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Clear Space’s Rehoboth Avenue theater takes step forward

City’s planning commission moves two-building proposal to public hearing
July 10, 2020

Story Location:
Clear Space Theatre Company
415 Rehoboth Avenue
Rehoboth Beach  Delaware  19971
United States

It’s been nearly two years since Clear Space Theatre Company introduced plans for a Rehoboth Avenue theater, and at a planning commission meeting July 10, the proposal took its first step toward coming to fruition.

By unanimous decision, during a preliminary site-plan review, the Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission voted to move forward to public hearing the theater company’s two-building theater proposal for its property at 413, 415 and 417 Rehoboth Ave.

As proposed, the theater would build two structures – a 256-seat traditional theater at 415 and a rehearsal theater, known as The Spotlight Theatre, at 417. There is no parking provided.

During the meeting, City Building Inspector Damalier Molina said both buildings meet city code as proposed.

The favorable step forward came after a review that took longer than four hours. Prior to the vote, the planning commission requested Clear Space representatives address a number of issues raised by members of the public during the meeting – additional buffering and noise mitigation for residential neighbors, a full set of architectural drawings for commission members, a possible improvement to the facade facing Rehoboth Avenue, a detailed list of performance show times, a condition that the rooftop on the Spotlight Theatre isn’t used for anything else other than indicated on the plans, and a mobility analysis.

In an email July 13, Clear Space Theatre Company Executive Director Wesley Paulson said he was grateful the planning commission moved the plan toward a public hearing.

“I look forward to the hearing on Aug. 14 when Clear Space will address the list of comments prepared by the planning commission,” said Paulson.

Clear Space first floated plans for a new one-building design on Rehoboth Avenue in October 2018 during a sketch-plan review before the planning commission. Those plans called for a 300-seat theater, office and rehearsal space, and a 28-space parking garage. To accommodate the theater’s rigging system, the building was 53 feet tall, 11 feet higher than the city’s height limit.

A few months after the initial unveiling, and after Sussex Street neighbors to the north voiced concerns, Clear Space presented a new plan with the building at 42 feet. Even at the new height, planning commission members still had questions related to safety and about parking requirements. Depending on how that building was classified – commercial or institutional – city code required 128 or 64 parking spaces.

The July 10 meeting was the first public vetting of the new plans, but the theater company has been getting other things done – in late 2019, it officially purchased the three Rehoboth Avenue lots; in January, theater officials announced they would be using the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center in 2021 because the lease for their Baltimore Avenue home ends in December.

During the meeting, neighbors on and around Sussex Street continued to raise concerns about parking, saying Clear Space had introduced the two-building design simply to get around the parking requirements. The demands on parking would still be the same, said neighbors.

Neighbors also said Clear Space still hasn’t reached out to them to see how their concerns could best be addressed.

Addressing some of the public comments, Paulson said planning commission members encouraged the theater to comply with code and be creative. The current site-plan design is the result of following that recommendation and similar suggestions from others in the community, he said.

Pending Clear Space’s ability to address concerns listed by the commission, Commission Chair Rick Perry said he expects the public hearing to take place at the next regular meeting, which is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 14.

Editor’s note: This story was update July 13 with more information related to project history and public concerns.

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