Clear Space theater approval appealed, again

Rehoboth Planning Commission’s decision questioned as list of appellants grows
March 16, 2021

The Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission has twice approved the site plan for Clear Space Theatre Company’s proposed two-building theater complex on Rehoboth Avenue. Now, as anticipated, the commission’s approval has been appealed twice, too.

The theater company wants to build a new venue at 413, 415 and 417 Rehoboth Ave. The two-building project – a 256-seat traditional theater and a rehearsal theater – received approval from the planning commission in August. The decision was appealed to the city commissioners, who said there was a violation of city code related to the procedural process of site-plan approval and told the planning commission it needed to conduct a second public hearing. The second public hearing took place Jan. 29. The planning commission, over the course of two meetings and roughly six hours, then hashed out a list of conditional uses before approving the site plan again Feb. 26.

Submitted to the city March 12, the second appeal, among other things, argues that the planning commission approved site plans that hadn’t been amended or made public; that City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas should have recused himself because of due-process violations; that Commissioner Rachel Macha tainted the process by independently contacting a sound professional hire by the appellants; that the planning commission allowed Clear Space to make clarifying comments after the public hearing, but not the opponents; and that Clear Space failed to provide evidence the site plan met city code and was compatible with the city’s 2010 Comprehensive Development Plan.

The October appeal was four pages long and contained the signatures of 15 appellants. The most recent appeal is 10 pages long and contains the signatures of more than 60 appellants. The new appeal takes a different approach.

City commissioners conducted a brief special meeting March 12 to formally vote to hear the appeal. A hearing was set for Thursday, April 8. The vote was unanimous in favor of that date, but Commissioner Susan Gay abstained because the commissioners had not seen the appeal before the meeting started.

Mayor Stan Mills explained the special meeting had been set in anticipation of an appeal, and the appellants submitted their appeal minutes before the meeting was called. Attorney Max Walton, who will conduct the special hearing for the city because City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas will be representing the planning commission, said even he had time to read the appeal.

In a statement March 15, Clear Space Executive Director Wesley Paulson said Clear Space Theatre is disappointed but not surprised that the second site-plan approval has been appealed.

“We stand by the revisions to our site plan and drawings to meet the concerns expressed by the residents as outlined in the conditions set forth by the planning commission in the decision on Feb. 26. Now, we call on the mayor and commissioners to affirm the decision and conditions set forth by the planning commission,” said Paulson. “We thank our 250 supporters who live in the city, and we look forward to breaking ground in 2021.”

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