Pedestrian safety improvements slated for Route 1 in Bethany
With pedestrian and bicycle safety a major topic in the area in the past year, Bethany Beach is slated to get some significant improvements along its Route 1 corridor before the start of the 2020 summer season.
Town Manager Cliff Graviet told the council at their Jan. 17 meeting that the town is on track to have decorative light poles installed in the Route 1 median, every 110 feet along the highway inside town limits. He noted that the Town has arranged for an upgraded, decorative light pole similar to those installed downtown.
Neighboring South Bethany is also due to get the median lighting along Route 1 within its town limits, though Graviet said it will use the standard lighting poles.
Also slated for Bethany is a new pedestrian crosswalk at Wellington Parkway, with crosswalk markings painted on the pavement and pedestrian warning lights.
Graviet said the Town has also asked DelDOT to look at establishing a pedestrian crossing at Kent Avenue and Wellington Parkway. He said such a project was not on DelDOT’s schedule for the current fiscal year, but the Town might be willing to foot the bill for the paint markings and lights if the cost is reasonable, while DelDOT would handle the engineering. He said that if that was the case, he would return to the council to ask for the funding for the project.
He emphasized that DelDOT has been working with the local community on pedestrian and bicycle safety and would also be considering adding LED safety lighting at Ashwood Street, Central Boulevard and Oceanview Parkway, along the lines of the pedestrian safety lighting in the “Forgotten Mile” area north of Dewey Beach.
Graviet said the Town had also sent to DelDOT data from the tidal gauge at the Loop Canal in encouraging the agency to expand its elaborate system of roadway flooding monitoring to include Southern Delaware. Currently, the system monitors roads from Lewes to the Pennsylvania state line, but nothing south of Lewes.
“For some reason, Lower Delaware, which floods quite often, has not been part of the system,” he said, reporting that DelDOT has since agreed to put its own equipment on the flood gauge in Bethany Beach and make that information available to the public on its website, which Graviet called “very informative, especially in significant weather.”
Graviet also reported to the council that, despite appearances, the town park project is on schedule. He said things had gotten a little behind because the property at the northwest corner of Routes 1 and 26 has been very wet, but he said the next item on the construction schedule is to erect the pavilion, which will be done using heavy equipment, as soon as the site is dry enough. Work on the sign at the entrance to the park is also ongoing.
After that, there will be no more work on the project until April, he said, “which doesn’t mean we’re not on schedule,” he added, just that there isn’t anything more scheduled to be done until then.
Finally, Graviet reported that internet provider Comcast has been “very busy” with utility locates in the downtown area and along Route 1. He said Comcast’s new installation of fiber-optic internet service for business customers is scheduled to be operational by this summer, installed in the downtown district and along Route 1 north to the Bluecoast restaurant. He said the plans presented as yet only show plans along Route 1 and the eastern commercial district, but that it is their plan to also install the service westward in Bethany along the Route 26 commercial zone.
“They will not commit to, and say they have no plans to, provide residential service, but we hope this is the beginning of that,” he put in, adding that Comcast does its fiber-option service expansions based on when funding becomes available for commercial installation.
Comfort station renovations, new trolley anticipate for summer
The town council on Jan. 17 unanimously approved $250,000 in funding for a renovation of the existing comfort station and beach patrol guard house at the end of Garfield Parkway.
Graviet noted that the project had begun with the idea of a major reconstruction of the restroom facilities in the comfort station, with creation of a number of additional facilities in the restrooms. But he said that idea ultimately proved to be cost-prohibitive, at an estimated cost of more than $1 million.
“The engineers basically told us it would be advisable to take the building down and rebuild another building. That was not something the Town was really interested in doing,” he said.
Instead, the renovation will involve cosmetic improvements, new fixtures, a new drop-ceiling, new HVAC system and new floor coating. The Town plans to use EDIS, which has recently been employed doing nearly identical work in Rehoboth Beach’s facilities, to manage the project as a general contract and on-site owner representative, administering the contracts with individual contractors.
Council Treasurer Jerry Morris noted that the $250,000 in funding was already in the current fiscal-year’s budget.
The project is to be completed by April 30, with the restroom facilities closing after this weekend’s Fire & Ice Festival, for the duration of the work. Graviet said alternative facilities will be available during the closure.
The council this week also approved the purchase of an additional 30-passenger trolley bus. The Town currently has three trolley buses — built in 2003, 2005 and 2013 — which Graviet said the Town has been fairly successful in extending the life of, but he said the 2003 trolley is only a 16-passenger vehicle and has been limited of late to use for special needs.
The purchase of the additional trolley will give the Town three vehicles to run the multiple trolley routes in the summer, allowing for some downtime and bringing the number of trolleys with handicapped lifts to two.
Graviet noted that the Town had looked into purchasing an electric or natural-gas trolley, but the electric vehicles were deemed to not be practical yet, while the gas-powered trolleys had problems the Town wasn’t ready to deal with.
The $155,000 cost of the new trolley will be reflected in the coming budget, since it won’t be received until after the 2021 fiscal year begins.
Town looks to address pile-driving damage, grass-killing
First readings of two sets of amendments to town ordinances were held on Jan. 17, with voting on their approval to take place at future second readings of the amendments.
The first amendment is to the town’s ordinance on pile driving. Vice-Mayor Rosemary Hardiman said the ordinance had been drafted by the Charter & Ordinance Review Committee (CORC) at the request of the council after complaints from members of the public about a lack of notice regarding recent pile-driving work and damage sustained to personal property that had not been secured due to the lack of prior notice.
The amendment would required pile-driving contractors to provide advance notice to owners of all properties within 200 feet of a site at least 14 calendar days in advance of the pile-driving activity, with no building permit issued by the Town until the contractor provides proof of the required mailing.
The form contractors will use and the notice sent to neighboring property owners will contain the recommendation that those property owners inspect and document with dated photos or video, if they wish, the state of their properties prior to the beginning of the pile-driving, and to secure personal items prior to that work. They will also provide contact information for the contractor, in case complaints of damage, such as cracks in walls, need to be made.
“This is an important amendment to our current code,” Mayor Lew Killmer said. “If anyone has ever been near pile-driving — a lot of people are not here on a regular basis — things literally bounce off the walls, so we do highly recommend … you document exactly what your place is like prior to them doing it.”
The second set of code amendments addresses the destruction of grass and landscaping with herbicides, in lieu of routine mowing and trimming. Hardiman said CORC had again been asked to draft the amendments after receiving complaints about some property owners with tall grass or overgrown brush who had, rather than cutting them back, simply destroyed them with sprayed herbicides, posing a risk of increased soil erosion, as well as visual blight in their neighborhoods.
The amendments would delete the word “destroy” in the section of code instructing property owners to “cut, destroy or remove” overgrown vegetation (or the Town will do it for them at the property owner’s cost, if they don’t comply), thus avoiding any appearance of the Town endorsing destruction of vegetation by large-scale spraying of herbicides.
They would also add to the Town’s property maintenance code a requirement that all properties, vacant, occupied or undeveloped, be covered with grass, vegetation, shell or stone, in keeping with the overall landscaping appearance of the neighborhood, to prevent erosion into swales and nearby waterways or onto adjacent properties. There would be an exception for periods of construction or for clearing ahead of replanting of new grass or vegetation.
Graviet said there are only a handful of property owners who engage in the practice of using herbicides widely across their properties, but that they will be notified of the new restriction if it is approved, and the Town will use discretion in addressing first offenses.
Town plans to make statement on offshore wind farm
Killmer on Jan. 17 also paused briefly during the rest of the agenda for the meeting to state that it would behoove the Town to make a statement regarding its position on the controversial off-shore wind farm proposed off Fenwick Island and a proposal to exchange park improvements funding for an agreement to allow power lines to come on shore there.
“There’s a lot of pros and cons on this issue,” Killmer said, noting that he, along with all of the other mayors from the local coastal communities, had met with Gov. John Carney in November to discuss the issue, though with the turbines to be placed in federal waters, there was some limit to “what we can do as a community to have an impact on this.”
“Some are for it and some against,” he said, adding that as a member of the state’s sea-level rise and stormwater management committees, he believes “climate change is going to have an impact on the state, and anything we can do to mitigate that effect on the town of Bethany Beach, we should do that.”
He added that the Town has received some interesting letters on the issue, with “some really well done,” and that he believes it is “best to take a stand and give our support to the other coastal communities. And we will be doing that in the near future,” he said.
Hardiman said the towns want to become more involved in the process, and that she and Councilman Bruce Frye planned to attend the meeting on the topic in Ocean City, Md., this week.
Killmer said he had noted to the governor that the coastal communities hadn’t been involved in the discussions leading to the drafting of a memorandum-of-understanding between the wind farm developer and the State on the issue of Fenwick Island State Park, and that he felt the proposed improvements funding of “$18 million was a really small amount of money compared to the size of the project” and questioned whether improvements to the park were the best way to spend that money.
“We felt there should also be a franchise fee, an ongoing payment schedule. The take-home message we got with them was they’re kind of on board with this project. We just wanted to make sure all the concerns of the coastal communities were taken into account,” he added.
“There have been lots of comments back and forth, and these are all issues that have to be dealt with,” he said, adding that he was concerned there could in the future be many additional companies looking to develop wind farms in the area, and questioning where all those lines might come ashore.
He also attempted to clear up what he said is a common misconception: that all of the energy from the proposed wind farm will be going to Maryland customers.
“But it all goes to the grid,” he clarified, noting that Maryland will be subsidizing project in order to help it meet its requirement as a state for renewable energy. “But all the electricity is not going to the state of Maryland — it’s going to the grid.”
He encouraged the town’s citizens to address any comments they have on the issue to the council, and urged the public to keep abreast of what any actual contract with the State says, as well as talking to legislators and the governor.
Also on Jan. 17:
• The council unanimously approved proposals for work at its Blackwater facility west of Millville, at $102,000 total for finishing the Town’s operations office at the site, including interior finishing and HVAC/electric.
He noted that other bids for the finishing work had ranged from $136,000 to $250,000, versus the $72,000 bid the Town had selected, adding that the Town has been working to reduce the cost and that he was confident he’d found the most reasonable vendor who would do quality work. The remainder of the $102,000 cost, for the HVAC and electric, he said, didn’t directly require council approval, but he said he wanted to present the total combined cost to the council. The funding for the project was in the 2020-fiscal-year budget, and the council merely moved to authorize its use this week.
• Morris reported from the Budget & Finance Committee that the Town should come in with revenues at least $900,000 above budgeted figures for the fiscal year, mainly from higher than budgeted amounts of transfer taxes. “You can see there’s lots of building going on,” he said, also reporting that the Town expects to come in a few percentage points below its budgeted expenditures.
Other than the previously approved increase in parking fees to $2.50 per hour, he said, the committee was not recommending any other changes in fees for the coming fiscal year. A second draft of the 2021 budget will be discussed at the committee’s next meeting.
• Kay Houston of the Women’s Civic Club of Bethany Beach presented a donation to the Town, part going to fund some of the floral plantings “that are gracing our lovely town every year,” she said, and part to fund a bench for the new museum, which is set to open soon.
“Those flowers — isn’t it amazing!” mused Councilman Joe Healy, as Houston noted the work of town horticulturalist Melinda Lindy.
“I look at it and I can’t believe it,” he continued.
“She is incredible,” Houston said of Lindy.
• Frye reported from the Fourth of July Parade Committee that the design of the 2020 parade fundraising shirts has been completed. The red shirts, to be available in long- and short-sleeved varieties, sport an image of the Town’s iconic boardwalk clock and the slogan, “The vision is clear, the message is timeless.” Bands are currently being lined up for this year’s parade.
• Killmer appointed and the council unanimously approved a replacement for planning commissioner Jim Sirkis, who has resigned from the body due to plans to move outside the area. His replacement will be Kathleen Shorter, whom Killmer described as having “an excellent résumé. I think she will do very well at coming up to speed rapidly, and I like that there’s another woman on the Planning & Zoning Commission.
“I know her, and she is one marvelous individual,” added Healy. “It’s very heartening and nice to have her around.”
“I’m so happy that she’s joining us. She will definitely make a mark here in town,” Killmer continued.
“She’ll be a contributor,” Hardiman concluded.
By M. Patricia Titus
Digital Content Editor