Acres, RAL to discuss cultural zone

Bravo: I really think we can work this out
An overflow crowd packed the Henlopen Acres commissioner room June 27 for a public hearing on the town's 2014 comprehensive plan update, specifically the Rehoboth Art League's zoning status. The town planning commission and the art league ageed to address the art league's zoning. Seated around the table are (l-r) Chairman John Scheurer, Commissioner Mary Jane Lyons, Commissioner Gordon Kaiser and town solicitor Glenn Mandalas. BY RYAN MAVITY
July 1, 2014

The Henlopen Acres planning commission and the Rehoboth Art League have declared a truce.

The two sides will establish a timetable to discuss a new cultural zoning classification for the art league.

Chairman John Scheurer began the commission's June 27 public hearing on the town's 2014 comprehensive plan update by trying to clear up some issues.

Before the meeting, an email signed by art league Executive Director Sheila Bravo had circulated saying the town was planning to eliminate the art league, citing as evidence two maps in the plan.

One map, labeled “Current Zoning Uses,” showed the art league as an institutional use within a residential zoning district. A second map, labeled “Future Zoning Uses” showed the art league property as completely residential.

Talking before the June 27 meeting, Bravo said this indicated the town plans for the art league to go away and have the property redeveloped as residential.

Scheurer said the maps in the plan are the same as in the 2004 comprehensive plan. He said no changes were made to the map because the planners did not have enough information to make changes.

“It does not contemplate or insinuate anywhere that the town is planning for the art league’s demise,” he said.

The art league has been lobbying for a cultural zoning classification that would give allow the league to repair and maintain their facilities. As a nonconforming use within the residential zoning district, any changes must comply with the residential zoning code or the league must get a variance from the board of adjustment.

Scheurer said the problem for the town has been, “It’s been tough for anyone to define what a cultural zone is.” He added that late-Mayor David Hill had worked with the art league for more than a year and had not made significant progress and that a questionnaire had been sent by the town to the art league to try to get a handle on the art league’s uses of the property. That questionnaire was never returned, Scheurer said.

Scheurer said the recommendation in the plan update is for additional study of the art league’s zoning status. He said the question of cultural zoning was taken up by the town commissioners; the commission did not have enough information on the rules and regulations of a cultural zone to put in the comprehensive plan.

Connie Holland, head of the Office of State Planning Coordination, said at this point, she could not send the draft plan to Gov. Jack Markell for certification because of the art league’s zoning. She said the office is willing to work with the planners to help define cultural zoning. If not a cultural zone, Holland suggested possibly establishing a conditional use for the art league.

Scheurer said the town has brought up the idea of conditional use before but got nowhere with it.

The June 27 hearing was packed, with people spilling out of the small commissioners’ room. Most of those in attendance supported the art league and urged the two sides to work out their differences.

Ann Stevenson Cameron, of Broad Hollow, said while the art league should not expand, it should be allowed to maintain its facilities.

“We love and adore it. We want it to be maintained. We want it to be supported,” she said.

Carter van Dyke, 54 Pine Reach, said, “This is our greatest asset. This is a no-brainer.” He said instead of bickering, the town and the art league should work as partners to preserve the historic campus.

Bravo said she applauded the commission’s willingness to discuss the issue, but she also got to the root of the art league’s problem.

“Our structure burns down, we can’t put it back. If an activity goes away for 365 days, we can’t bring it back," she said. "I really hope this is a new chapter. I really think we can work this out."