Art league set to defy Acres

Henlopen Acres plans to fine RAL if  "Shakespeare in the Garden" is held

Schwartzkopf: "How did we get here?"

By Ryan Mavity | May 25, 2012
Cape Gazette
Photo by: Ryan Mavity

Henlopen Acres — The Rehoboth Art League will go ahead with plans to hold three “Shakespeare in the Garden” productions this summer, ignoring warnings from Henlopen Acres officials that the organization will be fined $200 for each show.

Art league President Diana Beebe said the board voted unanimously to go on with the show, and Georgetown's Possum Point Players are set to perform it.

Beebe said performing Shakespeare, with productions planned June 2, July 7 and Aug. 4, falls within the art league's right to present artistic and cultural programming. She said the Shakespeare production is not an expansion of the league’s conditional use, noting there’s no staging for lights and the production will take place in a garden on a Saturday afternoon.

She said the art league would not pursue a permit for a special exception.

“This instance, we believe, goes beyond anything they have the authority to ask of us,” she said.

While the Shakespeare production is relatively new, Beebe said, the art league has held garden events for years, such as films and concerts, and has never been required to get a permit. She said if the art league paid the $1,000 permit fee for every event, the organization would go bankrupt.

In a letter addressed to Town Manager Tom Roth, Beebe wrote, “The art league will not be bullied out of existence.”


Earth Day event draws fine

Last month, the town fined the art league $200 for its Earth Day “Art Rocks! Science Expo,” stating the event was an extension of the art league's nonconforming use and a violation of the zoning code. Beebe said the art league would not pay the fine, which she said was arbitrary and capricious.

The art league is zoned residential, but is deemed a nonconforming use. The town’s zoning code, relating to nonconforming uses, says, “A nonconforming use shall not be extended or enlarged, nor shall any structural alteration be made to any building in which a nonconforming use is conducted. No such use shall be extended to occupy any land outside any building devoted to a nonconforming use.”

In a letter to the Possum Point Players and the art league, Roth said another $200 fine would be forthcoming if the Shakespeare production went on as planned, unless the art league obtains a special exception for a theater. In his letter, Roth said a violation is a criminal matter.


Town fears litigation

Roth said he could not comment on Beebe’s letter or what would happen if the art league goes ahead with the performances. Roth and Mayor Wanda Davis both said because the art league has threatened litigation, neither one could make a statement on the situation.

Beebe said the art league has not threatened legal action against the town. She said the league asked the town to withdraw its threats of a fine.

Mark Dunkel, attorney for the art league, said in an email that he sent a letter to the town demanding a retraction of the fines and apology from the town. He said the town's deed restrictions permit the art league's use as a cultural and artistic center.

"The town is legally obligated to support the intention of the deed restrictions, and is acting against them by trying to limit the RAL’s existence and programs," Dunkel said. "The town has apparently forgotten that it stands in the shoes of the founder of Henlopen Acres and is failing to carry out the founders' plan for a thriving center for arts and culture as an integral part of this planned community."

Commissioner Winnie Kee said she wants peace between the town and the art league. As a resident, she said, when she was rebuilding her family home, she had to abide by and conform her dreams to the rules and regulations of Henlopen Acres.

Commissioners David Hill, David Lyons, Paddy Richards, John Staffier and Frank Jamison did not respond to calls for comment.

Meanwhile, letters of support have poured in for the art league, although none of the supporters live in Henlopen Acres. One letter writer, Stan Heuisler of 81 Henlopen Ave. in Rehoboth Beach, not only supports the art league’s Shakespeare performances, but also sent a $200 check in to the town to prepay the fine.

Former art league President Gary Grunder wrote, “This behavior by town officials violates existing zoning regulations and the Covenants which allow art galleries, libraries, recreation, educational and philanthropic uses in any block and appears to me to be grounds for the state to examine this behavior as it relates to the town’s charter as a local government.”

Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said he’s gotten a ton of emails from residents of Henlopen Acres in support of the art league. He said he does not understand the town’s position, because the art league predates the town and has been integral to the growth of the town.

Schwartzkopf said he has been in contact with the Secretary of State’s Office, which has been attempting to get the town and the art league together to work something out.

Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock said he has encouraged both sides to sit down and try to find a workable compromise. He said the art league is an important cultural asset to the state that needs to be preserved. Bullock said in this case the town is a public entity acting in a private interest, which is not a stance that will allow a public purpose like the art league to thrive the way it should.

He said the two sides need to reconcile their differences and negotiate a good faith compromise.

"It's something we can encourage, but we can't force them to do it," Bullock said.

Schwartzkopf supported the art league’s request for rezoning into a new cultural district. He said Henlopen Acres is acting like a private community when they are a public municipality.

“How did we get here? That is the question,” Schwartzkopf said. “I think it’s a shame its broken down to this point.”

A brief history of Rehoboth Art League

1930 – Land that would become Henlopen Acres is transferred to Col. Wilbur Corkran and his wife, Louise. The Corkrans plan to develop the site as a quiet, residential neighborhood.

1937 – Louise Corkran founds the Rehoboth Art League to encourage interest and participation in the arts.  A thriving art community grows.

1970 – The town of Henlopen Acres is incorporated.

October 2006 – Art league appeals to the Board of Adjustment a decision by Town Manager Tom Roth that the art league property consisted of two lots and not a single lot.

August/November 2007 – Henlopen Acres Board of Adjustment denies a variance for the art league to build a new Chambers Building and upholds Roth’s decision on the “one lot/two lot” issue.

August 2009 – Delaware Superior Court affirms the board of adjustment decision.

December 2009 - The art league appeals the case to Delaware Supreme Court.

April 2010 – Delaware Supreme Court also affirms the board’s decision.

Summer 2011 – Art league asks the town to consider a rezoning to a new cultural zoning classification in the town’s five-year update of its comprehensive development plan. The town takes the position that the 10-year rewrite of the plan is a more appropriate time to consider the change.

April 2012 – State planning officials, as part of the PLUS review process, suggest the town examine rezoning the art league in the plan update

April 22, 2012 – The town fines the art league $200 for hosting a “Art Rocks! Science Expo.” The town said the exhibit violated the art league’s nonconforming use. The town also told the art league it would be fined another $200 for hosting three “Shakespeare in the Garden” productions this summer.

May 16, 2012 – The art league’s board unanimously votes to go forward with the Shakespeare productions and not pay the fine.

Editorial

Cape Gazette May 25, 2012

»
Art League fighting fire with fire

H
enlopen Acres government eclipsed Dewey Beach recently in the over­reaching category. We thought Dewey Beach commissioners went too far in instituting a town-wide noise ordi­nance, with decibel levels widely believed un­enforceable, to address a few summertime bar­music issues. Passing that kind of ordinance is like using a meat ax instead of a scalpel for cor­rective surgery .

Henlopen Acres took misguided-use-of-gov­ernment power to another level when it wrote letters threatening criminal prosecution of the directors of Rehoboth Art League and the Pos­sum Point Players over plans for an unampli­fied, daytime performance of Shakespeare’s 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' on league grounds. The letters say the performances would constitute an illegal expansion of the art league’s nonconforming use in the town. The threats come on the heels of the town fining the art league - citing similar grounds - for an Earth Day activity.

Henlopen Acres’ bellicose posturing, not sur­prisingly, drew an equally strong, if not stronger, response from Rehoboth Art League and its legal team. The art league is strongly defending its right to stage artistic events, is de­manding that the threatening letters be retract­ed and an apology issued, and is raising the question of whether the town is attempting to use its laws to restrict the art league’s artistic freedom of expression in violation of the feder­al Constitution.

And all of this over the planned performanc­es of a gentle and good-natured Shakespeare play? It’s hard to imagine any set of circum­stances to which the saying “making a moun­tain out of a molehill” could be more aptly ap­plied.

Why create a problem where there is none?

As it always has, Rehoboth Art League will work to ensure the performances don’t disrupt the community it calls home. In the unlikely event the performance does cause a problem, that’s when the government should intervene.

In the meantime, cooler heads should prevail.

Henlopen Acres officials should acknowledge that their threats went too far and sit down with art league officials to resolve specific con­cerns they may have about the coming pro­grams.

Cape Gazette editorials are considered and written by members of the Cape Gazette editorial board which includes Dennis Forney, publisher; Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor; Laura Ritter, news editor; and Jen Ellingsworth, arts and entertainment editor.

Create special zone for Rehoboth Art League

I have read with interest vari­ous articles about the zoning is­sues faced by the Rehoboth Art League. I find the actions of the town of Henlopen Acres toward the art league to be appalling and offensive to any decent person. It is time action was taken against this state-appointed municipality that continues to harass and abuse its powers as a township. It is about as narrow-minded as one can get. Talk about “NIMBYism” (Not In My Back Yard)!!

I support Mr. Slavin’s idea of a “cultural zoning” status. Without it, the future of the art league will be stifled and perhaps become nonexistent. It would be a shame for all the efforts of the current and previous leaders of the art league and their work toward pro­moting and preserving the arts and reaching out to teach under­served youth and beginning artists alike to cease because of the actions of a small group of narrow-minded people. It is so very important we keep the arts alive in our world today…by hav­ing the art league in our lives we have a place of peace and harmo­ny to enjoy and to learn that can’t be found anywhere else.

As an artist and member of the Rehoboth Art League, I support Mr. Slavin’s suggestion of a cultur­al district zoning for the art league so all of us and future gen­erations can benefit from the wonderful programs they offer to all. I encourage our government leadership at all levels to step up and address this situation and once and for all stop the oppres­sion that Henlopen Acres has tried to have over the art league for years.

Jeanne Mueller Lewes

Acres should be proud of Rehoboth Art League

It is almost mind-boggling that Henlopen Acres continues these unconscionable attacks on the Re­hoboth Art League. Who are these people promoting this be­havior? The Rehoboth Art League has been a potent part of Henlopen Acres for 75 years. This is not a gated community where a few wealthy people (obviously an­ti- the arts) control programs and activities.

Everything that the Rehoboth Art League has done to promote the arts and does is with the best interests of children and adults.

The events are always organized with much advance planning and forethought. After all, the arts transcend our lives and help us to reach life’s highest achievements.

These are not rock concerts drawing casts of thousands to this quiet venue, rather art-centered programming represents the high­

est level of cultural activity, with relatively small audiences.

Henlopen Acres should be proud of the Rehoboth Art League being in its community!

Please support RAL's continu­ing programming without inter­ference by Henlopen Acres.

Russ and Ellen Notar Lewes

RAL patron pays Acres fine in advance

The following letter was writ­ting to the Town of Henlopen Acres with a copy submitted to the Cape Gazette for publication.

I am writing as a former Ful­bright Professor (1973-74) in Kab­ul, Afghanistan. During my tenure there, among other duties, I ad­vised the National Theater of Afghanistan. Among many other plays, we staged a production of a translated “Othello,” which was enormously well received. In the sad years which soon followed, war was replaced by the Taliban, who certainly allowed no more Shakespeare, among a multitude of many other things. Censorship is a slippery slope.

It was therefore deeply distress­ing for me to read that the town administration of Henlopen Acres, as part of its ongoing battle with the Rehoboth Art League, was threatening the league with a $200 fine to prevent the afternoon pro­duction of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by the local Possum Point Players on June 2 in the art league garden.

We must be better than this.

How can we have this censorship - in Delaware, in 2012 - of the world’s greatest playwright?

Therefore, I am enclosing a $200 check to prepay the fine and let the Bard of Avon’s immortal words enrich our lives in Delaware.

As Shakespeare himself once wrote: “When truth is no longer free, freedom is no longer real.”

Stan Heuisler Rehoboth Beach

RAL board member takes Acres to task

As a member of the board of trustees of the Rehoboth Art League for nine years and as pres­ident of that board for three years (2005-08) I experienced a feeling of déjà vu when I read the Gazette article in the May 18-21 edition ti­tled “Acres warns art league…vio­late code.” From my personal files I read the front-page headline of Nov. 18-21, 2005: “Henlopen Acres…RAL at odds.”

Bad relations between the two predate this also, but it appears that town officials are escalating their attacks with possibly illegal, certainly irrational behavior in the past several months. This irra­tionality can be seen in the atti­tudes expressed by town officials when they say certain previously approved and allowed activities cannot be undertaken due to the residential zoning of the town, but refuse to discuss rezoning of league property to a zoning cate­gory such as a historic cultural district which would allow all the parties involved to live peacefully with rational and fair monitoring of everyone’s activities.

The recent news report men­tioned above indicates that these officials have taken it upon them­selves to interpret town regula­tions and the covenants estab­lished by Col. Wilbur Corkran (still in effect) in new ways and fine the art league $200 for con­ducting an “Art Rocks” arts/sci­ence workshop for children in April. Town officials, with Mr.

Tom Roth, town manager, as their front man, have threatened addi­tional fines for what they describe as criminal acts when the league and Possum Point Players cooper­ate in a Shakespeare art and the­ater event three times in the com­ing months. These activities, all art and art education related, are part of the league’s efforts to en­sure its programs are available to a widely diverse audience through­out this area. The “Art Rocks” event, conducted in cooperation with the state Department of Edu­cation, is similar to the acclaimed art education for children con­ducted by the art league and First State Community Action Agency.

The town’s behavior also vio­lates the freedom of speech and expression of the art league, its of­ficials, and its members, not to mention that of Possum Point Players, which is a recognized, highly thought of theater company in Georgetown.

Further to the town’s unaccept­able behavior as a town govern­ment is the issue of its unwilling­ness to abide by state regulations regarding its Comprehensive De­velopment Plan and the required update to this, now three years overdue. Mayor Wanda Davis has been quite firm in telling the State Planning Office and the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs that these issues will not be dealt with until at least 2014. Officials from both state agencies have been attempting to have the town respond to requirements of the CDP planning process especially related to the historically certified Homestead and a possible rezon­ing for the art league.

This behavior by town officials violates existing zoning regula­tions and the covenants which al­low art galleries, libraries, recre­ational, educational and philan­thropic uses in any block (Art III, Exception 4) and appears to me to be grounds for the state to exam­ine this behavior as it relates to the town’s charter as a local gov­ernment.

The time has come to stop try­ing to work with the town govern­ment of the Acres and advocate for stronger measures, including asking the General Assembly to revoke the charter of the town be­cause of its continued harassment of the league and for its threat­ened violation of the freedom of expression of the league, its mem­bers, and Possum Point Players.

Art supporters and anyone inter­ested in fair play should take ac­tion to express their concerns.

Gary Grunder Lewes

Legislators urged to intercede for RAL

The following letter was sent to Sen. George Bunting and Rep.

Pete Schwartzkopf, with a copy submitted to the Cape Gazette for publication.

I have owned a second home in Rehoboth Beach for over 20 years and plan to make it a permanent home shortly when I retire. I love the community I am in and the state of Delaware. I am writing about a matter on which I request that you use your influence as an elected leader of our community rather than your power as a legis­lator.

I feel certain that, by now, you have seen the exchange of corre­spondence between officials of the Town of Henlopen Acres and the leaders of the Rehoboth Art League (RAL) which is located in the town by historic grant of the founders of Henlopen Acres. The purpose of the grant, many decades ago, was to provide a beautiful facility and grounds ded­icated to the arts. For reasons that are unfathomable, the leaders of the town have evolved over the years with a thoughtless animosity toward the art league. Now they have seen fit to write a letter threatening criminal citation and prosecution should the RAL go forward with a planned outdoor performance of Shakespeare's classic “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” This is an activity fully in accord with the intended purpose of the grant to the RAL and con­sistent with its natural location amidst beautiful gardens. The per­formances are surely of the high­est order of artistic activity.

There are thousands of your constituents who love and benefit from the RAL, from childhood art lessons to adult visual arts and music, and this affection is shared by many of the good people of Henlopen Acres. The Rehoboth Art League, as you well know, is one of those many institutions we have that enriches the life of the shore communities and keeps the visitors coming to keep our area successful and prosperous. The performers themselves are from a Delaware theater company with a strong reputation.

This favorable view is widely held, but apparently not by Hen­lopen Acres officials, who seem to harbor only dark thoughts. The mere conception of threatening the simple performance of a play by the man regarded widely as the greatest writer in English with criminal prosecution is mean-spir­ited, arrogant and misguided in the extreme. It must command the attention of those who are elected to represent us, not just by legis­lating, but by actual leadership on community values and expecta­tions. These threats are not com­ing from the people of Henlopen Acres who are good citizens and good people. Rather, they come from leaders who, for whatever reason, perceive their authoriza­tion to encourage such uncivil, ag­gressive and petty attacks on the RAL. To put it simply, the action of the Acres officials is like cross­ing the street to kick a dog, and they seem to feel that this is pretty much fine. It is not.

Henlopen Acres is not a city state, but a community in the county of Sussex, state of Delaware, and it needs to be ad­vised at this time that such tactics and antagonistic policies are sim­ply not acceptable. What is occur­ring at the RAL is not a carnival or a stock car race, but rather an artistic performance of a classic play, by perhaps our greatest writer, and in the wonderful gar­dens of the art league. We should feel fortunate that it is to be done at  all. Some communication of community values and state ex­pectations by our leaders is clearly appropriate here, and my hope is that you will find a way to speak out rather than remain silent. Pub­lic opinion, in this case and many others, is more powerful and pointed than any law.

Guy R. Martin Rehoboth Beach