Bethany planners consider grandfathering tune-up

The Bethany Beach Planning Commission members revisited grandfathering at the Aug. 20 meeting, having discovered a possible loophole. Building Inspector John Eckrich said Town Attorney J. Terence Jaywork was looking into the matter, and they’d soon have a proposed amendment to the grandfathering ordinance the town passed last October.

The question at hand — in the event that a property changed hands, would applications for subdivisions, Planned Residential Development (PRDs), etc. remain active, and governed by the laws that had existed prior to the change of hands, or should there be a restart, and a new application fee?

For the sake of argument (although the town has actually encountered a similar real-life situation), what would happen if (1) an applicant submitted plans, (2) the applicant passed away and (3) the heirs wanted to carry through with the project but would have to pay additional fees to restart the process?

And for another twist, what if the town had passed new regulations during that period which rendered the first project unworkable, forcing the heirs to scrap all the old designs and go back to the drawing board?

While there might be less argument if the situation involved a simple real estate transaction, Commission Member Steve Wode said it didn’t seem fair not to let heirs recoup the significant costs associated with preparing a project for site plan review.

However, as Eckrich noted, the town needed to clarify at what point an application should be considered formally “in the door.” Should commission members grandfather applications at the moment someone walked in with a very rough sketch plan, or should they wait until after the plan was developed enough that the commission could approve it as a preliminary site plan?

Commission (and town council) Member Lew Killmer suggested he’d like to see a formal signature on something before it could be grandfathered in this way, “And the only time that happens is when the chair signs on a preliminary approval,” he pointed out.

Jaywork’s opinion should provide some additional guidance by next month.

In other business, commission members agreed to drop efforts to address architectural concerns through an Architectural Review Board, per se.

Mayor John “Jack” Walsh, in the audience, emphasized that this did not mean the end of architectural review — the commission has wrestled this issue at the citizenry’s directive. As Walsh noted, 70 percent of respondents in the latest round of surveys for Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) update recommended some kind of review.

However, by Aug. 20, the commission had reached consensus that the best way to go about maintaining the character of Bethany Beach would be through addressing the town’s existing laws directly.

Commission Member Kathleen Mink suggested an ad hoc working committee to look at possible changes to the zoning code, and/or overlays zones, and the commission unanimously approved that idea.

Council Member Tony McClenny, in the audience, suggested a good starting point — roof pitches. He referenced an Aug. 3 symposium, when many local builders and designers had suggested town height restrictions discouraged more attractively-pitched roofs.

Eckrich said the code might better address both height and aesthetic concerns by setting the max cap relative to the top plate, rather than the peak of the roof (perhaps with prohibitions against certain uses in the attic space).

The commission also considered preliminary site plans for two PRDs — Mark and Kiki Zachary’s application for four houses at 877 Garfield Pkwy, and H. Meredith “Bud” Palmer’s application for two houses at 816 Garfield Pkwy.

John Murray (Kercher Engineering) presented both plans and Mike Cummings’ MIKEN Builders will perform the construction (on both). The commission unanimously approved both projects, as preliminaries.