Bethany to ask for public comment on proposed pedestrian pathway
It’s a project that’s been percolating in the town for a few years, but Bethany Beach officials in January will formally discuss the proposal for a pedestrian pathway on Collins Street, between Kent Avenue and E. Half-Moon Drive, and possibly also in the 300 block of Wellington Parkway.
Town Manager Cliff Graviet at the town council’s Nov. 16 meeting asked the council if they were ready to set a date for a public meeting on the proposal, which would feature a dedicated pedestrian pathway along the busy street in the Bethany West area. The council unanimously agreed to hold such a meeting on Jan. 18, 2018, at 5 p.m., to get input from the public.
Graviet said he didn’t think scheduling the meeting in November or December was a good idea, and council members also questioned Graviet as to whether there were any concerns about holding the meeting in January.
“Is this something that should wait for spring?” Mayor Lew Killmer asked, with Councilman Jerry Morris expressing concern about possible public pushback on holding the meeting in the winter, when some residents may not be in the area.
“With this much notice — I would hope this is a project we might do before Memorial Day — I hope the council would consider opening it up,” Graviet replied, noting that the council could later choose to consider moving the meeting back even further, if needed.
In the meantime, Graviet said the Town plans to notify every neighboring property owner in writing, return-receipt requested, and via email where possible, including in those notices a sketch that will depict the project’s potential impact on each property.
Graviet said town engineering consultants Kercher Engineering have also been asked to help “open up a dialogue” with state transportation officials about potentially creating a crosswalk across Kent Avenue at Collins Street.
He also reminded the council of prior discussion about extending the 5-foot pedestrian pathway into the 300 block of Wellington Parkway and said information and sketches of that proposal will be included in information on the projects ahead of the January meeting.
As to ensuring property owners are notified about the potential project well in advance, Graviet emphasized that the Town had already discussed it with the Bethany West homeowners’ group, whose leadership gave the Town their initial approval, while he noted with skepticism that some residents opposed to the idea had already gone door-to-door and notified neighbors “the Town is going to do a massive taking of your property.”
Graviet said the Town would be inviting the neighboring residents in the official notice of the meeting to contact Town Hall with any questions or concerns.
One Bethany West resident voiced her concern with the Town’s prior approval from the Bethany West board, saying it had been given without surveying the residents of the community. She offered to put her concerns on the record on Nov. 16, but Killmer asked her to wait until the January meeting, so the council could have information on the project in front of them when considering the issues.
“That’s why we’re having the public hearing,” he said of the council hearing input from the public.
“I think the sooner we can begin this process, with the public hearing and adequate notice, the better,” said John Gaughan, noting that he is currently only a part-time resident himself. “This is not a new issue for Bethany West. To do it in January is totally appropriate.”
One project the Town is already in the middle of is the Streetscape improvements to South Atlantic Avenue and Cedarwood Street. Graviet told the council on Nov. 16 that the work had been delayed in waiting for Mediacom to respond to the Town’s request to take its cabling down off the existing poles on South Atlantic and move it to the new poles, which have already been put in.
Graviet said Mediacom had finally responded to the Town with a “pinkie-swear” promise to get that work done soon, and he said he expected the result would be that the Town would be able to have the Atlantic portion of the project completed and paved in the next five to seven business days. The Cedarwood segment, he said, would be completed after that and then paved separately.
A temporary structure is also on the Town’s radar, as it prepares for the second annual Fire & Ice Festival, planned for Jan. 24-27, 2019. Graviet said the temporary ice rink at the inaugural event had proven popular, with the natural result being the desire for a larger rink for the second edition. However, the larger rink won’t fit in the location on Hollywood Street that was used earlier this year.
Instead, Graviet said, the Town plans to use the downtown basketball court at Garfield Parkway and Pennsylvania Avenue as the home for the temporary rink.
“I think it’s a better location in terms of accessibility,” he said, noting that the Town would be using its trolley to drop off and pick up skaters from other areas of town during the festival.
The Town will also have some solid sound reinforcement for such events, now that new permanent speakers have been installed at the bandstand, Graviet said.
Finally, Graviet reported that the town newsletter — inconsistently produced in the past due to printing and mailing issues, he said — will be re-launching as an e-newsletter in the coming weeks, with initial plans to produce a fall/winter edition and a spring/summer one. He said the e-newsletter may incorporate video, and, if it’s well-received, may come out more often than twice a year.
Council waits for solicitor
to weigh in on procedures
The council on Nov. 16 held off on a vote on a revised town council procedure and protocol manual, as concerns about appeals processes were raised that council members said they wanted the town solicitor to weigh in on.
Vice-Mayor Rosemary Hardiman said she’d re-examined the section of the manual dealing with instances in which the council sits as a board of appeals for other town bodies, especially in light of the appeal over the Walcek property the council heard in the spring.
An attorney — though not a Delaware attorney, she noted — Hardiman said she was concerned about wording in the manual that might be construed to require the mayor to allow public comment at all appeals hearings, even though, in some appeals, they are legally required to only consider testimony already in evidence.
She said she was also concerned with a stated restriction against people commenting at such appeals being cross-examined by anyone other than the council or its legal counsel. She said she felt there may be some cases where an appellant, for instance, might want to cross-examine someone giving an opinion or evidence in an appeal.
The council agreed to wait for an opinion on the issues from the town solicitor before adopting the revised manual. The issue is expected to go on the January council meeting agenda. The council will not meet in December, barring critical matters arising, after the traditional and unanimous vote from the council last week.
Fire company contract with ‘Big Four’ revised and renewed
Killmer on Nov. 16 announced a new contract between “the Big Four” — the towns of Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island, and the Sea Colony Recreation Association — and the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company’s ambulance service. The prior contract expires in December.
He said the contract’s title was changed to “Ambulance Service Community Contributors’ Agreement” to more accurately reflect those relationships. The 10-year contract is being replaced with a five-year one, but the other changes are few.
Bethany’s $53-per-property funding rate will remain unchanged, while there are reduced duties for the four contributors, as the requirement for them to pre-approve funding has been eliminated, though they will continue to review all financial and non-financial reports on the EMS.
The council unanimously approved the new contract.
Finally, the council on Nov. 16, also heard from a part-time resident who challenged the Town having declared a tree on his property to have been a public-safety concern and having it removed while he was out of town at his primary residence.
The Lake Bethany property had a tree fall partly down during a storm last October, and while a fully-fallen tree might have been the neighboring property owner’s burden to deal with once it crossed the property line and hit the ground, the tree resting on top of a fence rail with its rootball bare instead fell to the Town’s code-enforcement officer to address after the neighbor expressed concerns to the Town about the safety of it remaining there.
The Town followed its established procedures for dealing with a tree that could potentially fall on person or property, Graviet said, and had made an attempt to reach the property owner at the home, and had tried to call as well — all with no response.
While the Town is willing to work out a payment plan for the $800 it was charged to remove the tree, he said the Town had followed proper procedures, and the property owner was liable for the related costs (which he noted were $1,000 less than the cost the man had paid to have a tree removed under similar circumstances in the past).
“The tree was dangerous, and the neighbor felt it was dangerous,” he said. “There was a concern for public safety, and we felt he did what he was supposed to do. Who’s to say somebody’s not going to be in the yard when the tree comes down?”
By M. Patricia Titus