Bethany council envisions nature-focused design for park

Bethany Beach’s newest park will have a natural, minimalistic design, if the recommendations of the town council are followed. The council on July 18 voted to focus the Town’s search for a landscape architect to design the project on the concept of a park primarily featuring walking and biking paths, benches and landscaping.

“It was curious,” said Councilman Joseph Healy Jr. of the results of the recent town survey on what citizens wanted to see in the park. “Everyone seemed to have one special thing they wanted, and that varied across the board. But the theme was ‘keep it simple stupid and don’t spend a lot of money.’

“Personally, I would love to see a water feature,” he added, “but only if there is some need,” such as for drainage, “and also benches and paths and a very pastoral setting.”

Councilman Lew Killmer agreed, saying the overall theme of the project as desired by the survey respondents was keeping the park “natural and low-impact,” as well as keeping in mind that the former Christian Church/Neff property is surrounded by residential property and that it is the “gateway to the town.”

Killmer suggested a “natural motif,” with walkways, low-impact lighting, “places for people to sit down and enjoy themselves — a nice alternative to the beach.”

He also recommended the Town view the park as a “work in progress — something that, over time, we can build on. I would like to see a lot more landscaping as time goes on. I would like to see it as a real showplace for our town,” he added, suggesting the final result should have a “wow-factor.” Killmer also referenced efforts to control costs on the project, looking at it as “something we can do in stages.”

Councilwoman Margaret Young said she, too, thought the park should have walking paths, benches and nice landscaping, but that the Town should also keep in mind not just the initial cost of building the park features but the cost of the park’s upkeep over time. She said it should be a “restful, attractive area.”

Councilman Chuck Peterson said he agreed with Killmer’s comments, and Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman said she felt those ideas had “pretty much captured what people in the survey said: keep it natural, and don’t spend a lot of money. Don’t add a lot of additional and costly features that will require a great deal of upkeep and attract litter or people there all through the night.”

Hardiman said that she envisioned a park with benches, bike paths, shade trees and native plants, and recommended the Town give the survey results to the chosen architect so that the results can inform the eventual three concept designs the council has said they would request. “We can always add to it as time goes on,” she added.

“I’m sort of a minimalist to begin with,” chimed in Councilman Jerry Dorfman, saying the park should be “as natural as it can be. Having an open space as gateway to the town just adds to the allure of Bethany Beach.”

Mayor Jack Gordon gave a nod to the survey’s “outliers,” noting some requests for a community swimming pool or dog park as a feature of the property, but emphasized that the people requesting such features were less than 1 percent of those who responded to the survey.

“They made clear from the survey that we do want what has just been mentioned,” he said of the notion of a natural, minimalist park design. “We don’t want a lot of parking,” Gordon emphasized, adding that he didn’t think “some low-impact things along the paths,” such as exercise stations, “would hurt at all. Everybody wants a quiet, beautiful area over there, as opposed to something that would provide a lot more activity.”

With an inquiry about the potential parking provisions for the park, Peterson emphasized that the council was looking at only limited parking there — “very limited,” he underscored.

Resident Joan Kaminski said she liked the idea of the exercise elements along the park paths.

Resident Bruce Frye, who is among five candidates for four council seats in September’s council election, followed up on Healy’s reference to a water feature by asking if there is a drainage problem with the property.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet said that the way the park is now configured, there is no issue with drainage, and a retention pond won’t be needed. “I don’t hear any resounding interest in here,” he added of a water feature, and “absent that, we won’t be putting one in there.”

Former mayor Jack Walsh praised the approach the council has taken to the issue and said his primary concern about developing the park was safety — particularly related to its location at the intersection of Routes 1 and 26.

“If young children are running around in there, you’ve got to consider that,” he said, suggesting that an additional crossover going south at the intersection would also be needed, as there’s currently no way to get over to the other side of the road.

Walsh also suggested an even more minimalist design might be warranted, as just 26 percent of survey respondents said they would use park benches frequently, with another 24 percent saying they’d use them occasionally. Of picnic areas, he pointed out, 65 percent of respondents said they’d use them seldom, and another 30 percent only occasionally, with similar responses regarding shelters.

Resident Maureen Caviola said she had concerns about the idea of the park as a verdant, green space.

“As somebody who walks back and forth there every day,” she said, “it upsets me to see big hoses watering grass,” which she noted is not naturally occurring along the shore. “I would hope you would think about what a natural ocean park would look like,” she suggested, specifically mentioning native plants. She said she’d want the park to mirror how “the landscape looks around us” versus “something fake, like Disney World.”

Asked if there would be an opportunity for the public to look at the conceptual plans before the council would approve a final design, Gordon confirmed that the Town would be asking for three iterations for a possible design, while Graviet said the Town would place the resulting concepts on its website and may include them in a newsletter or mailing. He also said the council would be considering the designs at either a future council meeting or at a meeting specific to the topic.

Hardiman further noted that it was expected that the designs would be refined based on public and council input before a final design would be approved.

With the council having a consensus on the type of design they’re looking for in the park, Gordon also emphasized that there is plenty of time to reach a final design decision. “Time is not of the essence,” he said, adding that the park “looks very good now,” but that the Town would now be moving forward to the design phase with the hiring of a landscape architect.