Park proposal could go to referendum

Residents and property owners have long been divided on the issue, but this spring South Bethany could, once and for all, find out if there is enough support in the community for developing a traditional park to make that proposal a reality.

Pat VanCleve, an 18-year resident of the town, asked the town council at its Dec. 11 meeting to consider putting on a referendum ballot in the town’s April elections the question of developing Richard Hall Memorial Park – currently just a wooded parcel adjacent to the town hall – into a town park with a playground and pavilion.

VanCleve presented the council with a one-page proposal for such a park, based on a large notebook of research she said had been done by the South Bethany Property Owners’ Association over the years. She noted that her daughter is now a property owner in the town and that the park would be a boon for her grandchildren and other future residents of and visitors to the town.

The research the committee had done had shown that creating a more traditional park was possible because it had shown the park was not located on wetlands and deed restrictions created when the parkland was donated to the town did not prohibit this kind of development, VanCleve reported.

The 254,243-square-foot triangular piece of parkland was donated by the Hall family with the stipulation that no more than 10 percent of the land be developed.

“I believe it is time to move forward,” VanCleve told the council, noting both a 2005 petition that netted signatures of more than 150 residents to develop a play area at the park, as well as more than 100 residents voicing support for the idea when polled casually by VanCleve since Labor Day of 2009.

“We recognize that some people are against any development of a park,” she noted. Some of those opponents had turned out at a September SBPOA meeting to object to the idea, leading to police being called in to quell the resulting heated discussion.

VanCleve said last week that she felt the concerns expressed by opponents had been addressed in the SBPOA committee’s research on such issues as liability, wetlands delineation, deed restrictions, costs and funding, for which she had said in September the SBPOA could offer seed money.

“We are at a tipping point where the entire South Bethany community must be given the opportunity to voice an opinion,” VanCleve added of the proposed referendum.

She got strong support for the referendum from Councilman Robert Youngs, who moved immediately to offer a resolution for the council to include a referendum on the issue on this April’s ballot.

Youngs was the only council member who was ready to take that step, though.

“I don’t have detailed plans or costs here,” said Mayor Gary Jayne, noting also the lack of documentation of any legal findings of the wetlands delineation or permitted use under the deed restrictions as presented by VanCleve to the council last Friday.

“I have no objections to this going to a referendum,” Jayne added, suggesting that instead of a resolution vote on Dec. 11, the council consider the issue at its scheduled Dec. 17 workshop, preferably with the documentation of the VanCleve’s assertions in hand.

Other council members agreed with that notion, also asking that sufficient time to discuss the issue be provided to the council, even if that would delay a possible vote on the referendum until January or later.

“We may not get it all discussed at one workshop,” Councilman Tim Saxton emphasized.

“This has never really been presented to the town council before,” noted Mayor Pro-Tem Marge Gassinger.

Youngs appeared incensed at the delay as his motion for a resolution setting the referendum died for lack of a second, and he expressed his disappointment in the rest of the council.

“What I’m hearing is that the citizens need a park, and that the town council needs time to consider the ramifications,” he said, emphasizing that a citizen vote on the issue could go either way, and thus it wasn’t a fait accompli.

“A referendum is the only way to move this issue forward. You’re sidestepping. You’re procrastinating. You’re sidestepping the ability of the people to express their wishes,” Youngs asserted.

With that said, the council majority opted to delay any vote until at least their Dec. 17 workshop/special meeting, at which the issue of a referendum would be discussed. No citizen input is permitted at South Bethany council workshops, but VanCleve was requested to provide the council members with documentation of the findings by the SBPOA committee regarding the development of a park.

Resident George Junkin noted that a PowerPoint presentation of the information had also been created for the SBPOA.

Also among the issues set to be discussed at the Dec. 17 workshop is a request for a streetlight at York and Bristol, which had previously been considered by the town but was not acted upon due to concerns from some of the property owners in that immediate area.

Resident Kay Lidell asked the council to reconsider her request, noting support from all but six of the property owners in a petition she had previously organized. Of those six property owners – whom the town had later contacted in order to complete the survey – three had been in support of the streetlight request, while the three others had been opposed, reported Town Manager Mel Cusick.

Lidell said she felt the issue should be considered again in light of the fact that only the three property owners had objected and one of them, she said, is only in residence at their South Bethany home for two weeks out of the year.

“I was told it was a dead issue for the council,” she said, referring to the prior council, and asking what she needed to do to get the council to reconsider the request.

Jayne said they would add the issue to the workshop topics.

Resident Tom Roach on Dec. 11 expressed his thanks to the SBPOA for supporting the town’s annual holiday lighting display along Route 1 when the display was planned to be omitted this year due to budget issues.

“I felt sick driving down the street and it was so dark, when all the other towns were lit up so nicely,” Roach said. “I don’t think it should be left out of the budget.”

Jayne seconded the thanks to the SBPOA for stepping up to make sure the display when on despite the town’s budget issues.

Reporting as the council’s treasurer, Saxton noted last Friday that, while the town had not solved all of its financial problems and was still too dependant on transfer tax income, he was feeling positive about the progress the town had made in the last year.

The new Budget & Finance Committee, Saxton said, had commenced its 2011 budget process in recent meetings and encouraged citizens to provide input during the process as it proceeds into the spring. The committee’s next meeting is set for 3 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 14, at the town hall.

Also on Dec. 11:

• Cusick asked South Bethany’s curbside recycling program participants to make sure to put out their DSWA-issued recycling containers for upcoming pickups, even if they do not have recyclable materials in them, as the town’s change in curbside recycling providers will bring a change-out in the recycling containers to those from the new provider.

On the second pick-up day of the month between Jan. 1 and the end of April, the new provider will pick up any recyclable materials in the existing carts, then DSWA will come by to pick up the empty DSWA carts and, finally, the new provider will drop off a new cart of their own.

Cusick noted that the procedure had been a tricky logistical issue, with more than 800 participating households in the town.

• Police Chief Joe Deloach reported the start of two new initiatives: a bicycle helmet program designed to bring more minors into compliance with the state’s mandatory helmet law for those 18 and younger and the purchase of solar panels designed to power police equipment inside police cruisers so that the vehicles’ engines can be turned off while the cruisers are idle.

Deloach said he had found a source to purchase bicycle helmets for about $4.65 each that could be provided, with a deposit, to those 18 or younger who were found to be riding in the town without the required helmet. At that cost, he said, if the cyclists (or their parents) wanted to just keep the helmets, they could. The initiative is considered a gentler way to encourage compliance and safety than issuing tickets.

The solar panels, Deloach said he had discovered through a resident who had a contact with the Ohio State Police, where the panels are already in use. Being able to turn off the engines of the idle patrol vehicles would save gas and, as a result, money for the town, Deloach said.

As it has stood, the vehicles have had to be kept running so that needed electronic systems didn’t get shut down and require a time-consuming restart before officers could get back on the road. The small panels will provide power to the electronic systems from a perch in the back window of the patrol vehicles and cost the department just $35 each – funded with a grant.

• The council unanimously adopted a revised set of bylaws for the town’s Planning Commission. The bylaws had last been revised in early 1999. The council also heard a first reading of an amended ordinance regarding the operation of the Planning Commission, whose governing ordinance was last updated in 2003.

The changes update town code to reflect the way the commission operates, as well as mandating that the commission report to state officials on the town’s comprehensive plan at least once each year. The new ordinance would also add a new section governing hearings on subdivision applications, as well as those on partitioning and combining of parcels.

• Councilman Jay Headman reported the availability of DNREC booklets that offer citizens tips on helping to improve water quality in bodies of water such as the town’s canals. The booklets are available in hardcopy at town hall and were also to be available via the town Web site in a downloadable PDF format.

Headman said town officials had also met with the assessment group on the Anchorage Canal drainage area study. He said a final report was being prepared and grant funding would be sought to implement some of the recommendations.

• Gassinger reported that she had been told the ongoing Assawoman Canal dredge project would be completed by May of 2010, in time for boating season, with unprecedented permission granted to continue the dredge work into January and beyond. Usually, the dredging has only been permitted between Labor Day and Jan. 1, due to concerns about environmental impacts.

• The council unanimously appointed Laurence Gough (one of South Bethany’s original lifeguards) and Al Rae (past president of the SBPOA) to the town’s Board of Adjustments, to two-year and four-year terms, respectively.

• The council received a plaque from U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 1201 in thanks for its hosting of the flotilla’s meetings and other events at the town hall.