Zoning OKs four new Chappelle shows
- Published: October 6, 2021
In a 3–2 vote Thursday, Sept. 23, the Miami Township Board of Zoning Appeals granted a temporary use variance allowing locally based comedian Dave Chappelle to present four new ticketed shows at the Wirrig family’s pavilion just north of Yellow Springs.
Property owner Steve Wirrig sought the variance on behalf of Chappelle, who previously presented a series of outdoor performances at the site throughout the summer of 2020, amid the pandemic lockdown. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s office reportedly approved the activity in June 2020 as long as certain COVID protocols were followed. The series came to an earlier-than-planned conclusion last September, however, after COVID exposure in the shows’ inner circle.
Performances then resumed temporarily this past spring until other traditional performance venues began reopening, and the outdoor setting was deemed no longer necessary.
Wirrig had received a temporary use variance from the Township BZA that allowed the original series to continue through Aug. 6 this past summer, unless indoor venues became available. According to Miami Township Zoning Inspector Richard Zopf, a variance is required for the property because the shows are a commercial activity, and the land is zoned for agricultural use.
The 34-acre property, which has an entrance off Meredith Road, has an official address of 4866 U.S. 68, and abuts the Young’s Christmas tree farm to the north.
Wirrig’s new request specifies Sept. 30 to Oct. 31 as the time period for the proposed additional performances, and the four shows are to be presented over a single weekend. Otherwise, the parameters of the shows remain the same: attendance is not to exceed 400, and seating will be arranged in separated pairs. The entrance gate will open at 6 p.m. for parking, and the show grounds will open at 7:30 p.m. Performances will go no later than 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on Fridays or Saturdays, according to the variance request. Two food trucks and portable restroom facilities will be on site as well.
Addressing the appeals board Thursday evening, Wirrig said he understands that some of the pavilion’s neighbors had not been happy experiencing nighttime comedy and music performances so close at hand, but he believes the positive impact of the shows outweighed any ill effects. He listed the local appearance of high-profile entertainers, the economic boost from celebrities and ticket holders coming to town, the jobs provided to staff and crew and the psychological lift for patrons amid difficult times as among the beneficial outcomes.
He noted that “Comedy in a Cornfield” had become a widely known phrase repeated across the country.
“I recognize that there are some who don’t want another show to happen … but you can’t please everyone, and the benefits outweigh the complaints,” he said
Wirrig also testified that while the ticketed shows fall under the definition of a commercial event, Chappelle is not making money off the performances, despite the most recent ticket prices of about $400 for a pair.
David Montgomery, a partner with Dayton-based Pickrel, Shaeffer and Ebeling who has served as Wirrig’s counsel throughout the run of the Chappelle shows, addressed the previous variance’s stipulation concerning the availability of indoor performance venues. He noted that while indoor venues have begun reopening, a recent article in the Dayton Business Journal reported that 24% of former venues have closed permanently amid the pandemic and up to 35% are reopening with restrictions.
“The world has not returned to normal,” Montgomery said.
In addition to Wirrig and Montgomery, about a dozen people attended the hearing, including Greene County Prosecutor David Hayes, Yellow Springs Zoning Administrator Denise Swinger, Yellow Springs Village Council candidates Lindsay Burke and Issa Walker, and Agraria’s Executive Director Susan Jennings and board President Sheryl Cunningham.
Burke and Walker both testified in favor of the variance, as did a pavilion neighbor and a lifelong friend of the Chappelle family, all of whom echoed benefits cited by Wirrig.
Swinger, who lives in the township and is a candidate for trustee, noted that a pandemic-related provision expanding allowances for businesses’ outdoor patios doesn’t expire until Dec. 31, 2022, suggesting that leeway might still be granted for some zoning regulations.
Opposing the request was one of the neighbors who took issue with “the noise, litter, traffic and a lot of four-letter words” that came with the shows.
The neighbor, who said he lived about a quarter-mile from the Wirrig property, asked the board to uphold the “intended [agricultural] uses of the land.”
Maintaining designated usage is important, he said, pointing to John Bryan State Park as an example.
“People can’t go in and put in a casino,” he said
The neighbor said he isn’t against the local shows per se, but he believes they would be better suited at another location, listing Whitehall Farm, which hosted several of Chappelle’s Juke Joint events over several years, and Chappelle’s own property just south of town, as possible sites. Whitehall Farm, which is on the other side of U.S. 68 and south of the Wirrig property, is owned by zoning appeals board member Dave Neuhardt and his wife, Sharen.
“In fact, Mr. Chappelle has a huge field of corn in front of his home” the neighbor said of the comedian’s property. “He could put up a tent.”
He also said he isn’t alone in opposing Wirrig’s variance request, but others who are against it aren’t comfortable coming forward.
Zoning Inspector Zopf noted that three people had talked to him personally about their misgivings concerning the variance, but none had gone on the record by submitting written testimony.
Conversely, however, 19 people, many of them local business owners, had submitted written statements of support.
After hearing from all who asked to speak, the appeals board went into executive session to discuss the request, emerging 35 minutes later. Neuhardt moved to grant the temporary variance, but added that he would not feel as amenable should Wirrig return in the future asking to extend the allowance again for more Chappelle shows.
BZA member Barbara Krabec agreed.
Appeals Board Chair Richard Silliman said he believed Chappelle’s temporary use of the pavilion was still needed, as he had just personally experienced the closing of a performance venue.
Board members Geoff Garrison and Linda Parsons, however, said they think Wirrig should be held to the limits of his last temporary use request, which expired Aug. 6.
“Temporary is temporary,” Garrison said.
With Neuhardt, Krabec and Silliman voting yes, and Garrison and Parsons voting no, the board’s approval included the stipulation that the requested maximum four shows be presented over no more than five consecutive nights, allowing for the possibility of a weather-related change for one performance.
Wirrig said that in coming to the appeals board, he was simply operating under the zoning provisions currently available, and couldn’t promise that he wouldn’t return at some point to make a new request.
“If Dave comes to me and asks to do more shows, I’ll be back,” he said.