Clear Space Theatre Company’s proposed Rehoboth Avenue project is heading back to the planning commission.
During an appeal hearing Nov. 12, citing a violation of city code related to the procedural process of site plan approval, city commissioners voted 4-3 to remand the project back to the planning commission. Mayor Stan Mills and Commissioners Susan Gay, Patrick Gossett and Jay Lagree voted to remand. Commissioners Richard Byrne, Edward Chrzanowski and Pat Coluzzi voted against remanding.
Lagree said the integrity of the planning commission is vital. The city counts on them to do their due diligence, he said.
“If they don’t, who can we trust?” he said.
Gay said there is no such thing as an expedited review in city code. The irony, she said, is that if the procedure had been followed, it would be done by now.
The meeting was the continuation of an appeal hearing that began Oct. 29 regarding the planning commission’s August approval of a site-plan for two buildings at 413, 415 and 417 Rehoboth Ave. One building is Clear Space Theatre, a 256-seat traditional theater; the other is Rehoboth Spotlight, a rehearsal theater. A group of nearly two dozen people appealed the approval. That portion of the hearing dealt with motions to dismiss the appeal submitted by City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas, who is representing the planning commission, and Clear Space attorney Eugene Lawson, but ultimately, commissioners voted against dismissing the appeal over those issues.
During the recent meeting, the commissioners were set to hear a number of motions by the appellants requesting the project be sent back to the planning commission, but the vote to remand came after about an hour and early into the motions.
Appellant Marie Hatkevich argued city code says the public hearing shouldn’t have been set by the planning commission until it was satisfied that no additional information was needed. She said the planning commission failed to give Clear Space a list of action items, which lead to a delay in Clear Space’s responses and evaluation of those responses by the planning commission to see if there was any more information needed.
Mandalas said setting the meeting was a matter of efficiency, arguing it’s common practice for a public hearing to be set, with the condition that questions on the subject will be answered by an applicant in time for the public hearing. If the planning commission wasn’t satisfied the questions were answered, the public hearing could have been postponed, said Mandalas.
Immediately following the hearing, Clear Space Theatre Director Wesley Paulson declined to comment on the decision, but he did say the commissioners have not provided clear direction to the planning commission or Clear Space as to what exactly is being reviewed and decided. The mayor, commissioners, city manager and their counsel should have spent more time in recess to determine an exact direction, he said.
“As a result of the commissioners’ haste, all parties are left with our own interpretations of what was decided and how the new planning commission should proceed to review a decision that was previously decided by a 7-2 vote,” said Paulson. “How can that lead to a fair, just, prompt, and final decision in a matter that has lasted two years?”
Due to the project going back to the planning commission, a Nov. 30 hearing on the appeals merits was canceled.