Clear Space’s theater approval appealed

Residents question planning commission decision for Rehoboth Avenue site
August 28, 2020

More than a dozen members of the public have submitted an appeal to Rehoboth Beach questioning the planning commission’s recent approval of a site plan for Clear Space Theatre Company’s new Rehoboth Avenue complex.

Filed Aug. 24, the appeal argues the planning commission’s decision was not reasonable, was not a logical review of the evidence, did not interpret code correctly and did not comply with due-process standards.

The planning commission held two public hearings Aug. 14. The first hearing was for Clear Space Theatre, a 256-seat traditional theater, at 415 Rehoboth Ave. The site plan for this building passed by a 7-2 vote. The second hearing was for Rehoboth Spotlight, a rehearsal theater, at 417 Rehoboth Ave. The site plan for this building also passed by a 7-2 vote.

The appeal, more specifically, argues much of the application was illegible to the public, that key evidence was not submitted to the city in time for the public to meaningfully participate in the hearing, that several members of the nine-member planning commission illegally prejudged key factual issues, and that inadequate conditions were imposed as part of the approval.

“As a result of the decision which was arrived at as the result of the [Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission’s] process which did not comply with applicable law, all of the appellants believe they have been injured by such procedures and thus have procedural injury standing,” said the appeal.

In an email Aug. 26, Clear Space Executive Director Wesley Paulson said, “After two years of study, design, and public meetings, Clear Space looks forward to a prompt decision by the board of commissioners.”

Planning commission member’s eligibility questioned

In addition to an appeal of the Clear Space decision, some members of the public are questioning the eligibility of commission member Mark Hunker, who was appointed to serve in October 2019.

Hunker’s eligibility has been questioned since Mayor Paul Kuhns named him as a possible appointee, because he was neither a resident nor a property owner. A former commissioner, Hunker owns Baltimore Avenue’s Jam Bistro and Eden Restaurant.

In response to the concerns about Hunker’s eligibility, a couple of months after his appointment, commissioners approved wording that requires potential planning commission members to be residents, property owners, registered voters or persons eligible to register to vote.

In a letter sent Aug. 20 to the planning commission, residents Marie Hatkevich, Jennifer Duncan and Rober Lauder argue Hunker’s name was not on the list of registered voters for Rehoboth’s 2020 election. They also argue he does not meet the definition of a leaseholder that would qualify him as a person eligible to vote.

It’s unclear exactly when either issue will be taken up by the commissioners. The commissioners have a workshop Tuesday, Sept. 8, but it’s the last meeting for Kuhns and Commissioners Lisa Schlosser and Steve Scheffer.

Mayor-elect Stan Mills and Commissioners-elect Jay Lagree and Patrick Gossett will be sworn in during the commissioners’ meeting Friday, Sept. 18.

In an email Aug. 27, Kuhns said, given the time, he’s assuming the new administration will address the issues.

In an email Aug. 26, Mills said the board will be hearing the appeal and addressing planning commission membership, but the timing is unspecified at the moment.

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