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Rehoboth Beach

Rehoboth theater drops plans for new buildings in town

Officials end lawsuit aimed at reversing city’s refusal to approve project



(Blade file photo)

The Clear Space Theatre Company in Rehoboth Beach, Del., announced on Wednesday that it has dropped its plans to build a larger theater and an adjacent rehearsal theater in a new in-town location because it no longer has the financial resources to continue its lawsuit challenging local officials’ refusal to approve the building project.

The announcement by Clear Space to end the project comes nine months after it filed a lawsuit charging Rehoboth Mayor Stan Mills and the Rehoboth Board of Commissioners with violating local and state law by voting to overturn a decision by the Rehoboth Planning Commission to approve plans for the two new theater buildings.

Supporters of the theater, including many of Rehoboth’s LGBTQ residents and summer visitors, believe the mayor and commissioners based their action on opposition to the project by a small but vocal minority of homeowners and renters who don’t want the theater buildings near their homes, even though they would have been built on Rehoboth Avenue, which serves as the city’s main business and commercial boulevard.

Opponents have said the back walls of the two proposed theater buildings would face a residential street lined with houses and would create excessive noise and parking problems among other adverse effects. Wesley Paulson, the Clear Space Theatre executive director, has said steps had been taken to minimize noise and parking related issues. He pointed out that plans for the two theaters were in full compliance with local zoning and building codes.

“Following months of serious debate, the board and staff of Clear Space Theatre have decided to end the project on Rehoboth Avenue,” the theater announced in a July 27 statement. “This was an extremely difficult decision, as Clear Space has spent years working on the development with the goal of expanding the vibrant arts community in Southern Delaware,” the statement says.

“The excessive financial commitment to fight the City of Rehoboth in court over approved site plans makes the project untenable,” the statement continues. “As we were met with roadblock after roadblock, legal action was justified and necessary to move forward,” it says. “However, the financial hardship it would require has led the Clear Space Theatre Board of Directors to vote to end the lawsuit. The three lots on Rehoboth Ave., which we’d hoped would serve as an arts destination, will be sold,” according to the statement.

The statement adds, “We will seek other options to allow for growth and the ability to better serve residents and visitors to southern Delaware.”

Paulson told the Washington Blade on Wednesday that Clear Space will continue its operations at it current theater building on Baltimore Avenue near the Rehoboth boardwalk, where it has produced and held Broadway plays and musical performances and instructional classes on theater for young people since 2011.

“We have a full season of shows and classes scheduled for the remainder of 2022 and are excited to produce seasons for many years to come,” the nonprofit theater company says in its July 27 statement.

Some of the theater’s supporters have said the effort by opponents to prevent Clear Space Theatre from moving to the Rehoboth Avenue site, if successful, would likely result in a commercial developer buying the property and building a larger building with restaurants or bars possibly planned for the lower floors that could create far more noise and parking problems than the theater.

Gay D.C. attorney Harvey Shulman, who was one of the leaders of the opponents of the Clear Space building plans for Rehoboth Avenue, has said he was confident that residents of the neighborhood located behind the property where the theater buildings were planned would succeed in stopping another project that would create neighborhood disturbances.


Rehoboth Beach

Comings & Goings

Jim Endean joins BSD in Rehoboth Beach



Jim Endean

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Jim Endean on his new position as Director of Design and Business Development at BSD in Rehoboth Beach, Del. 

“I am joining the BSD team to cultivate and grow their cabinetry division creating kitchens, baths, mudrooms, and beyond,” he said. 

Prior to this he was with Atlantic Kitchen & Bath LLC, Lewes, Del., and was SVP New Business Development with Innomark Communications, New York. He has worked in corporate retail and brand design presentation for department stores, Nike, and Calvin Klein. He began his career with May Co. – Kaufmann’s, Hecht’s and Strawbridges divisions. His focus was on creating and executing brand vision for experiential customer environments at retail. He then translated that experience into the retail technology arena where he sold and implemented state-of-the-art 3D visual design and merchandising software transforming the way retailers and brands presented their identities to mass markets. Endean then went into residential interior design. He grew up in New England and Western Pennsylvania. He spent 20 years in corporate positions in New York City. He has been a visitor to Rehoboth Beach for 26 years and moved to the beach permanently in 2020. He lives there with his husband John, an architect, and their dog Levi. 

Endean earned his bachelor’s degree in Communications and Marketing, Robert Morris University, Pittsburgh.

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Rehoboth Beach

Rehoboth Beach theater announces new managing director

Clear Space hires Joe Gfaller after national search



Joe Gfaller starts his new role in November.

Rehoboth Beach’s Clear Space Theatre Company announced Tuesday that its board of directors has unanimously selected Joe Gfaller to join the company as managing director after a national search. 

Gfaller, who currently serves as managing director for Metro Theater Company in St. Louis, will join Artistic Director David Button as co-leader at CSTC, which marks its 20th anniversary in 2024.

“I am thrilled at the opportunity to help Clear Space Theatre Company grow its civic and philanthropic footprint as it begins a third decade of serving the community in coastal Delaware,” Gfaller said.

“Rehoboth is a special place to all who call it home, both year-round and seasonally. It is an extraordinary honor to work with such a creative and dynamic team as the CSTC staff and board to help the company grow to represent and reflect the fullness of this community.”

At Metro Theater Company, which is St. Louis’s primary professional theater for youth and families, Gfaller guided campaigns that helped grow the company’s revenues by 40% over four years, according to a release from Clear Space.

“Joe brings a wide range of theater experiences to the position and is sure to make an immediate impact on the company,” said Clear Space Board chair Laura Lee Mason. “His impressive track record and visionary leadership will undoubtedly elevate Clear Space to new heights. Joe shares our dedication to providing the community with outstanding education and theatrical experiences, and we look forward to collaborating with him to achieve those artistic aspirations.”

CSTC Artistic Director David Button added, “I look forward to Clear Space Theatre Company’s growth alongside Joe Gfaller. Not only will Clear Space benefit from his talent, but so will the community and state arts industry as a whole.”

Gfaller will begin full time in Rehoboth Beach in mid-November. During an October visit for the opening of “Young Frankenstein” at CSTC on Oct. 13, there will be opportunities for the public to meet him during the CAMP Rehoboth Street Festival on Oct. 15. He will be joined by his husband Kraig and their two dogs, Sprout and Emmit.

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Rehoboth Beach

Questions remain after Rehoboth Beach marijuana ban

Prohibits smoking, selling weed within town limits



Rehoboth officials voted to ban smoking and selling marijuana within town limits. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Want to light up in Rehoboth Beach, Del.? If you want to smoke a joint, you’re out of luck.
Rehoboth Beach’s mayor and Board of Commissioners voted last week to ban the smoking of cannabis on public property within the city’s 1.6-square-mile limits – despite the possession of cannabis being legal in Delaware. One commissioner, Tim Bennett, abstained, while all others voted for the ban. The city took advantage of a provision that allows local governments to ban its sale.

The mayor and commissioners cited cannabis’ health benefits as the primary reason, noting that the Food and Drug Administration has only approved cannabis-derived medications for rare seizures and researchers’ warnings that cannabis use or exposure can harm adolescents’ brain development, harming their memory, learning coordination, reaction time, and judgement. Commissioner Jay Lagree added a comment from a resident as further proof: A mall in Williamsburg, she said, had turned into a no-go zone for her after a cannabis store set up shop. Now, it’s filled with “unsavory” people, Lagree summarized.

After banning smoking marijuana in public places, the Rehoboth Beach Board of Commissioners and mayor Stan Mills went ahead with a ban on recreational cannabis sales in Rehoboth. Dewey Beach and Ocean City have already banned recreational cannabis stores, the mayor pointed out, so it is important to follow suit.

“I would not want them to be able to say, ‘Oh just go a quarter mile north to Rehoboth Beach and they’ll take care of your needs,’” he said.

“Raise parking to $10 an hour,” Bennett, the commissioner, joked.

“Outside the dispensaries,” Mills said and laughed.

A cannabis business manager couldn’t convince the officials otherwise. Columbia Care General Manager Laurie Golem said that the business has served 15,000 patients up and down Delaware and provides 100 jobs for Delawareans.

She also claimed three quarters of consumers buy cannabis to improve their health, treating disorders like insomnia and anxiety and providing pain relief. The Blade was unable to find that study, but a study commissioned by cannabis retailer Curaleaf found that around half of all adults polled had used cannabis before. Of those that had used cannabis before, it reported, more than 90% would consider using it for wellness and health. The study polled 2,000 Americans, though it is not clear how respondents were selected. It did not respond to the Blade’s questions.

But can the city enforce the ban on smoking weed? When a resident asked that question at a July meeting, he did not get a direct answer. Commissioner Toni Sharp noted that the city already has enforcement issues, but the new city manager was stepping up to the plate to fix it.

Commissioner Sharp signaled tepid opposition to the bill, saying she didn’t want to pass any legislation that burdened a police department missing half of its cadets, four dispatchers, and three full-time officers.

“I believe we have our hands full here in Rehoboth with issues that we would like to improve and we may steer clear of this,” she said.

Still, about a month later, she voted to pass the ban on smoking weed in public places. After publication, the city told the Blade that it had arrested or cited 159 people for cannabis possession since January 2021. It did not provide statistics on the number of people written up for smoking cannabis or tobacco on public property.

Adding to the challenge of enforcing the city code might be the Delaware Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in Juliano v. State that the smell of cannabis is not sufficient cause to arrest a person on suspicion of violating the law. Whether this applies to this situation isn’t clear, though, because police are already banned from arresting people for civil violations like smoking weed in a no-smoking area. Rehoboth’s police department first told the Blade through a city spokesperson that it was unfamiliar with the case and the city’s police chief did not respond to the Blade’s call. After publication, Lt. Jaime Riddle said in a statement that the case doesn’t apply because the case only applies to arrests, not stops.

“The odor of marijuana coming from a person who is smoking it, remains probable cause to conduct a stop as it remains illegal to smoke marijuana in public,” Riddle wrote.

People who violate smoking bans are charged $25 under current city laws, but if they challenge their conviction in court and lose, they are on the hook for $75 – the city tacks on another $50 for court fees. The city could even seek further punishment for the person, city law states.

The sale of alcohol and tobacco, though, remain legal despite mounds of evidence about their harm, including risks of cancer, heart disease, and more. When Commissioner Tim Bennet rhetorically asked whether the town would ban alcohol and tobacco stores (it can’t), Lagree joked that the city “would love to, but it’s probably not going to happen.”

The ban on cannabis has happened, though. Rehoboth officials weren’t swayed by cannabis activist Zoë Patchell, who said the ban would at best starve the city of much-needed tax money, or at worst shove demand underground.

“Banning legal licensed regulated cannabis businesses within town limits will make it less safe for both communities and consumers and shuts the door on economic agricultural and small business development, ensuring that those opportunities remain in the hands of the illicit market,” the registered lobbyist told the commissioners and mayor.

The law does allow Rehoboth’s handful of CBD shops to do business, so the ban won’t force any businesses to close. Still, the law passed with little fanfare. Not even Patchell’s group, the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network, posted anything on social media. The commission went on with its daily business instead.

“Thank you all for being here and speaking up,” Mills, the mayor, said. “With that we’re going to move on to the third item of old business.”

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