South Bethany still split on freeboard, house height

South Bethany was built between bayside canals and the Atlantic, so it could use some protection from high water. And, recently, the South Bethany Town Council has poured hours into creating an ordinance that would allow homeowners to raise their houses a few feet, without trapping them under the current height limit.

“Our intent is to permit people to have higher houses, in order to accommodate additional freeboard. That is the difference between the base floodplain elevation to the base of the house,” said Councilman Jim Gross at the July 11 council meeting and first reading of the proposed ordinance.

“Currently, the building code requires the permissible height for houses to be 32 feet above the center of the road. We want to raise that so that people voluntarily … can build or raise their house to accommodate 2 additional feet of freeboard above the height requirement.”

“Where the principal building has 2 or more feet of freeboard above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE), the principal building maximum height may be the higher of 34 feet measured from center line of the street or 38 feet based on NAVD 88,” reads proposed Ordinance 172-14, which changes Town Code Chapter 145, “Zoning,” Articles III, X and XI.

The draft also includes related definitions that the council said they felt comfortable with.

Resident Jack Whitney proposed an alternative: make all houses the same height. They would start at different points, the center road line or Base Flood Elevation (whichever is higher), and use freeboard if they want to. But regardless of the floor’s initial elevation, all houses would end 31 feet later.

Whitney said his goal was “to encourage use of freeboard without penalizing the homeowner for using freeboard.” Meanwhile, homes, he said, could be more equal. “Some places, you can build a higher house. … In some places, it has to be lower because of reference to the centerline of the road.

“I’m just trying to simplify it in this town, so everyone can understand what you should do.”

Councilman George Junkin said he liked the idea of just setting a 31-foot height limit (the distance between floor and roof, not the total elevation), because the original proposal would allow some houses to go higher, based on varying measurements and ground heights.

“I’m being consistent with allowing everyone to put in same size,” Junkin said. “It’s been brought up to us.”

But Gross argued in favor of leaving the language as written — language that has been deliberated upon for months.

“You cannot build three-story houses on all our lots with your recommendation,” Junkin said.

“I agree with that. You can’t do it now,” Gross pointed out.

Councilwoman Sue Callaway said she didn’t understand “why it can’t be either/or. Then it satisfies everybody.”

“I don’t believe that should be the way we go forward … because referencing it to the road is being done for a reason, and that’s to keep the houses so they’re varying some because the road’s varying. Referencing it to BFE is that all people have the same space to work in,” Junkin said.

“That’s never been an objective here. That’s not part of our code. That’s never been our history,” Gross said. “We’ve gone back to the workshop three times.”

“Maybe we need a fourth time,” Councilman Al Rae said. “You’re telling us we already require BFE. I agree with the 2 feet if they add 2 feet. I agree with giving them equal livable space. Seems to me those are the three main issues we need to get down on paper that we all agree on.”

Two more readings were planned for the ordinance, at the council workshop July 24 at 5 p.m., as well as before a vote and possible adoption at the council meeting on Aug. 8 at 7 p.m.

The ordinance in its entirety can be reviewed at South Bethany Town Hall during regular business hours or online at under “Bulletin Board.”

A mostly lighthearted police report

South Bethany Police Department Lt. Linda O’Malley retired this July and was honored at a July 18 reception. Chief Joe Deloach has also retired, effective July 11. A celebration to honor him will be scheduled later this year, after a knee surgery.

A search for a new police chief was scheduled to begin mid-July. Mayor Pat Voveris, Town Manager Mel Cusick and Callaway are part of the search committee. Residents are welcome to “speak as a resident with satisfaction” to the job existing officers are doing.

Police Lt. Troy Crowson reported a number of recent crimes related to “June bugs,” vacationing students at the beach. That includes fights, smashed headlights and mailboxes, eggings and parties.

More troubling to some are the vacation home scams that have used South Bethany houses. Scammers find online photos of existing houses and post them on as rental homes.

“They take the rent, then when [vacationers] show up, the homeowners say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’” Crowson explained.

This sort of scam is increasingly common, and the scammer gets away with money, while the vacationer is left without accommodation, and the true homeowner is baffled and discomforted.

Speed limits were the next topic of discussion on July 11. A rookie officer caught a speeder going 103 mph because the driver “courteously” tried to escape down a dead-end road, Crowson noted.

When asked how to eliminate speeding problems, Crowson said, “It always comes down to presence and enforcement… I’m looking into [speed measuring] trailers to record [data] and see if speeding is truly the problem.”

Meanwhile, a speed display machine is being re-positioned on various streets in South Bethany this summer.

Attendees at the meeting also discussed placing a pad in the highway median for police patrol cars to drive on, rather than tearing up the grass and plantings along Route 1.

In other South Bethany news:

• Cusick said he had researched why not everyone in town pays a $4 monthly fire hydrant fee (specifically, properties on well water).

“They’re not required to. There’s no customer relation,” he said, “Like having cable TV run by your house. … We have no database on how many private wells there are,” Cusick noted.

Assuming that, of 1,300 homes, less than 100 don’t receive water service, Councilman Tony Caputo said it might not be worth pursuing.

“So what we’re really talking about is less than 1,000 bucks. So who’s gonna set up a system to go collect? It’s not a matter of fairness. It’s a matter of practicality.”

• The South Bethany Beach Patrol earned second place at the Sea Colony lifeguard competition recently, and there were also recent rescues of a girl swept out to sea on a bodyboard and a young man who injured his shoulder.

• Martha Fields was named the new head of the Board of Adjustment.

• The South Bethany Property Owners Association bull roast raised $150 for the Community Enhancement Committee.

• The council is already talking about next year’s movie on the beach, after a successful showing of “Frozen” on July 5. Mayor Pat Voveris thanked absolutely everyone involved.

The South Bethany Town Council was set to meet for a workshop on Thursday, July 24, at 5 p.m.