

Other considerations for the council include whether they’d want to build the project all at once or do it in stages, over time.

Oasis supplied the Town with a “phasing diagram” that shows certain sections done at certain times, with the large main lawn done first in a phased project, along with pathways, crosswalks and other infrastructure, and the entrance areas coming next, followed by the additional screening on the berm, and so on.

Scarfone said the next steps for the project would involve getting feedback from the council and town staff, then soliciting community preferences, followed by coming to agreement on an approximate budget and then finalizing a master plan, before approving any phasing timetable and the related budget sequence.

From there, the project would move on to construction documentation and a separate construction contract, followed by permit approvals, bidding for construction and then the start of that construction.

Killmer said he’d like to have some detailed numbers on the cost for the variations in the plan, including a phased implementation. “The public will want to know what it is going to cost,” he said, also noting his hopes that the project would be able to reduce costs by integrating some in-house labor for some of the work, as has been the case with many of the Town’s projects in recent years.

Mayor Jack Gordon said the next step was to make sure more of the townsfolk know about the park design and can comment on it. While the park is nice as it is, he said of the proposed plan for the space, “To get that started would be great step toward making it look even nicer.”