Henlopen Acres officials and the Rehoboth Art League are no longer sniping in public, but are now settling in for the long process of settling the league's permitted uses and long-term plans.
The town and the art league have been talking since July, getting issues such as zoning and parking on the table. Mayor David Hill said while the process has been drawn out, it has served a purpose.
“It’s been positive,” he said at the Oct. 11 commissioners’ meeting. “Progress has been made. We haven’t been calling each other names for the last six or seven months.”
Hill said the time has come to get down to details. He said rezoning, which the art league had been seeking, is not on the table.
“There just hasn’t been a persuasive case put forward that justifies the effort and cost that would go into that process,” he said.
Hill said his plan moving forward is to focus on defining the art league’s permitted uses before moving to the broader issue of the art league’s long-term plans and the impact of those plans on zoning.
The art league is a permitted nonconforming use in a residential zoning district. Part of what has spurred the strained relations is what exactly the art league is allowed to do on the property. That manifested itself last year when the town fined the art league $200 for three “Shakespeare In The Garden” productions and threatened to fine the league this year for a joint project with Survivors of Abuse and Recovery called “Art Is Healing, Healing Is Art.”
Hill said it is incumbent on town officials to outline permitted nonconforming uses and to develop a memorandum of understanding based on input by the art league. He said hashing out permitted uses and a parking plan will minimize future arguments.
Hill said he would work with Commissioner John Staffier on the draft of permitted uses, with input from Commissioner Paddy Richards on parking issues. He said he hoped to have something to present the art league by the end of the year or early January.
Staffier said the town and the art league are intertwined, and that Hill’s plan will help the town mitigate any adverse impacts to residents from the art league’s activities, while allowing the art league to reasonably use its property.
Art league president Diana Beebe said while the plan is reasonable, it still does not address maintenance and repair of buildings.
The art league pushed for a rezoning to a cultural zone because, officials said, the current residential zoning does not allow them to maintain their facilities. Several years ago, the town and the art league went to the Delaware Supreme Court in a case where the art league wanted to overturn a board of adjustment decision to deny a variance for a new Chambers Building.
Beebe said the horseback riding stables at the homestead are in danger of falling down. But under residential zoning, the league could repair the stables but not rebuild if it fell down. Beebe said the issue of refurbishing or repurposing art league buildings should be addressed.
Hill and Staffier said there are processes on the books now for the art league to repair its buildings. Hill said he would like to nail down the permitted uses first. He said changes to zoning regarding the buildings would be third on the list after permitted uses and parking.
“We can’t do it all,” Hill said. “Some measure of success on these first two would set the stage for future items.”