Ocean View Police Department Cpl. Justin Hopkins and his family received a standing ovation Tuesday night, March 12, after being congratulated by Mayor Walter Curran and the town council for receiving the 2019 Joshua M. Freeman Valor Award, presented by the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce.
Hopkins was selected by the Chamber’s board for his work to raise more than $26,000 to provide a Tactical Canine Casualty Care training course for all Delaware police K-9 teams.
“Justin oversees our K-9 unit, and I like to think we have one of the best K-9 units in the state,” said Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin. “Justin took it upon himself to initiate some fundraising efforts…
“The end result is every single K-9 officer in the state of Delaware is able to participate in this really high-speed, advanced tactical combat casualty-care course for working dogs. Not only does it help us here in Ocean View, but helps all communities that have police dogs throughout the state, and we’re very proud of that. He’s a fine example of the quality personnel we have working for us here in the Town of Ocean View.”
Also, at the March 12 meeting, the town council held a first reading of an ordinance to amend the town code to establish an occupancy limit for rental properties.
Curran said the Town had found that, in some instances, rental homes were housing 20 people at a time.
“We counted once as much as 14 cars at one house. It got to be a real problem. It came from a number of neighborhoods throughout town, and it’s getting worse every summer.”
Curran emphasized that the proposed legislation is only related to rental properties and does not encompass residents hosting family.
“It says, ‘The overnight occupancy of a residential rental shall not exceed the sum of two persons per bedroom plus an additional two persons.’ So, if you have three bedrooms, that’s essentially eight adults. Children under 6 years of age are not counted,” said Curran. “From my personal perspective, that’s a reasonable number.”
The proposed ordinance also states that property owners would have to provide 1.75 parking spaces per bedroom.
“I live in Bear Trap, and there isn’t a house in Bear Trap that would qualify for that on their own property,” Curran said, suggesting the Town lower the proposed 1.75 parking space per bedroom to 1.0 space per bedroom. “To me, that’s a much more rational number and more rational approach.”
Councilman Tom Maly agreed about lowering the parking provision requirement.
“In the development I live in, there isn’t a driveway that’s going to hold over three cars,” he added. “I think a limit of one per [bedroom] is more feasible.”
“It’s not just a nuisance that we have 14 cars parked on these roads,” added Councilman Berton Reynolds. “Once you get that many cars parked on the street, if an emergency happens, they’re not getting down that street. We’ve got the best police force in Delaware, and we’ve got statistics to prove that … the emergency services that you pay for.”
Councilman Frank Twardzik said the council has to consider the citizens who own their homes and live in their homes, and cannot park at their homes.
“This is not meant that we are now going to become the bedroom police,” said Curran. “We will respond to complaints. Right now, we get complaints and have no ability to respond to them. This will give us the ability to respond… Nobody in town is going to go knocking on doors saying we want to count bedrooms.”
Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader noted that the proposed ordinance defines bedroom and residential rentals, which are “single-family, semi-detached, duplex, townhouse and multifamily dwellings used for rental purposes on a daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal or annual basis.”
Rental license requirements are that the landlord must use reasonable business practices to ensure that the tenants, occupants and guests comply with all applicable code and other relevant laws, such as trash pickup.
Resident Steve Cobb asked how many complaints the Town had received about rental properties.
“In the past… June 1 of last year through September, I got at least 50 myself,” said Curran.
“How are they going to enforce this? What if it’s people getting together for just a party? We don’t want to inundate the police department with calls.”
Schrader said the proposed ordinance is intended to address occupancy of rental properties and “not about how many people you can stick in a house for a graduation or a wedding.”
“Every single one of the complaints I got over the summer came from people who lived in the neighborhoods. They know who’s there,” added Curran.
Schrader also clarified that the Town’s director of Planning, Zoning & Development, Ken Cimino, would be fielding complaints — not the police department.
Cobb asked whether a penalty for those in violation had been discussed. Curran said they had not.
Administrative variances permitted for minor issues
Also on March 12, the town council unanimously approved an ordinance to amend the Town’s Land Use & Development Code to permit administrative variances. The Town’s administrative official is now able to grant property setback variances of up to 1 foot and height limit variances up to 1 foot, without having to go through the Board of Adjustment process.
Schrader said there would be a $150 fee associated with the administrative variances.
“It does not permit the administrative official to grant variances on the number of dwelling units, parking units, parking requirements… And, if in the opinion of the administrative official there is reason to believe that the granting of a one-time variance might be controversial, he can waive it on to the Board of Adjustment.”
The council voted 5-0 to approve the amendment.
The council on Tuesday also approved an ordinance amending the Town’s Code related to wireless communications facilities.
“Ultimately, two orders were issued by the Federal Communications Commission that are the result of interests getting into 5G cell service,” said Schrader. “The process of getting 5G cell service makes us all warm and fuzzy, but we have to do some things in order to get it. Part of it is we need to update our regulatory scheme in the Town’s Land Use & Development Code.”
Schrader said definitions were clarified, as well as creation of the allowance for an administrative process for the review and approval of towers.
Reynolds said he had spent time researching the devices and noted that the 5G installations are not the towers most people think of involving cell service.
“They said some are almost the size of a shoebox,” he said. “The benefit from it is going to be miraculous, from what I understand. But you’re not going to see these 75-foot structures. You’re going to see boxes that you may not even realize that they’re there.”
The council adopted the amendment with a unanimous 5-0 vote.
Council considers later start time for construction
In addition, on Tuesday the council discussed prohibiting construction beginning before 8 a.m. within town limits.
Reynolds said he had received a request from residents within his community of Fairway Village who were disturbed by construction hours beginning at 7 a.m. Maly said he agreed with the 8 a.m. change.
“Bear Trap has different rules depending on the day,” said Curran. “I think 7 o’clock is the right time, because that’s when construction people start. The whole world, like it or not, wakes up and goes to work and the day starts at 7 a.m.”
Curran noted that Bear Trap stops construction within its community, unless it’s an emergency, from May 15 through Sept. 15.
Twardzik said he’s heard more complaints about contractors exceeding working hours.
Resident Chris Dominic said the summer heat sometimes has him working on his property at 7 a.m.
“I’m not going to wait until 8 a.m., because it’s too hot.”
The second reading of the proposed ordinance will take place at the council’s April 9 meeting.
Citizens reminded mini-golf use has approval
The Town has also received three letters regarding a mini-golf course to be located at 3 Atlantic Avenue. Curran did not read the letters aloud, although they were made a part of the record, but instead read a letter to all residents.
In the letter, Curran stated that the property was given a special-use exception by the Town’s Board of Adjustment to operate a mini-golf course at that location.
“At this time, the applicant is proceeding with concept plan review with the Planning Commission. This will be followed by a preliminary and final site plan reviews. Please be aware that the Commission’s review will be limited to compliance with the conditions, safeguards and other requirements set out in our code, and it cannot reject the plan simply because residents do not want the land used for that project.”
He noted that all correspondence will be part of the record and will not be ignored.
“We’re telling you right up front that the use of this property for this purpose has already been approved by the Board of Adjustment. The only thing up for debate is the ultimate plan that’s going to be there — concept and final plan — will it be in line with our building codes.”
In other Town news:
• The Town has been approached by the South Sussex Rotary, who said they would like to donate a wheelchair swing to John West Park. Town Manager Carol Houck said there was a site-visit to the park to determine a good location for the swing, which will be installed in the near future.
• The Town will have an election for the District 1 council seat currently held by Bill Olsen, who is not running for re-election. Residents Bruce White and Gabriel Sarate filed to run for the seat. A candidates’ night will be held on March 27 at 6 p.m. at town hall. The election will be held on Saturday, April 13, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at town hall.
By Maria Counts