No decision made on new Clear Space home in Rehoboth

Planning commission discusses conditions; sets next meeting for Feb. 26
February 12, 2021

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

Clear Space Theatre Company will have to wait at least two more weeks to find out if the Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission is going to approve or deny plans for its new home on Rehoboth Avenue.

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, which lasted three hours, took place Jan. 29.

The planning commission resumed its discussion Friday, Feb. 12. No decisions were finalized, but the group focused its attention on conditions related to noise, lighting and uses of the property other than theater performances.

Vice Chair Brian Patterson created a working document of potential conditions for the commissioners to use in advance of the meeting. He said the list was gleaned from comments made during the public hearing.

Potential conditions include no cabaret, no cafe, no office use, limited educational-related services, no simultaneous performances, height of fencing, number of lumens for outdoor lighting, placement of air-handling units, planting trees between the north property line and the residential neighbors, and installing a noise-monitoring system.

While the recent meeting wasn’t a public hearing, Clear Space Executive Director Wesley Paulson was asked if there were reasons why these conditions couldn’t be met. He said he was generally agreeable to most of them, but he’d like to wait to install some of the equipment until after construction is complete and tests can be conducted to see if it’s needed.

Commissioner Steve Kauffman said some of the proposed conditions might be better suited to be included as conclusions and findings as part of the final report. 

Commissioner Lee Weber said some of the potential conditions seemed unnecessary because city code wouldn’t allow them anyway. It’s like telling them not to have a meth lab, he said.

Unknown at the time of the meeting is the future status of Commissioner Rachel Macha’s participation in the vote. She has been the subject of some scrutiny from the appellants because she contacted a sound engineer about a report the engineer submitted to the planning commission on behalf of the appellants regarding potential noise levels from the proposed theater.

The appellants say Macha should not have contacted their sound engineer and that she should recuse herself from any future votes on the matter.

During the meeting, Macha said she reached out to the engineer with clarifying questions and that she would not recuse herself. However, she said, she has asked the state’s Public Integrity Commission for an advisory opinion on the matter. That hearing is scheduled to take place this week, she said.

Patterson and Commissioner Joyce Lussier voiced concerns over moving forward on the matter until after a decision from the PIC.

Chair Jeff Trunzo said he shared some of the same concerns, but individuals cannot be forced to recuse themselves.

The planning commission is set to resume the deliberation process at 11 a.m., Friday, Feb. 26. Trunzo said the day’s schedule is open, which means a decision could be made.

Following the meeting, Paulson said he is satisfied with the progress of the discussion and the decision to continue the hearing to allow sufficient time to discuss the remaining issues of traffic, parking and design.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more information from the meeting.

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