February 4, 2020 at 3:08 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Rehoboth theater in ‘design development phase’
Clear Space Theatre, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

The leader of the Clear Space Theatre in the Delaware resort town of Rehoboth Beach says the theater company will move ahead with its plans to build a larger facility at a new location to house the popular theater.

But Executive Director Wesley Paulson hasn’t disclosed how the Clear Space Theatre Company will accomplish that goal after Rehoboth Beach officials declined to back a proposed change in the zoning law to waive a 128-space parking requirement that Paulson initially said was needed to allow the beloved performing arts theater to build its new theater at 415 Rehoboth Ave. near the entrance to the town.

The Clear Space Theatre Company, founded in 2004, has produced highly acclaimed Broadway-style plays and musicals and operates an arts institute that teaches theater to students of all ages in a former church building it rents on Baltimore Avenue near the boardwalk.

In September 2018, the theater announced plans to build its own larger building that would include a 300-seat theater on Rehoboth Avenue. Theater officials said they made adjustments to the architectural plans for the new 25,600-square-foot building, including lowering its height, so it meets all city codes except a requirement that it include 128 on-site parking spaces.

Paulson said the theater company didn’t have the funds to include more than 28 parking spaces onsite, and urged Rehoboth officials to consider an exemption to the parking requirement. Rehoboth Mayor Paul Kuhns and the City Commission, which is Rehoboth’s legislative body, declined to make any immediate zoning changes and sent the matter to the Rehoboth Planning Commission.

In April 2019, the commission issued a recommendation of no new zoning designations for Clear Space. However, it further recommended an amendment to the city code allowing satellite parking spaces to be leased under a long-term contract to be counted toward the parking requirements, according to the Cape Gazette newspaper.

The Rehoboth City Commission has so far not taken further action on the commission’s recommendation.

“After more than three years of study, the Company has selected this site to construct a new theatre and rehearsal space,” the theater company said in a Jan. 1 press release. “We welcome this opportunity to provide a permanent home for Clear Space and where we can continue to present artistic endeavors of integrity and risk in the City of Rehoboth Beach,” the release quoted Carl Schloegel, the Clear Space board chair, as saying.

“We look forward to building a facility that is designed within City code,” Schloegel added.

In response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade, Krys Johnson, a spokesperson for the City Commission, said the city “has not exempted Clear Space Theatre from any zoning requirements.”

Johnson added that Clear Space Theatre has not submitted any revised plans to the city for the property on which it plans to build its new theater and “therefore no ‘approval’ has been given” for the project.

When asked about Johnson’s comments, Paulson told the Blade in an email, “We have purchased land and will build a new theater on the site.”

Added Paulson, “We are in the design development phase of the project…We have carefully considered feedback from the planning commission in the redesign of our project,” he said. “Once we finish the design development phase our architect and engineer will provide an estimated construction schedule.”

He said the project will be funded by a combination of a capital campaign fundraising effort “supported by the community” and through a mortgage underwritten by a U.S. Department of Agriculture Direct Loan Program.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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