As Streetscape is completed, Bethany eyes parking lots

Town Manager Cliff Graviet announced on April 17 that the long-planned and long-running Streetscape project in Bethany Beach was officially complete — except for a few “punchlist” items.

Graviet told the council at their monthly meeting that construction had wound up on Thursday, April 16, around 8 p.m., with the reopening of the Garfield Parkway “horseshoe” at the beach end and Atlantic Avenue southbound reopened.

“It is complete after many, many years. And we hope the community appreciates it and that the pain was not too great for the business community,” he said.

But the changes to downtown Bethany may not stop there, as Graviet announced that the Town was considering the purchase of two commercial lots, at 204 and 206 Garfield Parkway, that would be used for municipal parking.

The lots, located between the PNC Bank parking lot and the Blue Crab and related restaurant businesses in the building adjacent to town hall, have been used as municipal parking since 2011, but as part of a revenue-sharing agreement between the Town and the existing owner.

Under the proposed sale agreement, the Town would acquire both lots, which could create as many as 34 parking spaces there once paved and striped. As currently laid out with parking bumpers and a gravel surface, the lots offer 32 spaces — offsetting the loss of 30 parking spaces under the Streetscape reconfiguration. It is also used as overflow and parking for the weekly farmers’ market held from late spring until early fall.

Graviet noted that the Town has discussed the possible purchase of the lots for four years, with the owner requesting $2.1 million as a selling price.

“The Town has never engaged in serious discussion past that point,” he said, adding that the owner had contacted the Town again recently and advised them that he hoped to sell the lots as quickly as possible.

With town council executive sessions in December and March and a review of appraisals of the property, the Town made an offer of $1.25 million, which the owner, Graviet said, had tentatively accepted, subject to council approval.

Leading up to such a vote, the Town has scheduled a special meeting for Friday, May 1, at 7 p.m. at town hall to receive public comment on the issue and a related proposal to again increase its parking rates by 25 cents per hour, in a move aimed at paying for the acquisition. A second meeting, on May 7 at 10 a.m. at town hall, will be for council discussion and a possible vote on both issues.

Graviet said he was recommending to the council a four-year payment schedule, with $350,000 due to be paid by the Town within 90 days of settlement, using funds from $384,000 in revenue collected in excess of the budgeted figure in the 2015-fiscal-year budget. The remaining amount would be paid in payments of $225,000 each over the four years.

Those payments would be made largely from the proposed increase in parking rates, Graviet said, which would take the Town’s parking rate from the $1.75 per hour approved by the council in March as part of the 2016-fiscal-year budget to $2 per hour — a total increase of 50 cents per hour from the $1.50 per hour rate the Town charged in 2014.

“At that time,” Graviet noted of the March vote to increase the rate to $1.75, “the possible purchase was not something the council was seriously considering, so the additional increase was not included in the proposed $1.75 rate approved in the budget.”

Graviet said the increase to $2 would bring in about $195,000 per year, along with an additional $30,000 in revenue from parking fees related to those lots themselves.

He noted that the issues of the parking rate increase and purchase of the property would be voted upon separately. He also emphasized that the increase to the parking rate of $2 per hour would put the Town’s rates in line with those in Rehoboth Beach, which recently raised its rate to that same amount.

Graviet further called the proposed parking rate increase something that would be used “only as the means for purchasing a valuable piece of real estate in Bethany Beach.” The lots are the only remaining undeveloped commercially-zoned parcels in the town east of Route 1.