CORC tidies up Bethany Beach code

It was déjà vu all over again for the members of the Bethany Beach Charter and Ordinance Committee (CORC) when they met on Friday, Feb. 18.

The main purpose of the meeting was to review sections of the town code to which the committee had previously recommended changes, and to verify the status of the recommendations, including which changes would be brought forward to the town council for formal adoption in the near future.

Town Clerk Lisa Kail told CORC members the bulk of the minor changes would be made in a single “housekeeping” ordinance, traditionally in April.

One of the committee’s recommended changes had, in fact, already made it onto the council’s agenda for that evening’s council meeting. The change made updates to the town’s permitted methods of distribution of records, to include methods beyond paper copies — such as computer discs.

(The ordinance change was heard for its first reading by the town council at their meeting that evening.)

Sections of the town code regarding streets and sidewalks were, in contrast, sent on to the town’s Parking Committee for consideration, just as some sections of the code had previously been passed into the hands of the Planning Commission.

But among the items seeing changes recommended by CORC were updates to the town’s road surface requirements, to include the state highway department’s 2001 standards instead of the previously codified 1974 version.

Building Inspector John Eckrich noted for the committee members that the town had been using the state’s current standards during the intervening quarter-century, but the town code itself had never been updated to require the more current standard.

Among the items passed on to the Planning Commission was a section of code mandating fence heights. Committee member Kathleen Mink noted that the code clearly indicated the required height for residential and commercial properties, as well as for fences on residential properties that border commercial lots. But the commercial lots did not have a similar requirement stated when those fences border residential lots.

Committee members also recommended reinforcing regulations regarding the replacement of silt fences during construction, requiring that the fences be replaced in a timely manner, even while construction was ongoing.

In a new discussion for the committee, Council Member Lew Killmer, in his position as a CORC member, recommended a change to existing code regarding swimming pool. He had noted that the recent popularity of soft-sided pools had brought an influx of such pools into the town, with no clear indication to property owners as to what safety requirements were involved.

A pool is a pool was the decision of the committee, working from definitions of pools and spas provided by Eckrich from a separate area of the town’s code.

The committee reached a consensus that existing requirements for safety fencing, locks and alarms apply to all pools, spas or hot tubs capable of containing 24 inches or more of water, regardless of how much water they actually contain at a given time. (Locking covers for spas and hot tubs were considered sufficient.)

Vice-Mayor Carol Olmstead noted that small children are capable of drowning in less than a few inches of water, but the 24-inch standard was accepted as a basic, if imperfect, line of demarcation.

Killmer offered to write a “white paper” on the issue, as part of the committee’s new method of doing business. The research he produces will be up for discussion by committee members, as well as being passed on to council members in March for their stamp of approval on further CORC deliberations on the issue.

Committee members hoped the change could be in place before the summer pool season.

Council Member Tony McClenny, serving as vice-chairman of the committee, requested the committee delay discussion of changes to the town’s ordinances regarding skateboarding. Council Member and CORC Chairman Wayne Fuller has spearheaded the committee’s efforts on the issue, but was absent from the Feb. 18 meeting while he recovered from recent surgery.

McClenny noted that Fuller had wanted the committee to consider the issue further before returning it to the town council, hoping to refine areas that might be seen as too restrictive.

Mayor Jack Walsh, in attendance at the meeting, said he had received a memo on the topic from Public Safety Officer Ralph Mitchell. The memo contained information that could be useful in CORC’s deliberation on the issue, he said.

In response to committee member Don Doyle’s concerns about the enforcement of skateboarding limitations on private property in the town, it was noted that in addition to possible trespassing violations, skateboarding on private property could be specifically prohibited by the posting of a sign and an agreement between property owners and police to have such prohibitions enforced.

Under current ordinances, given no such sign or agreement and assuming the skateboarders had permission to be on the property, skateboarding could still take place on any other private property in the town.

Walsh said Mitchell had indicated that skateboarding wasn’t a major problem in the town and that he was concerned about whether ordinance changes would address the real root of complaints about the activity: damage to property and the construction of temporary structures by skateboarders, which are generally not subsequently removed.

Those issues will be brought up again when skateboarding is formally addressed by the committee with Fuller present.

CORC’s discussion of the town’s solid waste ordinance centered on how to regulate trash receptacles, in response to requests from town workers. Rather than creating specific definitions for acceptable trash containers, as had previously been discussed, committee members endorsed the recommendation of Town Manager Cliff Graviet that his office be given a broader decision-making and enforcement power over such matters.

The hope was that by investing such power in the town manager’s office, the tedious process of making minor changes and updates to requirements over time could be made more efficient.

Graviet agreed to present the matter to council members as part of his regular report during the town council meeting that night. Mink pointed out that the presentation of the idea by Graviet would clearly establish that not all matters relating to town ordinances needed to have their origins in the council or CORC.

More housekeeping created a definition for “trash,” as well as recommended the raising of related administrative fees from 10 percent to 25 percent. CORC also recommended all code references to mobile homes be eliminated, since the structures are not allowed within the town.

CORC passed on to the Planning Commission ordinances regarding the street ends on the west side of the town.

Finally, committee members requested amendment of minutes from their previous meeting to stress that the committee had not been in the habit of having members contact the town solicitor, except at the request of council members.

The issue of use of town resources had been discussed at the January meeting, with agreement that the practice of committee members directly contacting the solicitor would not take place; but committee members wanted it made clear that it had never been their practice in the first place.

Closing the meeting, resident Lois Lipsett requested that the committee look into standardizing the timing of all post-summer seasonal ordinance changes, particularly that relating to the presence of dogs on the beach. She noted that other end-of-summer ordinance changes happen on September 15, while dogs are prohibited on the beach until September 30.

Lipsett pointed out that new ordinance signs remind dog owners that dogs are required to be leashed at all times, reducing the likelihood that dogs would end up roaming freely on the beach even after the beach restriction was lifted. But committee members expressed concern that beach-going weather well after September 15 could lead to increased confrontations between pet owners and other beachgoers in those two weeks.

McClenny did say that Lipsett’s request would be addressed by CORC in the future.

Also on a future agenda is a request by Eckrich that the committee review the International Maintenance Code, which is an accompanying document to the International Building Code (previously adopted by the town) and International Flood Plane Code that was up for adoption by the town at that evening’s council meeting. (The flood plane code was also adopted on February 18.)

Eckrich noted that some elements of the maintenance code were likely far more strict that town officials and residents would want enforced in Bethany Beach, requiring repairs for small matters such as chipped paint and holes in screens. However, he said larger issues of safety addressed in the code, such as the repair of handrails, could be an improvement to existing town requirements.

He said such areas could be lifted from the code and placed into the town’s ordinance in their entirety, and he requested CORC members study the code prior to their next meeting, to provide feedback on what areas of the code did or did not appeal to them.

In the coming months, CORC members will also likely tackle the various areas of town code that were regarded as problematic during a Budget and Finance sub-committee review of the town’s schedule of fees.