It’s been three months since Clear Space Theatre Company last made a public appearance related to its proposed 300-seat venue on Rehoboth Avenue. In the meantime, the organization has solved one of two major hurdles – the height of the 25,600-square-foot building.
Currently located at 20 Baltimore Ave., the theater company first revealed its proposal for a new home at 413, 415 and 417 Rehoboth Ave. during a planning commission meeting in October.
A month later, during a second public vetting, neighbors abutting the property to the north on Sussex Street voiced concerns over the proposed building’s height, which was 53 feet at its highest point.
During a city commissioner workshop Feb. 4, Clear Space Theatre Company Executive Director Wesley Paulson presented commissioners with a revised plan for the theater that meets the city’s 42-foot height requirement by removing the equipment needed for the theater’s fly tower, or theatrical rigging system.
Paulson said after further consulting, the theater company has decided to move forward with an electric system that doesn’t have the height issues associated with a traditional fly tower. He said the new rigging system costs about twice as much, but there will be cost savings associated with not having to accommodate all the equipment and storage space needed for the fly tower.
With the height of the building seemingly taken care of, parking remains an issue. How big of an issue all depends on how the city defines the theater. As proposed, the theater company would provide 28 parking spaces by building a 10-foot-tall garage that sits 6 feet below ground level and 4 feet above.
City code requires retail shops and service centers over 15,000 square feet to provide one spot for every 200 square feet of space, while public buildings, private clubs and institutions require one spot for every 400 square feet of space. The proposed building would require 128 parking spaces as commercial or 64 spaces as institutional.
Paulson has said before, and he continued to make the case during the recent meeting, that Clear Space should be considered an institution.
City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said one option would be for commissioners to define performing art center within city code, and then, as an example, revise parking requirements to include a certain number of spots on site, but only allowable if there are a certain number of city parking spaces in a 1,000 foot radius.
Paulson provided commissioners with a proposed definition, which Mandalas read aloud as: “A building designed or occupied exclusively as a center for presentation for live theater, music, dance, film, related education programs and supporting activities.”
Mayor Paul Kuhns reminded everyone the proposal is to put the building on three individual lots that could each have a 10,000-square-foot restaurant, which, under city code, wouldn’t require any parking spaces.
Public opinion on Clear Space’s proposal remains mixed, and the ones against it are typically in favor of Clear Space staying within city limits, but doing so by conforming to city building code.
Former planning commissioner Jan Konesy said the proposal would have a negative impact on the values of the surrounding residential properties.
“We all make compromises to live in Rehoboth Beach, and if Clear Space wants to be a vital part of the community, they should be willing to do the same,” she said.
Jeff Hamer, Fins Hospitality Group founder, spoke in favor of the project. He said over the past 10 years he’s watched his daughter go from a shy young girl to a teenager looking at colleges in New York City with theater programs.
“I never thought that would happen,” Hamer said. “I’ve seen kids develop, blossom. Kids that were marginalized on the outside, kids from different races, colors, creeds, sexual orientation. It’s a safe place for them to express themselves. I think that after watching it for ten years now, it’s a wonderful asset to have in the community.”
Ultimately, the commissioners asked the planning commission to weigh in on the parking issue. The planning commission has a meeting scheduled for 3 p.m., Friday, Feb. 8, and a discussion related to Clear Space had been posted as part of that agenda.