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Hearing set for Clear Space appeal in Rehoboth

Planning commission’s approval for new Rehoboth Avenue theater questioned
October 20, 2020

Clear Space Theatre Company’s multi-year drama centered around the search for a new home in Rehoboth Beach has resumed with its next act – the appeal of the planning commission’s site-plan approval for two buildings on three Rehoboth Avenue lots.

The planning commission held a public hearing on two site plans Aug. 14 – one for Clear Space Theatre, a 256-seat traditional theater at 415 Rehoboth Ave., and one for Rehoboth Spotlight, a rehearsal theater at 417 Rehoboth Ave. Both were approved by 7-2 votes.

Less than two weeks later, Aug. 24, the appeal, with more than a dozen signees, was filed, arguing 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.

Due to a transition of power on the board of commissioners, it took a while to schedule the necessary dates for the appeal, but now that they’ve been set, the window is fairly narrow.

During a planning commission meeting Oct. 9, City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said responses to motions from all parties were due Oct. 16. He said opening submissions for a hearing on merits are due Thursday, Oct. 22; a hearing on the motions has been scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 29; and a hearing on the merits has been scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 12.

Mandalas, who also represents the board of commissioners, will be representing the planning commission during the hearing. He said his motion to dismiss argues the appellants don’t have standing and that the appellants didn’t file the appeal by the correct procedures.

On standing, said Mandalas, there are questions about who the real appellants are, because at least one person doesn’t live in the city. Standing is all about if a person has suffered harm based on the action taken by the city, he said.

Mandalas said there are a lot of reasons to file procedural motions to dismiss, including to question if more than one $150 filing fee should have been submitted because there are 21 appellants.

Planning Commissioner Brian Patterson, senior counsel for International Monetary Fund, said he would prefer the commission be defending its decision based on merit, not trying to get the case dismissed using “lawyerly tactics.” This commission is being portrayed as trying to shut down the right of the public to get a hearing before the mayor and commissioners, he said.

“I trust the decision of the planning commission has excellent defense on its merits,” said Patterson. “I just wish the hearing could focus on that.”

In response, Mandalas said the appellants are arguing that the planning commission messed things up by procedurally fumbling the ball. The city’s response, in a large way, is to show the appellants have messed up procedurally, too, he said.

Patterson had been a planning commissioner for nearly a decade, but did not get reappointed last year by former Mayor Paul Kuhns. The recent meeting was his first back after he was nominated by Mayor Stan Mills and approved by the board of commissioners. Mills said during multiple discussions on his nominations that he was comfortable with his decision and was nominating people who shared a similar vision to his.

In an email Oct. 15, Mills said he could not comment on Patterson’s statement.

In an email Oct. 15, Clear Space Executive Director Wesley Paulson said after two years of meetings, hearings, and revised planning, he was not surprised the appellants would try yet another bite of the political apple. Clear Space looks forward to a swift decision in its favor by the mayor and commissioners, he said.

Clear Space first revealed a proposal for a one-building theater covering the three Rehoboth Avenue lots in October 2018.

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