For the second time in eight months, Rehoboth Beach commissioners reverse a planning commission decision on a proposed downtown theatre.
Clear Space is seeking to build a new, modern theatre space just off the roundabout on Rehoboth Avenue. But their plans were dashed again when commissioners voted 4-3 to reject the planning commission's approval, saying its decision was arbitrary and capricious.
The commissioners who rejected the approval say the planning commission didn’t follow proper procedure, noting it never actually reviewed a revised site plan approved by the building inspector to ensure it meets city code.
Commissioners Pat Coluzzi, Edward Chrzanowski and Richard Byrne objected to the reversal, saying the planning commission acted in good faith when approving the plans.
Commissioner Susan Gay says it’s an important precedent to set.
“It is not the largest project that we even have on the drawing boards right now,” Gay said. “There are several other projects even larger where we have to be concerned about our standards.”
Gay adds Rehoboth Beach citizens are usually allies of the planning commission, and most decisions of the commission are unanimous. This Clear Space proposal was not.
Commissioners rejecting the approval say the planning commission failed to review revised site plans that ensure they were code-compliant and misinterpreted code surrounding parking space requirements. They also criticized the lack of discussion about the theatre’s educational component.
Commissioner Jay Lagree says Clear Space intentionally split the theatre property into two separate plots to reduce the overall square footage, and avoid having to allocate any off-street parking. He says it shows Clear Space was gaming the system.
“Clear Space and Rehoboth Spotlight approval process has been far from transparent from the very beginning,” said Commissioner Patrick Gossett. “And I think it’s our duty to make sure that the code required site plan review process is conducted in a responsible and transparent manner.”
The board’s decision means Clear Space must either repeat the approval process, or pursue legal action.
The commissioners also agree the city should hire a city planner and conduct a thorough review of city code to avoid issues like this.
Dissenting commissioner Pat Coluzzi apologized to the planning commission, saying if she were in their place, she’d resign after this decision.
Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.