After ‘grandstanding,’ Rehoboth finalizes Clear Space reversal

Julie Davis appointed to planning commission; Grove Park Canal Dock contracts awarded
July 20, 2021

Story Location:
Rehoboth Beach City Hall
229 Rehoboth Avenue
Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971
United States

During a July 16 meeting, Rehoboth Beach commissioners formally adopted the written record of their recent decision reversing the site-plan approval issued in late February by the Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission for Clear Space Theatre Company’s Rehoboth Avenue project.

Typically, the vote by city commissioners to approve and adopt the written record of an appeal hearing is perfunctory. However, as with almost everything else related to the proposed Clear Space project, that wasn’t the case this time around.

Before the topic could even be introduced by Mayor Stan Mills, Commissioner Pat Coluzzi said she wanted to talk about reversing the reversal. 

During the June 30 appeal hearing, city commissioners, for the second time in less than a year, reversed the planning commission’s site-plan approval of Clear Space’s Rehoboth Avenue project.

Attorney Max Walton, who helped the commissioners through the appeal process, said city code does not give the commissioners authority to reverse their decision. 

Coluzzi argued that the standard of review for the appeal was very narrow and the commissioners had overstepped their authority by reversing the approval. She said she believes the city will face another lawsuit, because state law doesn’t allow a municipality to deny a land-development application that complies with provisions of municipal code.

Emboldened by Walton’s comments, Mills said the motion to reverse the commissioners’ reversal was improper, and the issue wasn’t going to be adjudicated during the meeting.

Commissioner Patrick Gossett questioned Coluzzi on what had changed since the governing body voted, and then called Coluzzi’s proposed reconsideration grandstanding.

Ultimately, down the same 4-3 line that reversed the planning commission’s approval, the commissioners approved the written decision from the appeal hearing.

Walton had said during the June 30 hearing that Clear Space would have to wait until the written decision was approved before it could make its next move. Following the July 16 approval, Clear Space Executive Director Wesley Paulson declined to comment on what his organization’s next move would be or when it would be made.

Julie Davis appointed to the planning commission

It took a few months longer than expected, but Rehoboth Beach property owner Julie Davis was appointed to the planning commission during the July 16 meeting.

Mills nominated her months ago, but she was an appellant in the Clear Space hearing, so he withdrew her nomination until after the appeal process was over. He said he had been told that people would come after him if he went through with Davis’s appointment when he originally introduced her as a nominee.

Mills said he was sorry he hadn’t made the appointment, because the planning commission lost three months of valuable work that Davis could have helped with.

Former planning commission Chair Richard Perry spoke out against Davis being appointed to the planning commission. She clearly demonstrates a bias toward Clear Space, he said, adding that it doesn’t serve the city well and sends a clear message.

Commissioner Richard Byrne, one of the three commissioners who voted against reversing the planning commission’s Clear Space site-plan approval, did vote in favor of Davis. He said he believed she had the ability to make the appropriate decisions on recusing herself when necessary.

The vote to appoint Davis was 5-2, with Coluzzi and Commissioner Edward Chrzanowski voting against.

Canal dock contracts awarded

After months of delays, commissioners voted unanimously in favor of awarding commercial-use contracts for the newly opened Grove Park Canal Dock. The contract for providing motorized water recreation services went to Lewes-based Cape Water Tours and Taxi; the contract for non-motorized services went to Lewes-based Quest Adventures.

The primary cause for the delay in awarding the contracts was related to legal issues around who is responsible for the dock. The Army Corps of Engineers owns the canal, plus a portion of the embankment. The Rehoboth Beach Museum had a lease with the Army Corps to oversee the rest of the canal space in that area. The city decided, and the museum agreed, that it would be better for the city to be the responsible party with regard to the dock. The city had to wait for a new lease to be drawn up and approved by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Indigo permit of compliance approved

With little discussion, a request by Indias Restaurant LLC to modify the permit of compliance for Indigo restaurant was also approved. The restaurant at 44 Rehoboth Ave. had been serving beer and wine, but would now also like to serve liquor.

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