More local Chappelle shows OK’d
- Published: November 18, 2020
In a vote of 3–1, the Miami Township Board of Zoning Appeals on Wednesday evening, Nov. 11, approved a request to extend the timetable for performances hosted by Yellow Springs-based comedian Dave Chappelle at a rural property just north of the village.
The series of ticketed shows, which began in early June and ran for four months — as allowed by a temporary use permit for the agriculturally zoned property — may now continue through Aug. 5, 2021.
Property owner Steve Wirrig requested the extension, asking that the temporary use variance, which was originally approved Aug. 6 and ended Oct. 4, be granted for the full 12 months that the zoning code allows.
Submitted as a “request for modifications” to the original temporary use application, the request also sought a change to the previously approved limit on the number of events from no more than four a week to no more than 18 a month.
The shows, billed this summer as “An Intimate Socially Distanced Affair,” and familiarly referred to as Chappelle’s “Summer Camp,” welcomed a revolving slate of nationally known comedians and musicians to appear with the popular entertainer at an outdoor pavilion that Wirrig and his wife, Stacey, built in 2017. The venue is located on land situated between U.S. 68 North and Meredith Road, adjacent to Young’s Christmas tree farm to the north and near the border of Greene and Clark counties.
A request to Chappelle’s spokesperson for a comment from the comedian about his plans in continuing the shows was not answered before press time.
Nearly 190 people logged in on Aug. 6 for the original public hearing conducted by the Board of Zoning Appeals, or BZA. Most of the approximately 40 people who testified during those proceedings spoke approvingly of the events, describing the shows as providing an economic boon for the area and filling a need for entertainment and a safe social experience amid the ongoing pandemic. Those expressing issues with the shows cited noise levels during the night-time performances, profanity by performers, increased traffic and litter by patrons. But even those with complaints said they didn’t necessarily want the events to be shut down, just for their concerns to be addressed.
In contrast, just over 20 people participated in the Nov. 11 public hearing conducted by the BZA through the GoToMeeting online conference platform. Among those on the call were BZA members Barbara Krabec, Geoffrey Garrison, Dave Neuhardt and Richard Silliman, who served as acting chair; and Miami Township Zoning Inspector Richard Zopf. BZA Chair Cathy Balas was not in attendance. Also present were Elizabeth Ellis, from the Greene County Prosecutor’s Office, providing legal advice to the township; and Wirrig and his legal representative David Montgomery, who chairs the real estate department with the Dayton-based Pickrel, Schaeffer and Ebeling law firm.
It was unknown whether Chappelle was also on the conference call, though several anonymous callers were listed. During his opening remarks as host of the nationally televised “Saturday Night Live” program Nov. 7, he said he had listened in during the August hearing. While he remained anonymous during that call, his wife, Elaine, was listed as a caller.
Zopf reported during the Nov. 11 proceedings that he had received five written comments prior to the new hearing. Three opposed approving the modifications and two were in favor of continuing the shows as requested.
One letter, submitted by a resident on neighboring Mosier Road, stated that there are more appropriate settings for the shows than an area populated by farming families and other residents. The neighbor’s letter suggested Neuhardt’s Whitehall Farm, where Chappelle has hosted several of his “Juke Joint” events, and Chappelle’s own rurally situated home just south of the village limits, as alternative locations.
The letter writer also took umbrage with comments Chappelle made during his “SNL” opening monologue that targeted the pavilion property’s neighbors who had concerns about noise and amplified profanity during the shows. The jokes were “extremely offensive” and portrayed local residents as “ignorant rubes,” the neighbor wrote.
Chappelle’s 16-minute monologue addressed a variety of topics, starting out personally and locally and then moving nationally for the majority of the set. The opening included jokes that characterized a complaining neighbor’s vocal “twang” as signaling racist beliefs and behaviors and suggested that another neighbor troubled by her children hearing amplified performers’ use of the n-word should look at her own behavior and whether her children were actually hearing it from her. In imagining a local resident seeing him on “SNL,” he mimicked the response, saying: “Come quick, the guy from the grocery store’s on television.”
“No, you big dummy,” Chappelle said in rebuke, “the guy from the television is at the grocery store.”
Chappelle also said he “resented” the complaints expressed during the Aug. 6 BZA hearing, which he referred to as a town meeting, and he described his summer series of shows as helping “save the town,” which he said, like other small towns in America, was “dying.”
Six people, all locally based, gave spoken testimony during the Nov. 11 hearing. Only one expressed opposition.
“As a resident of Meredith Road, my preference would be that no amplified events be allowed at Wirrig Pavilion,” the neighbor said.
Highlighting the negative impact of the late-night noise on her sleep and health, the speaker said she also recognized that the events were welcome relief for many. She wondered if a compromise might be made, with the shows starting earlier in the day, so as to end no later than 10 p.m., as well as by limiting the number of events from four a week to two or three and by capping the number of ticket holders to 200, half of the current limit.
Speaking in favor of Wirrig’s request was Yellow Springs Village Manager Josué Salmerón, who said that the shows this past summer “had a positive impact on the economy and the culture of Yellow Springs.”
He also noted that the Wirrigs and Chappelle “have done a great job to put in safety measures” related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Asked by the BZA’s Silliman if he could offer any examples of local economic benefits, Salmerón said he didn’t have specific sales figures, but he had been told anecdotally by business owners that they were helped by the patronization of Chappelle fans coming into town for the shows.
Dino Pallotta, owner of Dino’s Cappuccinos coffee house, testified that his business had benefited.
“It’s been a very good year for us, having Dave do the shows,” Pallotta said. “It’s allowed me to keep all of my employees employed through the summer.”
The BZA members were mixed in their responses. Having conducted their August deliberations in executive session, they proceeded with their discussion Wednesday evening in the public forum.
Garrison noted that he had been opposed in August to allowing four shows a week, but technology issues hindered his participation in that meeting, and the other board members were left unaware of his opinion.
He said he was also hesitant to approve the modification request.
“I don’t think they have done enough to make the neighbors comfortable,” Garrison said.
Krabec also said she was inclined to deny the request, expressing the belief that the BZA’s original ruling concluding the events in early October should stand and that asking for modifications was “inappropriate.”
In granting the original temporary use variance, the BZA had stipulated that approval was contingent on organizers working to reduce the noise level and Wirrig meeting weekly with neighbors to address their concerns.
Wirrig reported during the hearing that after the Aug. 6 hearing he immediately set up a meeting with neighbors during which he gave out his personal contact information. He said subsequent efforts to meet revealed no pressing issues that couldn’t be handled by neighbors reaching out to him personally, so the organized meetings were discontinued. It was unclear what measures had been taken to lessen the decibel levels, and whether neighbors heard a difference. In August, sound crew members on the conference call spoke of the possibility of reconfiguring speaker placements in hopes of redirecting the sound.
Silliman said that as a small business owner, he favored approving the extension request, as he felt the events helped the business community. He also noted the prestige the shows had brought to the area with the positive attention by nationally known figures.
Neuhardt, too, said he was inclined to approve the request, though he was “a little disappointed” that it hadn’t offered “any sort of compromise.”
Garrison said he could support the extension if the show organizers agreed to end performances by 10 p.m., and the number of shows was limited to no more than three a week. His suggestions were not picked up, however, by the other board members. Krabec said she was willing to compromise and agree to the extended timetable if the number of shows was kept at its originally approved limit.
Zoning Inspector Zopf noted that the requested change from four shows a week to 18 a month represented only a slight difference in total monthly shows while offering the presenters flexibility in the case of inclement weather or other unforeseen circumstances.
Krabec said she disagreed, and thought that keeping the previous limit in place while approving the extension request offered a workable compromise.
Neuhardt moved that the board adopt Krabec’s suggestion, and Silliman seconded.
The three all voted yes, with Garrison casting the opposing vote.
Chappelle’s plans for presenting more shows were not disclosed, if known. Zopf noted that cold-weather months are unlikely to include any performances. Statewide pandemic-related regulations for large gatherings also could affect the events depending on the situation when organizers move to resume shows.
Permission from the governor’s office in June allowed the initial outdoor performances amid restrictions on gatherings of 10 or more people. Patrons of the shows reported that organizers were stringent all summer in maintaining safety precautions, including requiring masks, taking temperatures before entering the show grounds and arranging seats in pairs at six-foot intervals. Performers received tests for COVID-19 when they arrived in town and wore a plastic bracelet showing a negative result.
Nevertheless, COVID forced the early conclusion of the performances when, with six shows left in the series, organizers announced that someone in the “inner circle” had been exposed to the disease, and “out of an abundance of caution,” the final shows were canceled. Ticket holders, who had spent up to $500 for a pair of tickets through Ticketmaster, were to be reimbursed.
Fans attending the shows reportedly came from throughout Ohio and surrounding states as well as across the country, often spending the weekend in town, with some making multiple visits through the summer. Entertainers included such noted comedians as Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah, Tiffany Haddish, Donnell Rawlings, Michelle Wolf and Mo Amer and well-known musicians John Mayer, Common and Erykah Badu.
Comedian and talk show host David Letterman also appeared one week while in town to film an episode of his Netflix show, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction,” with Chappelle as a guest. That episode, in which many local landmarks are featured and Chappelle speaks glowingly, at length, of Yellow Springs, is currently streaming on the online subscription platform.
Asked for comment after last week’s BZA ruling, property owner Wirrig wrote in an email that he was “thankful” to the BZA’s members for approving his request to be able to continue hosting Chappelle’s performances.
He also expressed thanks to Chappelle.
“We are grateful to Dave for his inspiration and dedication to produce these shows in our community,” he wrote, pointing to: “the many positive impacts including the media image for our Township, benefit to our local business community, gainful employment of so many who were otherwise out of work due to COVID-19, and most importantly, the safety and laughter that so many guests were able to experience over the summer.”