Bethany council looks at next steps for town park
Bethany Beach Town Council members got an update this week on plans for development of a town park on the former Christian Church/Neff property on the northwest corner of Routes 1 and 26.
At a council workshop on July 16, Town Manager Cliff Graviet again explained that the recent removal of trees from the property had been needed for future steps in development of the park, including a plan to fill in low-lying areas of the property — a “manmade bog” — that rest some 4 to 5 feet below the height of other portions of the parcel.
Graviet noted criticism of the decision to remove the trees and suggestions as to how it might have been otherwise handled, including gradual filling of the area in an effort to keep the existing trees.
“People have suggested that we fill it in at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per year,” he explained. “If we did that, we would be looking at decades.”
Additionally, he said, the Town would have needed to thin the existing saplings, which run about 1 to 2 inches in diameter, as well as gum trees growing around 18 inches apart.
“That wasn’t a task that was doable,” he said.
Graviet said he had even revisited the town council’s intention when it purchased the property, with former councilman Don Doyle.
“I don’t think when they spent $1.2 million they intended to leave half the property as an inaccessible sinkhole or bog,” Graviet said.
With the trees cleared, Graviet said he was now asking for a stormwater plan to be drawn up for the property. That plan will need approval from the Sussex Conservation District “before we turn another shovelful of dirt on the property.”
In the meantime, he said, workers were in the process on Monday of installing silt fending on the property so that the existing soil doesn’t move to other properties.
At present, the vision for the park includes a pond, but Graviet said that vision had shifted from a larger pond initially envisioned on one corner of the property to the idea of a smaller ornamental pond located more centrally on the parcel. He said the topography of the lot, including the 6-foot fall from its heights to its low-lying areas, had suggested the change of plan.
In addition to its ornamental nature, Graviet said the smaller pond could possibly be used as a diversion area for stormwater, though he admitted that would have to be investigated as to whether it is even possible.
He also said the Town could potentially take the material removed to create the pond could be combined with the shavings from the removed trees and used as the fill material for the grading operation. That, he said, would substantially reduce the cost of the project, since removal of the material from the site was an expensive portion of any estimates for the project’s cost.
Once the parcel is graded, it would be seeded with grass seed and then the pond could be constructed, if the council decides to build it, Graviet said, noting that he would have more details to provide on the plan prior to any council decision.
“We’ll plant the grass and trees that can survive and be healthy — repopulate it, if you will,” Graviet said.
Councilman Jack Gordon said he was concerned that the “ugly silt fence” would be left for an extended period of time, but Graviet assured him that it would not be there longer than necessary and would be removed as soon as grass was planted.
“We’re moving ahead as quickly as we can with a stormwater plan,” he said. “We have piles of earth queued up already. … We took a portion of the trees and had them chipped to use as fill, which you can do if you put decent earth on top. We’re continuing to solicit from local contractors additional [fill material]. We’re trying to get the [grading] done by the end of summer, and then we’ll be able to plant grass and possibly install a pond.”
Graviet noted, also that the cost to construct the large pond initially envisioned were high. “But I think we can construct a pond for much less than that, given what we know now,” he said.
Returning to the issue of the trees removed, Councilman Jerry Dorfman asked whether the Sussex Conservation District should have been consulted prior to the removal of the trees, which Graviet had said was recommended by the town arborist.
“They wouldn’t have weighed in on the trees,” Graviet emphasized, noting that the SCD’s area of concern is soil.
“The pond would be state-of the art, and would have an aerator and fountain or fountains,” he added.
“That sounds like it would be nice,” Councilman Lew Killmer commented.
Graviet said the larger cost of the project will depend on how and where the Town obtains the needed fill material.
“We don’t look at this to be an exceptionally expensive process,” he said. “We’re simply moving earth and planting grass. The next feature would be the pond, which will cost much less than originally thought. And there are grants available, once the property is graded, to help reforest.”
Killmer chimed in on that front, noting that State officials have regularly offered the Town money for planting trees when the comprehensive plan gets its reviews.