Killmer returns to planning chairmanship

After stepping down from the Bethany Beach Town Council during this year’s election season, Lew Killmer has now returned to his former spot at the head of the town’s planning commission. Praised for a great job and given a round of applause, outgoing two-year Chairwoman Kathleen Mink announced at the commission’s Oct. 20 meeting that she wanted to “give someone else a turn.”

Killmer was the only person nominated to take over chairmanship of the group, and he received unanimous votes from his fellow commissioners to return to the leadership role, which he had held prior to being appointed to the town council.

As of this month, Killmer will also be taking on the role of the commission’s representative on the town’s commercial architecture Design Review Committee, where he previously served as the town council representative. Commissioner Don Doyle said he felt Killmer was clearly the most qualified commissioner to sit on the DRC.

Commissioners on Saturday also unanimously voted for second-year commissioner and newly appointed head of the Charter and Ordinance Committee Fulton Loppatto to become the commission’s vice-chairman.

With a long schedule of planning and zoning decisions before them and ongoing review of the town’s zoning code, commissioners are already expecting to need to schedule additional meetings beyond their regular monthly sessions.

A special meeting has tentatively been scheduled for sometime in the next month, at which the commissioners will tackle non-conforming uses, changes to requirements for planned residential developments (PRDs) and subdivisions, and, they hope, the last of revisions to Chapter 245 of town code.

Addys, Coopers present preliminary plan for subdivision

The issue of changes for PRD and subdivision requirements had previously been mentioned by commissioners in connection with the anticipated application of the Addy and Cooper families for a new community of 18 homes on their combined properties at 67 and 69 Kent Avenue, south of the South Coastal Library.

The parcels are, according to Building Inspector John Eckrich, two of the largest pieces of undeveloped upland property in the town, and commissioners had hoped to address new requirements, such as recreational facilities and open space, before an application came before them.

However, that application arrived perhaps earlier than commissioners expected, with a sketch plan presentation made at their Oct. 20 meeting.

Project engineer Katya Kalinski noted that what had previously been referred to as a plan for a PRD was, in fact, an application for a subdivision — what Eckrich said qualified as a major subdivision. As such, it has even fewer requirements for amenities than PRDs, for which requirements were revised in the wake of the town’s move to change minimum parcel size a few years ago.

The Addy-Cooper subdivision would include 18 single-family homes, as well as a T-shaped subdivision street with a 50-foot right-of-way that would be ceded to the town.

Kalinski said the T-shaped turn-around design had been approved by the state fire marshal’s office but noted that it did not meet any specifications in town code. Eckrich said a pertinent section of code would need to be added but that fire marshal’s approval was likely to make that change relatively simple.

Lots in the project, as initially planned, would have 60-foot minimum frontages, with stormwater areas planned for the rear of properties that abut the main street. Lot sizes would range from 7,020 to 7,900 square feet.

Eckrich said the plans were in line with the existing nearby Lekites and Beachwood subdivisions but noted a number of challenges for the project, such as stormwater and drainage, where stormwater could, ideally, be routed to Kent Avenue and thus eliminate the need for the planned stormwater areas. Also needing to be addressed are the town road and town water lines.

“This will be a good test for us with the tree replacement plan,” Eckrich said, noting that the plan’s requirements to plot existing trees and replace those not within building footprints did not specifically apply to a major subdivision like the one being proposed by the Addys and Coopers, but was designed for PRDs.

“We have to communicate to them what we’re going to require,” he told the commissioners, adding, “It’s almost impossible to do a project of this size without clear cutting.” Eckrich said attempting to preserve mature trees in such a project often led to circumstances where the trees still eventually died, due to the impacts of construction.

Loppatto said he was particularly concerned about those trees being lost and praised the benefits of mature trees, but the Addys countered they had already been having problems with some of the trees succumbing to the vagaries of old age, falling down and endangering property and infrastructure.

Eckrich said that with careful planning, tree restoration after clear-cutting could bring about an attractive result over the long term. He pointed to what had been done in the construction of Turtle Walk, where all trees had been removed for construction and now mature trees surround the area.

Killmer noted that while the sketch plan presented technically meets the town’s minimum requirements for a major subdivision, he had major concerns about how the property would be developed. Reading from a prepared statement, he lamented the possibility that so many trees — “living assets” — might be lost.

Recognizing the removal of trees as necessary to maximize development potential, Killmer nonetheless asked the Addys and Coopers to consider the trees as a natural enhancement of the final value of the developed property.

He asked them to also look at preserving at least 15 percent of the property as open space — as has been targeted by the commission as a goal in PRDs. He further requested they consider tree-lined streets, sidewalks and streetlights and that they avoid cookie-cutter homes in favor of a variety of traditional architectural styles.

“Yours were among the first families in this town,” he reminded them. “They were community leaders. And I would request that you continue the family tradition as role models.”

Despite the clear concerns commissioners had for the initial sketch plan for the property, the Addys stated that they liked the plan that had been developed. They also emphasized that they are not far enough into the planning process to know whether they will develop and sell the properties in the subdivision themselves or whether they will sell the approved project to an outside developer.

Town engineering consultants are currently reviewing the submitted sketch plan. From the sketch plan, work will proceed to a formal preliminary plan, which the commission will need to review and vote upon.

Prior to granting approval for the subdivision plan, the commissioners will also need to grant approval for combining of the two parcels, which Eckrich noted was all but a foregone conclusion, since the move appears to meet all town requirements. The application for combining is expected to be addressed at the same meeting of the commission as the presentation of the preliminary plan.

Commission approves three-home Finn-Fay PRD

Commissioners on Oct. 20 granted final approval to another development planned for Kent Avenue. The Finn-Fay PRD is being planned for property at 3 Kent Avenue, owned by the Haley family, near the entrance to Bethany Pines.

Plans call for the existing house to remain on the property but to be moved, with its accompanying garage, to the rear of the parcel. Two new homes will be constructed on either side of the front portion of the parcel, with a shared driveway connecting them all to Kent Avenue.

The final plan for the PRD came before the commissioners and garnered unanimous approval nearly 18 months after they approved a preliminary plan.

Eckrich noted that the delay had been due to delays with the approval process from the Delaware Department of Transportation for the entrance on Kent Avenue. DelDOT had initially insisted upon taking a 50-foot right-of-way off the front of the parcel but later came to an agreement with the Haleys that did not include that large taking.

After a six-month extension of the initial 12-month approval of the preliminary plan, taking the project to its final plan hearing, the Haleys’ are now in no hurry to complete construction on the project, despite an established 12-month town timeline for construction to begin.

The project engineer said they would prefer to start in 18 months to two years, ideally, which led Eckrich to recommend the commissioners consider two possible changes to the planning timeline the town has been operating on recently.

First, Eckrich noted recent reports that state agencies, such as DelDOT, have been so backlogged with project approvals that it is often taking in excess of 18 months to get a project permitted by the state to the point where commissioners can grant final approval.

Though six-month extensions are possible on the 12-month period after approval of a preliminary plan, Eckrich suggested it might be useful to extend that period to 18 months or more, with perhaps an automatic review at 12 months to make sure progress with a final plan was being made.

Eckrich said he also thought it might be necessary to change the period for the requirement for construction to substantially start after final plan approval, in light of a slowing real estate market that has many investors holding off on building or taking a longer period to gather the funds needed to build a project from start to finish.

He said he feared the town’s 12-month time limit might push people to develop at a time where there is already an excess of inventory on the market, causing problems for both the property owners and the area’s real estate market overall.

While open to some flexibility in such cases, Killmer said he preferred to look at extensions on a case-by-case basis, however. Doyle noted that projects left unconstructed for years would likely need to be reviewed for possible changes to town code and ordinances that might have been enacted after their approval, and changes made to comply with those new elements.

New boat and trailer ordinance goes to solicitor

Also on Oct. 20, commissioners voted unanimously to send to the town solicitor a draft of revised town ordinances on the storage of boats and boat trailers within the town.

The changes in the draft would eliminate a limitation of 6 feet in width for such trailers that caught many boat owners unawares when notices of violation were sent out this summer. Some boat owners apparently immediately sold their boats, to avoid the hassle of dealing with the outdated town code.

In the meantime, the commission, with a pair of boat owners and Eckrich, have endeavored to revise the code to better represent both current boating and transport standards, and the town’s wishes for aesthetics and safety.

Trailers will now be limited to 8.5 feet in width, which will also serve to control the total size of boats that can be kept within the town, since boats too large for such a trailer will be automatically excluded by transportation restrictions.

The new code also requires trailers to be kept on some sort of solid surface, rather than on lawn or sand, and requires pontoon boats to be stored on a trailer rather than on blocks. Boats stored on a property will be limited to one per property and will have to be kept in the side or rear yard if kept for any lengthy period of time.

The code will also allow two personal watercraft, such as Jet Skis, per property, along with a trailer of less than 8.5 feet in width used to haul one or two of the craft. Kayaks and canoes are exempt from the requirement to be stored on a trailer, as well as the number limits.

Eckrich also asked commissioners to confirm on Oct. 20 that they wished to exempt boats stored on a davit or floating dock from the storage requirements, to which he received an affirmative consensus.

With a unanimous vote, the code changes will now be sent to the town solicitor for codification, to be presented at a future public hearing, which could then be followed by a town council vote to adopt the changes.

Commissioners on Oct. 20 also voted to cancel their regular December meeting, citing it as too close to the winter holidays. And they agreed to work in the future add restrictions on permitted uses to the town code, to reinforce restrictions on residential use in the town’s commercial zones.

The restrictions exist in the commercial architectural guidelines recently adopted by the town, but commissioners felt they should also be noted directly in the town code related to uses in the commercial zone.