South Bethany looking to improve beach crossings

South Bethany officials want to make the town’s sand dunes easier for people to access. Senior citizens, children and people with balance issues are having trouble crossing.

“In certain places, the grade is too high, and they really could not get up,” said Town Council Member Jimmy Oliver. “We found that a lot of people do not go to the beach because they’re afraid they’re going to fall down.”

This summer, Oliver and the Beach Access Ad Hoc Committee reviewed the town’s existing crossovers. On Nov. 9, the South Bethany Town Council agreed to add a proposal for access improvements to the long-range plan, to consider future funding.

The goal is better accessibility of town beaches. Since July, the committee has studied public surveys, neighboring towns, new ideas and cost estimates. They also requested State input, since any beach changes will need State approval.

South Bethany has 16 beach access points. Several have wooden steps or boardwalks; some are just sand, some have hardpack surfaces and some utilize Mobi-Mats. (Seven beach-area parking spots are handicapped-accessible only.)

Easier dune crossovers might include better stability and less-steep slopes.

In South Bethany, there is a dip between the road and the dune. So, typically, visitors coming from the roadway step downward and then climb back up onto the main dune.

The committee proposed bypassing that dip with a wooden boardwalk from the road to midway up the dune slope. That is already the case on a few streets in town.

They also questioned whether the S. 3rd Street handicapped-accessible crossing was truly built to ADA standards, so they may ask the Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild it, if necessary.

The committee recommended a five-year plan, starting in 2019 and continuing each year, with public feedback.

In Year 1, they’d address the ADA-accessibility of S. 3rd Street; install three “Sandpiper-like” boardwalks from the street to the dune at N. 6th, S. 6th and Indian streets; and increase efficient use of Mobi-Mats.

For the next four years, with positive feedback, they’d construct three boardwalks per year (on busier streets first) until completing the whole beachfront. The total cost is an estimated $225,000 ($15,000 per boardwalk). They might need to acquire fill sand, too, officials noted.

Although the southern dunes seem more vulnerable in storms, Oliver said DNREC staff generally don’t imagine the boardwalks would be impacted by storms. But that’s also why the boardwalks would end about 5 feet short of the dune’s crest.

An added challenge will be the back yards of oceanfront houses. Where the sand dips down, there is a long pathway that runs parallel to the road, connecting back yards to the public crossovers. Designers will have to decide how to link that lane to an elevated boardwalk — either by sand, steps or some other means.

“This is something we’ve been talking about for years — this is a great start,” complimented Treasurer Don Boteler.

The town council only agreed this week to begin planning for the project. They did not allocate funding for it. But the 2020-fiscal-year budget process and long-range planning are set to begin soon.

Parking permits will be townwide in 2020

New parking rules in South Bethany will move forward for the next two years.

The town council unanimously voted on Nov. 9 for a two-part implementation, as recommended by town staff. They will purchase an outdoor parking permit kiosk for 2019 and ask the Charter & Ordinance Committee to draft laws to require townwide street parking permits in 2020.

That requirement would only apply from May 15 to Sept. 15. Parking permits are required from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from midnight to 5 a.m. during that period.

Town staff are also working toward website software for online orders.

Currently, summertime street parking permits are required only east of Route 1 (although signage doesn’t generally publicize that permits are available at Town Hall). Parking has typically been free on the west side of Route 1.

“This is basically the last town where you can park on the west side for free,” said Mayor Tim Saxton, who said he wants to prepare for the future.

Council Member Sue Callaway clarified that she did not initially favor town wide permits, but she now supports them, since housing developments west of town will continue bringing beach traffic. Most beach towns require permits, but she said she hopes enforcement will be lax during the first year as people get used to the varying times.

At least people could still park for free during the evening, which many towns don’t allow, said Police Chief Troy Crowson. He said permits were required townwide when he joined the South Bethany police in 1988.

In other South Bethany Town Council news;

• At an executive session on Nov. 8, the town council unanimously voted to hire a new town solicitor, effective Nov. 1. Stephanie Ballard has her own firm, headquartered in Wilmington, with offices in Georgetown. Town Manager Maureen Hartman said the council wanted to make a change, and it had nothing to do with their outgoing attorney, D. Barrett Edwards IV.

• Callaway reported that South Bethany won an $8,000 recreation grant from the Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) to expand its outdoor fitness center, meaning, “We’ll be seeing some new pieces of equipment this spring, so everybody will be fit.”

“Or have the opportunity to,” Saxton quipped.

• Having finished physical testing in the town’s canals, the Woods Hole Group will begin data analysis en route to helping South Bethany decide on a plan of attack for long-term canal water health.

• Not wanting computerized LED signs in town, the town council directed Charter & Code Committee to review (or rewrite) town code to confirm that such signs are prohibited.

• Since neighboring towns seem to host bonfires with “relative safety,” the Charter & Code Committee was directed to begin drafting legislation to allow bonfires, starting with Town-sponsored events.

“This ban started when there was no dune, and people were having bonfires and hotdogs under people’s houses,” said Council Secretary Carol Stevenson. “I’m not saying we should do it because everyone else does, but I kind of am!”

• The Town’s 50th Anniversary Party will be held Sunday, June 30, 2019, from 1 to 4 p.m. at town hall, with music, food, exhibits, door prizes, games, children’s activities and more.

• The Halloween potluck and costume party was deemed a success, and the Town will host a 2019 St. Patrick’s Day potluck.

“I encourage new people to come. It really is fun,” said Stevenson. “We had several new couples move to the area, and it’s a really nice way to introduce them to the area.”

The South Bethany Town Council’s next regular meeting will be Friday, Dec. 14, at 6 p.m.

 

By Laura Walter

Staff Reporter