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Rehoboth’s Clear Space Theatre regroups after commissioners reject new buildings

Opponents say officials failed to submit ‘code compliant’ application



(Blade file photo)

The Rehoboth Beach Board of Commissioners voted for the second time in eight months on June 30 to overturn a decision by the beach resort city’s Planning Commission to approve plans by the Clear Space Theatre Company to build a larger theater and adjacent rehearsal theater in a new location.

Supporters of the theater project, including many of Rehoboth’s LGBTQ residents and summer visitors, expressed outrage over the Board of Commissioners 4 to 3 vote to reject the Planning Commission’s approval and deny the Clear Space application to build its proposed new theaters on Rehoboth Avenue, which serves as the city’s main commercial boulevard.

The four commissioners voting to overturn the theater’s approval were Rehoboth Mayor Stan Mills, gay Commissioner Patrick Gossett, and fellow Commissioners Susan Gay and Jay Lagree. The three who voted against overturning the approval were gay Commissioner Edward Chrzanowski, lesbian Commissioner Pat Coluzzi, and Commissioner Richard Byrne.

The controversial vote to overturn the theater project approval came in response to an official appeal against the Planning Commission’s Feb. 26 approval of the project filed by 63 Rehoboth homeowners or renters, including D.C. gay attorney Harvey Shulman, who owns one of the homes near where the new theater buildings were to be built.

Shulman said at least 15 percent of those who signed on as appellants are gay. He and other opponents have said the two proposed theater buildings — a 14,949-square-foot main theater and a 9,950-square-foot rehearsal theater — are unsuitable in the three lots on Rehoboth Avenue where they were proposed to be built. Opponents say the two theater buildings would abut a residential neighborhood that would suffer undue noise, traffic congestion, and parking problems caused by the theaters.

Clear Space submitted the two-theater building proposal after the Board of Commissioners refused to approve an exception to the zoning code requested by Clear Space for an earlier plan for one larger 25,599-square-foot theater building. City officials noted the zoning code required any building larger than 15,000 square feet to provide 100 or more indoor or onsite parking spaces, which Clear Space said it did not have the financial resources to fulfill.

In a development that angered the opponents, Clear Space submitted a new plan for the two smaller buildings, which under the zoning code does not require Clear Space to provide any parking spaces for the project.

Clear Space has said its site plan would address noise and parking issues and it complies with the city’s zoning code. Others supporting the theater have argued that anyone who chose to buy a home adjacent to a busy commercial street like Rehoboth Avenue should expect to deal with some noise and parking issues, which for years residents of the popular beach resort town have managed to deal with.

The commissioners who voted to overturn the Planning Commission’s approval of the project cited as their main concern the contention by Shulman and the other appellants that the Planning Commission approved the project without ever having received or seen a code-complaint application, including a code-compliant set of drawings or plans for the project. The appellants said the Planning Commission allegedly only had in its possession an earlier application that was not in compliance with the city’s zoning code.

Wesley Paulson, executive director of Clear Space Theatre Company, and Commissioner Chrzanowski each told the Washington Blade that the Planning Commission was informed by the city’s building inspector that the Clear Space application and building site plans fully complied with all city codes.
The two pointed out that the building inspector, in consultation with the Planning Commission, set several conditions based on an earlier Clear Space application that had a minor code violation related to ceiling heights in one or more stair wells that should be corrected. Paulson and Chrzanowski pointed out that those changes were made.

Chrzanowski said he and his fellow commissioners who voted against overturning the project’s approval strongly disagree with the rationale by Mills, who serves as mayor, and the other three commissioners that the Planning Commission acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner in its decision to approve the theater’s application.

“It is my opinion that they were not acting any way in that fashion,” Chrzanowski said of the Planning Commission. “The fact of the matter is these appellants, they don’t care whether or not a drop ceiling in a stairwell needed to be reduced by six inches or not,” he said.

“They just oppose the project because they don’t want it in their back yard,” he told the Blade. “It has nothing to do with a process or a code. They just don’t want it in town, and it’s unfortunate.”

Shulman disputes that claim, saying existing Rehoboth law requires that the Planning Commission could not legally approve an application that never came before it and never became available to the public for review.

“This is not a question of whether you like the theater or you don’t like the theater,” he said. “There is a process that has to be followed. And the public has a right to have input. And that didn’t happen here.”
Among the Clear Space supporters who have criticized the Board of Commissioners who voted against the theater is longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate Peter Rosenstein, who has a residence just outside the Rehoboth city boundary. Among other things, Rosenstein dismisses Shulman’s claim that a significant number of gay residents wanted the Board of Commissioners to overturn the theater’s approval.

“He’s got 20 gays that don’t support it and there are 3,000 that support it,” said Rosenstein. “They can find any excuse they want,” Rosenstein said in response to claims that the Planning Commission never received the theater’s final, revised application.

“The Planning Commission didn’t make any mistake,” he said. “The theater was code compliant. They met every condition the Planning Commission wanted. Technicality or not, they were going to find an excuse to turn it down.”

Paulson, the Clear Space executive director, said he remains hopeful that Clear Space will be allowed to resubmit its final, fully code complaint application to the Planning Commission for another quick and legally mandated approval without having to start the application process over again from scratch.

Supporters say starting over could take six months or more to obtain another round of approval from multiple city agencies and inspectors, a process that would add to Clear Space’s financial burden. They note that the application process has already taken three years since Clear Space first proposed to move from its current location in a rented former church on Baltimore Avenue near the city’s boardwalk.

Paulson said another option under consideration is to take the matter to court in a lawsuit to challenge the legality of the Board of Commissioners action. But he said he would prefer not to take that action if another option becomes available.

Paulson points to Board of Commissioners member Susan Gay, who voted to overturn the Planning Commission’s approval of the project but who stated in an interview on a Rehoboth radio show the day following the Board of Commissioners’ vote that she didn’t believe the theater would have to begin a new application process.

“So, Susan, do they have to go back and start this process all over like a six-month plan again,” Radio Rehoboth talk show host Jeff Balk asked Gay in an early morning interview on July 1.

“No,” Gay replied. “So, part of Plan B is they can submit code compliant plans today,” she said. “I understand they do exist. If that’s the case, submit them. And at that point, I would hope the Planning Commission would expeditiously review it in compliance with the site plan review and it would result in a unanimous approval,” Gay said in the radio interview.

But both Chrzanowski, who wanted the city to approve the theater’s application, and Shulman, one of the lead opponents, each said that under existing Rehoboth law, a project like this must start the application process over again from scratch if it has been rejected twice by the Board of Commissioners.

“When you reject a decision by the Planning Commission for a second time, it’s dead,” Chrzanowski told the Blade. “You need to start from scratch,” he said. “There may be an administrative thing the city could do to help move it along faster, but that certainly is not Commissioner Gay’s decision,” he said. “So, she very much misspoke when she made those statements.”

Shulman told the Blade that if Clear Space chooses to start the application process over again, he believes the opponents of the project would be open to favorably consider the new application.

“If they come back with a new application, everyone will see whether it is code compliant,” he said. “I believe and the opponents have always said this – we will sit down with Donna West, who is the chair of the [Clear Space Theatre Company] board, and try to reach some agreement on what a code compliant application would be, so there is no opposition or, so the opposition is minimized.”

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Rehoboth Beach

Vandals target 2 Rehoboth Beach LGBTQ-owned businesses

Staff discovers graffiti on walls, doors



Vandals targeted the Purple Parrot in Rehoboth Beach on Monday. (Photo courtesy Purple Parrot)

Freddie’s Beach Bar and the Purple Parrot — two LGBTQ+ bars and restaurants in Rehoboth Beach — discovered that their establishments had been vandalized on Monday, according to a series of posts to the Purple Parrot’s Facebook page made by Hugh Fuller, the restaurant’s owner.

The vandal, whose identity remains unknown, painted on the walls and carved graffiti into the mirrors of the Purple Parrot’s bathroom, and painted graffiti on the front door of Freddie’s Beach Bar, the posts recounted. The establishments have since filed police reports with the Rehoboth Police Department.

Tony Rivenbark, a manager at Freddie’s, said that a staff member first noticed the vandalism around 10:30 a.m. on Monday, and that it was dry to the touch, leading restaurant management to believe it was painted early in the day. Upon discovering the graffiti, restaurant staff reported it to local police and were told that other nearby locations had similarly been vandalized, he said.

Between its Rehoboth and Arlington, Va. locations, Rivenbark has worked at the establishment for almost two decades, and added that this was the first instance of vandalism at the Rehoboth venue, which has been open for less than one year. He noted that Freddie’s management is currently reviewing security footage for further information, and is likely to soon install additional security cameras.

At the establishment’s Arlington, Va., location, “we’ve had some minor spray painting done, we’ve had some rocks thrown at windows,” he recounted. “Mostly I have attributed it to drunken antics, not so much hate. Hopefully that’s the case here as well.”

Rivenbark added that Freddie’s staff remains positive despite the circumstances. “It doesn’t seem like a huge issue. It’s something we’ll probably just paint over tomorrow,” Rivenbark said. “I’d much rather it be some kid that’s got a new little airbrush … than it being somebody that’s targeting LGBT businesses.”

The Rehoboth Beach Police Department declined to comment or to confirm details of the reports filed.

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District of Columbia

Pride Run returns after two-year hiatus

1,500 participants to join 10th annual event on June 10



The Pride Run 5K is back after COVID hiatus. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After a two-year pandemic hiatus that saw the Pride Run go mostly virtual, the DC Front Runners Pride Run 5K is elated to once again welcome nearly 1,500 runners, walkers, volunteers, and spectators back to the Historic Congressional Cemetery for their Tenth Anniversary Race on Friday, June 10.

As an official Capital Pride Partner Event, the Pride Run 5K kicks off Capital Pride weekend with a bang. Well perhaps more of a “On your mark, get set, GO!” 

Join us as we run, walk, skip, shantay, and sashay on a course that starts near the cemetery’s “Gay Corner” where many LGBTQ rights activists, such as Leonard Matlovich, are interred. The race then winds along the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail to finish where you started.  

Gates open at 5 p.m. for packet pickup with the race beginning at 7 p.m. The post-race party includes beer and hard seltzer provided by DC Brau along with a DJ playing music until 9 p.m. Be sure to check out the return of the DCFR dance troupe performing to a hyped-up crowd. 

Race proceeds benefit the following local LGBTQ and youth-supporting organizations via the Pride Run Foundation: Ainsley’s Angels (National Capital Region), Casa Ruby, Team DC Student-Athlete Scholarship, SMYAL, The Wanda Alston Foundation, The Blade Foundation, and Teens Run DC. You can help support these amazing charities by registering for the race or donate directly at

A special thanks to the presenting sponsors, Capital One Café, Choice Hotels, KNEAD Hospitality + Design, Shake Shack, and Wegmans Food Market to the premier sponsors DC Brau, Pacers Running, and Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP, and our elite sponsors, AHF Healthcare Centers, Avalon Bay Communities, Casey Trees, Endorphin Fitness, and Starbucks, and of course our special partner the Historic Congressional Cemetery. Last, but not least, a big thank you to all individual donors who contribute via the race website directly to our incredible charity partners. Together, we proudly celebrate who we are in a festive, safe, and inclusive event.

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District of Columbia

Mattachine Society of D.C. donates documents to William & Mary

New LGBTQ archive established at Swem Library



Charles Francis, anti-gay purge, Mattachine Society, gay news, Washington Blade
‘Our motto ‘Archive Activism’ brings us to this decision to donate all of our collection to William and Mary,’ said Charles Francis. (Photo courtesy Francis)

The Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., the group that collects historic documents related to the federal government’s discrimination against and persecution of LGBTQ people in past years, announced this week that it is donating all its documents to a newly created Archive of American LGBTQ Political and Legal History at the College of William & Mary.

The Williamsburg, Va., based college announced last week that its new LGBTQ archive is being established at its Swem Library in memory of the renowned gay historian John Boswell, who was a 1969 Bachelor of Arts graduate in history at the College of William & Mary.

“There are many fabulous collections of LGBTQ historical materials in libraries across the country, but this archive will have a unique focus on the political and legal architecture of the movement,” said Carrie Cooper, dean of University Libraries at William and Mary.

“Our motto ‘Archive Activism’ brings us to this decision to donate all of our collection to William and Mary, for the benefit of historians, researchers, and students nationwide,” said Charles Francis, co-founder of the reestablished Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. The group was originally founded by D.C. LGBTQ rights pioneer Frank Kameny in the early 1960s as D.C.’s first politically active LGBTQ organization.

“This exciting new archive will collect materials that illuminate the history of LGBTQ Americans’ struggle to secure their rights through the political process and legal systems of the nation,” according to LGBTQ rights advocate and former William & Mary Rector Jeff Trammell. 

Trammell is donating to the new archive material collected from his tenure as the first openly gay board chair of a major public university, a statement released by William & Mary says. It says Trammell’s donation is the second donation after the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., which made the first of what is expected to be many more LGBTQ-related documents to be donated to the new archive.

The Mattachine donation includes “original, declassified documents obtained by meticulous research into sources such as the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, numerous presidential library archives, and public and university libraries, to name just a few, according to attorney Pate Felts, the other Mattachine co-founder.

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