ARB concept rejected in Bethany Beach

During their meeting on July 16, the Bethany Beach Planning Commission eliminated the possibility of creating an architectural review board (ARB) that would provide style guidelines for area developers and instead decided to focus on ways of codifying architectural standards.

An advisory-only ARB had been proposed to residents in a questionnaire handed out earlier this year. More than 70 percent of those who responded were in favor of such a board, but commission members decided against the idea because of its vulnerability to loose enforcement and subjectivity.

However, commission Chairman Philip Boesch assured those in attendance that although the commission would not be moving ahead with the idea supported by the community, they are “taking residents’ request to do something.”

Since January, discussion within the commission has centered on a desire to “maintain the character of Bethany Beach,” but individual members have differed on what the phrase means and how to implement guidelines.

“We need to get out of the weeds here and decide what is the problem we are trying to solve,” said member Kathleen Mink.

Mink presented six separate motions designed to help the commission move ahead with plans. The motions were developed out of a questionnaire she handed out to members at the June meeting.

Along with eliminating the possibility of an ARB, the majority of commission members chose to support a concept of zoning overlays — starting with officially identifying and marking on a map both residential and non-residential areas of interest for conservation efforts.

Each designated neighborhood would be subject to a separate set of standards, which would be either voluntary or mandatory, depending on how the idea is developed and implemented by the commission and town.

However, newly appointed commission member Steve Trodden (filling a vacancy caused by the selection of Jerry Dorfman for the town council) opposed any attempts by the commission to strictly enforce specific architectural guidelines based on narrowly limited opinions.

“The whole character of Bethany Beach was its diversity, and now we’re developing uniform standards to preserve that diversity?” Trodden asked the members. “This just seems to me it is an overreaching of the government.”

Commission member Steve Wode said he and Trodden had met with architectural graduate students from the University of Maryland for advice on how to discourage or encourage certain stylistic elements in the neighborhoods and businesses.

(A U.M. student group had made architectural “theming” recommendations to the town over the winter, raising the idea of zoning overlays as one way to enforce or encourage such styles.)

“We have to develop what the standards are, and they should be very simple,” Wode said. “We don’t know what the character of the town means and we don’t know what the standards are, still.”

Mink also presented the option of creating a job position for a professional to provide the commission with architectural advice and to help develop the means to enforce any guidelines that are developed. Members were hesitant to create the position but did decide to seek some form of professional assistance to help clarify their plans.