Reader pans Bethany Beach canopy ban


When a criminal steals from you, they usually like to do it when you’re not home or not paying attention. Politicians are pretty much the same. When they take your rights from you, it’s usually done in the dead of night or a time of year when you least expect it.

Here we have the Bethany Beach Town Council.

In the off-season, they decided that they know best how to protect your family from the harmful rays of the sun and how you should shade yourself while on the beach.

In the beginning, it was a discussion about how a few groups put out their umbrellas, chairs, canopies, towels or cabanas early to reserve their spots on the beach. In rare cases, these squatters would not even occupy their set ups until later in the morning.

We all can agree that this shouldn’t happen. Somewhere along the way, it turned into a referendum against anybody who did not use an 8-foot approved umbrella to protect their family from the elements. Some of the people who shared their opinion in front of the council actually based their opinion on how it made the beach look (“different color umbrellas are prettier than those ugly canopies”) and not on the supposed problems that these shading devices pose.

A questionnaire was sent out to Bethany Beach residences to ask their opinion. As we all know, Bethany Beach is a resort town where most of the houses are empty over the winter. The few residents that remain voted to ban the canopies.

From what I’ve seen, most of these year-round residents are older, retired people, and some don’t understand that it is happy tourists that keep their town running. Why weren’t the summer residents polled? I’m pretty sure when you rent a home during the season, and you spend several thousand dollars to do so, you should have a voice on this question.

In our case (and I think in many cases) we are a family of 50-plus who have vacationed in Bethany for over 33 years straight. We use three to four canopies and always set up at the back of the beach. We have never heard from any of the families that we see on the beach year after year of any problems. Our canopies are always anchored with sand bags and never pose a tripping hazard.

Our family, as with the vast majority of large families who use canopies, do not set up in any way to limit other beachgoers of their view, access or fun. We just want to protect our kids and grandkids from the sun.

Ironically, during our vacation last summer, one of the council members (Rosemary Hardiman) approached our family under the guise of protecting our rights to use our canopies and indeed praised us for how we set up as to not disrupt or disturb other beachgoers. She asked and was permitted to take pictures of our setup and assured us that she would be an advocate for responsible canopy use.

In attending several of the council meetings over the off season, I realized that she actually used the photos to argue for the ban of canopies and the ban of any shading device (save small baby tents) besides 8-foot umbrellas. Her actions were very disappointing. Not surprising. Disappointing.

Let’s talk about those umbrellas. The Bethany Beach council appointed a committee (CORC) to study the issue and get back to them with their recommendations. One of most influential committee members was Tempe Steen, the wife of the only vendor allowed to rent 8-foot umbrellas on Bethany Beach, Ron Steen. That committee voted to ban any shading device except for umbrellas.

Doesn’t it seem a bit strange that the only vendor allowed to rent umbrellas on the beach is owned by her husband? Full disclosure, here. After it was found out she was on the committee, and the council got some heat, she recused herself from further official work on the committee. By that time, the damage had been done. Gotta love small-town, “ol’ boy” politics.

The only good thing to come from this is that I did find 1 council member with a rare trait for politicians: common sense. He is Vice Mayor Lew Kilmer. Never did a meeting go by on this subject where he didn’t express his feelings that the council was reacting to a problem that didn’t exist and he believed that they were reacting to what Rehoboth did, and that their time and treasure was best spent elsewhere.

The irony now is, instead of erecting four to five canopies at the back of the beach, our family will be forced to set up 12 to 14 umbrellas to protect ourselves from the sun. Sorry, Steen family, none will be rented.

Ron Ruest