Zoning rules challenge shows
- Published: August 5, 2020
Miami Township Zoning Inspector Richard Zopf says he may have been the last person in the area to know about the weekend performances being presented by comedian Dave Chappelle on a property off Meredith Road.
The shows, often also featuring other well-known national performing acts, have taken place two to four nights a week since early June at a pavilion owned by Steve and Stacey Wirrig. A short video of an early performance, in which Chappelle reflected on the police killing of George Floyd, was widely viewed and shared on social media after the online streaming service Netflix posted it on YouTube under the title “8:46,” reflecting the eight minutes and 46 seconds that a white police officer held his knee to Floyd’s neck, causing his death.
Zopf said recently that he had been aware that a couple of Chappelle-hosted performances had occurred at the township site, but it wasn’t until he got a call from a Meredith Road neighbor asking, “aren’t there a lot of events going on?” that he learned about the extent of the activity.
And as zoning inspector, Zopf says the ongoing activity is a problem.
“It’s a zoning issue,” he said. “It’s commercial use of an agriculturally zoned property.”
Informed of the violation earlier this month, Steve Wirrig applied July 15 for a temporary zoning variance with the Board of Zoning Appeals. The public appeal hearing is scheduled to occur online on Thursday, Aug. 6. The appeals board meeting starts at 6 p.m. and can be accessed at https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/196733365 .
Zopf said he hopes people with direct experience of the events will offer testimony either by attending the online hearing or by contacting him.
“I think it’s very important that the community be aware” that they can participate, he said.
Wirrig says he hopes community members will attend to support his temporary variance request.
“We simply wanted to provide a platform for Dave Chappelle and his friends to perform locally, and we’re proud he chose our community and outdoor pavilion,” Wirrig wrote in an email in response to an inquiry from the News. “We’re taking the necessary steps to obtain a temporary zoning status so we can continue to do shows.”
In the appeal request, Wirrig asks to be allowed to continue providing a site for “ticketed Dave Chappelle’s comedy shows with guest artists,” not to exceed four nights a week or an attendance of 400 patrons per gathering, “through and including” Oct. 4. It also noted that two food trucks likely will be on site for each performance.
While the first events were by invitation only with ticketing through the Eventbrite website, recent ticket sales have been through the Ticketmaster public purchasing service. Tickets have been sold in pairs, with the cost for two typically at about $100. Comedians reportedly joining Chappelle regularly in performances have included Michelle Wolf, Donnell Rawlings and Mo Amer, and one recent weekend, Jon Stewart. A July 4 lineup reportedly included singers Erykah Badu and Common, comedian Tiffany Haddish and actor Jon Hamm.
“Dave’s shows emerged from his desire to perform,” Chappelle’s manager, Carla Simms, wrote in a statement last week.
Simms added that the events provide a service to the community.
“He’s employing local residents, revitalizing local business and, hopefully, returning a sense of normalcy to the community,” she wrote.
The Wirrig property provides space for parking, and the show area cannot be entered until patrons have had their temperatures checked and are wearing cloth masks, according to local residents who have attended a performance. Masks with Chappelle’s logo are provided and seating pairs follow distancing guildelines, according to show-goers.
“We’re strictly adhering to the state’s COVID-19 guidelines, and we’re leading the state, as well as the live entertainment industry, in perfecting these protocols,” according to Simms, who in a follow up phone call declined to detail the safety measures being taken.
“We’re doing what’s required and more,” she said, but wouldn’t elaborate.
In her written statement, she wrote: “The safety of our guests is our first priority, and the fact that Dave’s 82-year-old mother has come to four shows confirms our commitment.”
Greene County Public Health spokeswoman Laurie Fox said earlier this month that the governor’s order restricting gatherings to no more than 10 people was still in place, and she didn’t know how Chappelle’s shows could be exempt.
At the same time, she noted that amusement parks, pools and other social gathering places have been reopened.
“It’s really tricky,” Fox said. “There’s been a lot of confusion.”
She said the health department hasn’t received any complaints about the comedian’s weekend events.
Zopf’s official concern is strictly about the zoning.
“The activity violates the Miami Township zoning ordinance,” he told township trustees in his monthly report during the trustees’ regular meeting Monday, July 6.
He said he told Steve Wirrig that the activity had to stop until the matter was resolved, either by approval of the board of appeals, or failing that, through the courts. The performances, however, continued the past three weekends — the first with permission, the others without, according to Zopf.
Zopf noted that there isn’t much incentive for the people involved to discontinue their activities, as the only consequence is a fine of up to $100.
“The fines that may be imposed are insignificant” in this circumstance, he said.
According to Zopf, the structure popularly called “The Wirrig Pavilion” was completed in 2017 after he granted the Wirrigs a permit to build what he said was in effect “a very fancy gazebo.”
“I was clear when I issued the permit to Steve that it was for personal use,” Zopf said.
He said he didn’t have a problem knowing “that Dave had a couple of sessions out there,” but “two to four performances a week for weeks on end,” is contrary to the township’s comprehensive plan.
“The plan is clear,” he said. “We want rural and agricultural activities. We don’t want any development. We don’t want a Young’s or a country club.
Zopf added that the popularity or profitability of an activity isn’t relevant if it isn’t agriculturally related.
“No matter how popular your concept is, it doesn’t really change those rules either.”
In reporting earlier this month to the township trustees, who have no purview in Zoning Commission regulations, Zopf said: “I think what’s important to remember is that Miami Township zoning is for residents of Miami Township who don’t live in Yellow Springs or Clifton. That group of people often have significantly different attitudes about what happens in their backyard. It’s very easy to kind of railroad over all those folks. … I’m just remembering who we put together the comprehensive plan for.”