South Bethany tangles with code revisions

The South Bethany Town Council on Sept. 14 held first readings for a pair of code amendments intended to correct apparent errors regarding requirements for certifications to be provided before a certificate of occupancy is issued to property owners.

Council members noted that the change was recommended by the Town’s code enforcement officer, to deal with apparent confusion over an “insurance” or “elevation” certificate requirement that had caused problems with a property owner recently.

However, Councilman Jim Gross said he believed the amendments were unnecessary, as the code committee is nearly set to offer up proposed changes to the town code that would make the proposed amendments obsolete.

“Elevation is not a problem, and it hasn’t been in 10 years, since the code was last revised,” Gross said. “The code as written does require an elevation certificate for a certificate of occupancy.”

“The code committee has already drafted revisions that would make this change obsolete, and I expect they will be ready for the council to review at their October workshop,” he noted, saying he felt the Town should not hold a public hearing on the proposed pair of amendments at the same time it was also ready to begin readings of a major revision that doesn’t fit with those amendments.

“I thought we were correcting this so it helped the code enforcement officer, and that this was an interim step until the code committee was able to do a full review and revision,” Mayor Kathy Jankowski said. “I wasn’t told this could be ready in October.”

Code committee member and former councilman Bob Cestone confirmed that the committee is shooting for the council’s October workshop to present their proposed revision of the code. “We were pursuing this based on what the code enforcement officer said he’d run into that was a problem,” he noted.

“It has not been a problem for 10 years,” Gross reiterated. “We’re going to look silly having this change at a public hearing when it’s going to be obsolete the date we have the hearing.”

However, Jankowski and Councilwoman Sue Callaway said they were uncomfortable scrapping the proposed code amendments now, after the council had discussed them at their prior council workshop and agreed they were ready for a first reading, and only on the basis of Gross’ reported conversation with former councilman John Fields that the revision was nearly ready.

“I’m concerned that we would table this based on things not all council members know,” Callaway said.

Gross’ motion to table the amendments died without a second.

Councilman George Junkin noted that if the code committee’s revisions are adopted in the near future, the council could decide to table the pair of amendments after all. “I don’t see any evidence that we shouldn’t present it now,” he said.

“And in the meantime, I’d like to have the code enforcement officer be able to do his job,” Jankowski concluded before declaring the first readings of both amendments official.

Ambulance agreement amended, fee increase considered likely

The council also voted 6-0 last Friday, with Councilman Al Rae absent, to approve an amendment to the Bethany Beach ambulance service agreement in which the Town is a partner. The amendment removes from the agreement a reference to working on legislation that would seek equitable funding across ambulance service districts.

Town Manager Mel Cusick explained the background behind the change.

“The thought was to try to get Sussex County of the State to tax everyone for ambulance service in all of the areas,” Cusick explained. “We went to Dover to testify before the Delaware State Firemen’s Commission, and there was absolutely no support. The other fire companies didn’t support it. The legislators didn’t support it. So, we agreed to take it out.”

Cusick said the concerns over the idea had focused on the possibility that less-populated areas would probably get less money and fears that the State would take away grant-in-aid money if residents were paying for the service.

As it stands, the Bethany service bills its partner entities — South Bethany, Bethany, Fenwick Island and Sea Colony — for each home in their parts of the service district, and the cost is spread across individual home owners through town-assessed fees. Those who live in the Bethany Beach ambulance district but who do not live inside one of those towns or communities are not billed for the service but can make voluntary donations and are subject to fees when they use the service.

Jankowski also said an increase in the ambulance fee was anticipated in the near future, largely due to the higher cost of fuel and equipment, but also due to a larger demand on the ambulance service after the closure this summer of Beebe Medical Center’s summer emergency center in favor of a walk-in non-emergency clinic.

Also at the Sept. 14 meeting:

• South Bethany Historical Society member Mary Suazo reported that the group is working with the Fenwick Island, Bethany Beach and Ocean View historical societies on possibly hosting a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution for a month this fall at Ocean View Town Hall. She said the effort originated with the Delaware Humanities Forum, as part of an effort to bring more funding for such activities to Southern Delaware.

Suazo also reported that the society was working on a number of the suggestions made at their recent Storm of ’62 presentation as to future programs to be presented to the public, such as a history of the town’s canals and the Cat Hill community, as well as another presentation of the Storm of ’62 information.

• Resident Mike Matera asked whether the Town had yet conducted a review of the condition of the canals, particularly for overhanging limbs. Cusick said a review is planned for this fall, but that the Town was working to rent a boat appropriate for the review. Council members quickly offered use of several of their personal boats, and Cusick said that if arrangements hadn’t already been made, he might take them up on the offer.

• Cusick reported on the final portion of the beach patrol’s 2012 season, noting injuries to beachgoers including a spinal injury, a fishhook impalement of a foot, a shoulder dislocation and a laceration and impalement of one beachgoer’s leg by a flying umbrella. The lifeguards also closed the beach one day due to lightning, he said.

Cusick also noted that the South Bethany Beach Patrol, as part of the combined Sussex County squad, had recently participated in the national lifeguard competition in Cape May, N.J., and had come in third in the nation. With the most members on the Sussex squad, the third-place trophy went home with South Bethany’s lifeguards. Cusick also noted that the Sussex County lifeguards have come in second or third in the competition for the last three years, even against competition that includes lifeguards from Hawaii and California.

• Callaway reported that information on invasive phragmites had been sent out to property owners in August, in an effort to notify the community about an opportunity for them to participate in a grant-funded treatment process.

Along with some areas of Town property, phragmites is located on about 70 private properties, all of which were recently sent the hold-harmless agreement that would allow them to participate in the phragmites control program from the Department of Forestry Services, and nearly all of which Callaway said had agreed to participate.

The effort is intended to control the growth of the invasive reed, which not only threatens native flora and fauna but poses a fire safety risk. All of the treatment is expected to be completed by Sept. 25.

• Callaway also reported that the Town was to receive a $3,500 tree grant for planting additional trees along the Route 1 median this fall. While the first phase of landscaping and improvements along Route 1 has been completed, she said, follow-up work is being done to replace plants that didn’t survive. She also reported completion of installation of new signage on Ocean Drive and the beginning of installing the new signage on cross-streets.

• Junkin reported that the Town had received a proposal for its pilot diffuser project for the canals and that it had come in at less than the cost estimate for the project. Additionally, he said, a proposal has been submitted for a grant to help pay for installation of rain gardens on the east side of Route 1.

Junkin noted, too, that there has been more interest recently in the tidal pump concept that was once a core concept for improving water quality in the canals. “It may be coming back, which is a good thing, I believe,” he added. He also said that town officials were to meet this month with representatives of the EPA regarding possible help in improving water quality.

• Council Treasurer Pat Voveris reported on a recent introductory meeting for new members of the Budget & Finance Committee. She said members had been given a presentation on how town finances work and had also discussed possible signage regarding cell-phone prohibitions for drivers, ambulance service, a what-if scenario for a beach-related disaster and property assessments, which she said may be limiting the Town’s ability to borrow. Due to the 1974 assessment levels used, she said, the Town is limited to $1.5 million in borrowing power. “That’s not much for a catastrophe,” she said.

Voveris also voiced concern about rental taxes and whether some property owners may be skirting the requirement to pay the Town a portion of their annual rental income. The 265 rental licenses issued this year seemed low, she said, and there was concern from the committee that some people might be renting their homes via the Internet and not reporting the revenue. She also noted positive comparisons between the Town’s Public Works staff and neighboring towns’ in that South Bethany only has two full-time maintenance workers.

• Jankowski reported a successful series of Meet-the-Mayor events this summer and said she planned to schedule additional evens on upcoming Saturdays, Sept. 29, Oct. 27 and Nov. 10, from 9 to 11 a.m., at town hall. A council workshop later on Sept. 29, at 5 p.m., is expected to address issues of the contract renewals for trash, recycling and yard waste, as well as walking and bike safety, and draft ordinances from the code committee.

• The mayor also noted that working group meetings regarding the Route 26 Mainline project are set to begin on Sept. 24. The meetings are not open to the general public but will involve stakeholder representatives getting information regarding the upcoming major improvements to Route 26 and being able to offer feedback to transportation officials as the project gets ready to move forward.

• Gross reported that the revised draft of the Town’s comprehensive plan is ready for more work, but he said it had been suggested that the Planning Commission hold off on doing more work on it until they had met with state planning officials and gotten “clearer marching orders” on the changes that have been recommended. The commission will meet Oct. 9 at 9 a.m. to discuss future planning ideas.

• Cestone said the code committee is working on more changes to Chapter 42, regarding building construction, and is in the process of reviewing the suggestions from the code enforcement officer that are expected to be brought to the council at their October workshop.

• Communications & Public Relations Committee Chairman and Councilman Mark Damato reported that a final draft of verbiage for a town brochure has been developed, while an assessment of the Town Web site and needs for enhancements has also been discussed. He said a meet-in-greet with local real estate brokers is planned for February, at which they will introduce the new video promotion and brochure. Also in development are a possible movie or family night to be hosted on the beach and a proposed kayak or boat race, with an eye toward branding South Bethany as “the Venice of Delaware.” The committee will meet next in early October.

• Finally, SBPD Lt. Linda O’Malley reported on police activities in August. She noted, among a variety of reports, a stolen kayak, unfounded reports of a theft of computer equipment and public nudity, a bicyclist injured in an accident and an intoxicated subject escorted home.

She further reported that an SBPD officer had conducted a brief high-speed chase down Carlisle recently and confirmed SBPD’s participation in a multi-jurisdiction pursuit of an apparently intoxicated motorcycle rider on Route 1 on Sept. 13.

O’Malley said the SBPD officer had unsuccessfully tried to stop the speeding motorcycle, which subsequently continued through Bethany Beach, where the vehicle was measured traveling in excess of 100 mph. Bethany officers were likewise unsuccessful in stopping the rider, who continued north into Dewey Beach, still going in excess of 100 mph, and then reportedly made a U-turn, heading back through Bethany, South Bethany and Fenwick Island at high speed before finally being stopped by Ocean City, Md., police.

“I understand he was under the influence,” she noted. “And we do have warrants for him when he’s done there.”

Other than that incident, she said, Bike Week had been pretty quiet, except for the actual audible noise from the motorcycles.