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Rehoboth Beach delays vote on Clear Space

Parking for 300-seat theater still in question
April 26, 2019

Parking woes continue to delay a vote on the proposed Clear Space Theatre on Rehoboth Avenue.

The Rehoboth Beach commissioners will hold further discussion on a proposal for a new permitted use that would allow a performing arts center to move forward.

Mayor Paul Kuhns said the commissioners need to figure out parking issues at the planned 300-seat theater before moving forward.

Clear Space has proposed a 25,000-square-foot facility on three lots at 413, 415 and 417 Rehoboth Ave. As proposed, the project does not meet zoning code, so it cannot go to the planning commission for site-plan review. A building of Clear Space’s size, in a C-1 district would have to provide 128 parking spaces. Clear Space has only proposed 28 spaces.

To get around that, the city commissioners weighed creating a new permitted use in the C-1 district called Performing Arts Center and sent it to the planning commission for an advisory report. Chairman David Mellen said the commission recommended not to create a special zone just to allow Clear Space to avoid complying with the code.

Mellen said no matter how they looked at it, neither side could come close to resolving the parking issue. He said there are options within city code that could avoid spot zoning and give Clear Space flexibility in its plans.

To the surprise of the commissioners, an ordinance had been drafted prior to the April 24 meeting defining a performing arts center. Under the ordinance, any property with frontage on Rehoboth Avenue and located within 225 linear feet of the traffic circle would not have to provide more than 20 off-street parking spaces.

Commissioner Stan Mills questioned who authorized City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas to draft the ordinance.

“It didn’t come from any discussion up here,” Mills said.

Mandalas said the ordinance was drafted before the planning commission met and was put together as an option for them to consider after discussions with Clear Space representatives. Mills said he was disturbed that an ordinance was drafted before the commissioners had agreed on it.

“I’m furious inside that this board is the one creating this thing. We seem to be getting away from this process that allows the board of commissioners to talk about this with the public and then choose to go forward with something,” he said.

Kuhns said the ordinance offered a basis for discussion. “I think that’s a bunch of malarkey,” Mills replied. “This reflects nothing I’ve heard of at this board. I can’t believe you’re defending this.”

Commissioner Pat Coluzzi said, “This whole idea of parking - I don’t think we are looking at this properly.” She said she did not want any on-site parking on the property, as turns onto Rehoboth Avenue are too dangerous.

Kuhns and Commissioner Toni Sharp both agreed they want Clear Space in Rehoboth, but they question how best to get there. Sensing that discussions were going in circles, Kuhns suggested starting with a discussion of parking requirements at the commissioners’ Monday, May 6 workshop, and going from there.

As it has been in previous discussions, public opinion was mixed.

Donna Mabry, 11 Virginia Ave., said, “They obviously made a choice not to even try to get close to code. Now I see the city turning itself inside out and subverting your own processes to respond to that applicant. That’s just the tail wagging the dog. There’s no respect for the code.”

Wesley Paulson, Clear Space’s executive director, said he looked forward to working with the commissioners to keep Clear Space in Rehoboth.