South Bethany nears finalized comp plan

Members of the South Bethany Planning Commission prepared to wrap an update on the town’s 1999 Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) at the July 18 commission meeting, with plans to deliver a few recommendations to council in coming weeks. (Council will review the update and schedule a public hearing before signing off.)

The commission recently sent a letter to town residents, outlining some of the goals and objectives already established in the town’s CDP and asking for any additional suggestions.

This was far from the extensive survey that accompanied the existing CDP — as Commission Chair Ron Wuslich has pointed out, not much had changed since then. Commercial uses remain confined to the York Beach Mall, and the town isn’t looking to make any changes there, or annex any new lands.

The town included the survey primarily to meet Office of State Planning Coordination (OSPC) requirements that had to be met before the state would sign off on the updated CDP. South Bethany won’t be able to slide by with such abbreviation every five years, but it’s looking like the commission may be able to complete this particular CDP update on the cheap.

Most of the commission work has involved basic housekeeping, but Commission Member Joan DeSantis did present a tabulated list of concerns that had come back with the letters/surveys.

At the top of the list, “Improve bicycle access on all roads, and walking access especially from east to west sides of Route 1; more walking paths,” and concerns with enforcement of local ordinances and code.

While code enforcement itself was already covered, the commission decided to forward a related topic to town council, as a recommendation for inclusion in the update — that being “inform rental tenants of town ordinances” — along with the bike/pedestrian issue.

Other hot topics included maintenance of the town’s single-family nature and improvements in the canals (dredging and water quality). Several residents raised parking concerns but were nearly split on the subject. A slim majority pushed for more parking, a significant minority recommended more permit parking or elimination of streetside parking altogether.

These topics already ensconced in the existing CDP, and the commission let them slide — but did plan to mention a year-round 24/7 police force and a community boat ramp as footnotes to the council recommendations.

Also on July 18, and the relocation of overhead utilities once again being an item of interest to a fair few residents, Delmarva Power representative Guy Eberwein stopped by to talk costs.

According to Wuslich, approximately 70 percent of the respondents to the 1999 survey had considered utility relocation either important or very important. In addition, he cited figures indicating a year-round population increase from 1990 to 2000 (from 148 to 344 permanent residents).

However, Eberwein noted several difficulties and said Delmarva Power would, in fact, not consider relocating the utilities underground unless the town pressed them to do it.

Wuslich asked about maintenance issues associated with salt-air corrosion, but Eberwein said they’d run into the same problems with underground utilities, and there were other drawbacks.

“You don’t have tree-trimming costs, but there are still issues with the tree roots,” he said. And while it was easy to spot a downed power line, locating an underground fault typically involved more of a hunt-and-seek process.

In addition, despite the fact that contractors were supposed to call Miss Utility before digging, not everyone did — there were inevitably “dig-ins,” he pointed out.

According to Eberwein, costs of relocating the lines would range from $85 to $100 per linear foot, assuming no untoward complications with the trenching work. That would include “service drops,” from the utility easement to the house, but some electric panels might have to be replaced, he said. (Many, but not all, models could accommodate either overhead or underground lines.)

Council Member Bob Cestone, in attendance at the meeting, estimated 10 miles of roadway exist throughout town. Since roughly one third of the town’s roadside power lines are already underground, he multiplied a loose estimate of 7 miles times 5,280 feet per mile, times $100 per foot, and came up with about $3.7 million in estimated cost for the change.

There was a moment of sticker shock, but Wuslich broke it down into costs per homeowner. With 1,329 lots around town and only 154 of them vacant, that would work out to about $3,150 per improved lot, he said.

All new subdivisions in the area — even subdivisions as small as five units — are trending toward underground utilities. However, as an existing community with serviceable power distribution, Eberwein said he suspected South Bethany would receive little outside assistance with relocation.

There’d been some state funds mixed in with utility relocation in Rehoboth Beach (on Rehoboth Avenue), but that had been part of a larger streetscape project, he pointed out.