Acres mayor: Solution to art league zoning demands debate

Hill urges end to acrimony in search for balance
April 12, 2013
Henlopen Acres officials are trying to work with the Rehoboth Art League on a policy that would spell out the art league's uses and end years of acrimony between the two sides. BY FILE

Henlopen Acres officials say they are working with the Rehoboth Art League to end the acrimony over league activities.

Mayor David Hill said the town’s goal is a policy that balances the needs of the art league against the peace and quiet of the community.

Among items to be discussed is a possible a zoning change, which the art league has proposed. Hill said that and other alternatives would be reviewed, but he said the details of a new zoning classification should first be nailed down, items such as building heights and setbacks.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Hill said. “We have to have information and a debate about what the policy will be. It’s long overdue.”

In October, the commissioners developed a questionnaire to begin defining the new policy. Thirteen questions were sent to the art league in January, but so far the town has received no official response.

Town solicitor Glenn Mandalas said the questionnaire was designed to facilitate resolving the zoning dispute between the art league and the town, but no response has been forthcoming from the art league.

Art league attorney Mark Dunkle responded via a letter to Town Manager Tom Roth saying a survey of the art league’s intentions and planned uses is unnecessary and untimely.

He wrote the art league discussed its past, present and future uses during the update of the town’s comprehensive development plan. Dunkle said the town commissioners could review the record of the CDP meetings instead of starting from scratch. He requested the town act on the art league’s request for a cultural zone.

Hill said the art league is a vital part of Henlopen Acres and that the questionnaire was an attempt to get some facts to craft a rational and coherent policy.

He said there is no timetable on when a policy will be established.

“I’d rather it happen sooner rather than later, but there are a lot of moving parts,” Hill said.

He said the art league has rights, but it must recognize the limits of those rights, so that everyone can coexist together. Hill said he wishes the art league success, noting the art league's needs must be balanced against the community's needs. He said both sides need to come together with a policy that is based on facts, not knee-jerk emotional reactions and misinformation.

The art league and the town have been at odds for years over the uses of the residentially zoned art league property. Beginning in 2007, the two sides engaged in a protracted legal battle over the art league’s plans for a larger Chambers building. The town board of adjustment denied the art league’s variance request for the new building, and the fight went all the way to the Delaware Supreme Court, where the court upheld the board’s decision.

During the town’s comprehensive development plan update, the art league asked to be rezoned to a new cultural zone, so the league could better maintain its facilities. At that time, town officials did not think the five-year update of the plan was the proper time for rezoning.

To complicate matters, the town fined the art league $200 for violating its zoning by holding three Shakespeare in the Garden productions by the Georgetown-based Possum Point Players. The town threatened to fine the art league this year for similar performances, but the Possum Point Players declined to go forward with the shows. In addition, the town threatened to fine the art league for violating its use restrictions in hosting a series of workshops in conjunction with Survivors of Abuse and Recovery.

Despite past acrimony, Hill said he hopes differences can be worked out.

“We’re committed, the town is committed to try to get it moving and have a rational discussion and not have the sideshows that seem more prevalent than they should be,” Hill said.

Besides the art league’s status, at a 10 a.m., Friday, April 12 meeting, the commissioners will hold a public hearing that would make zoning violations into civil offenses. The commissioners will also discuss amendments to ordinances covering outdoor burning and rights-of-way, as well as a charter amendment regarding auditors.

In new business, the commissioners will appoint election officers and the board of elections and discuss personnel policies regarding vacations.


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