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(Video still taken from the Netflix comedy special, "Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones")

Zoning OKs four new Chappelle shows

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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.

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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.

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7 Responses to “Zoning OKs four new Chappelle shows”

  1. Jean Gene says:

    One of the most insightful analytics of Chappelle’s most recent transphobic routine is CNN’s Clay Cane’s opinion piece. What bothers me most of all is that so many people in our culture today think it cool or OK to hurt other people if there’s attention or money in it– even as we all struggle with this pandemic. I couldn’t be more disappointed by all of this and continue to pray daily for God to help me with my faith in humanity.

    Here’s a link if you haven’t read Clay’s take:

  2. Witch says:

    Too funny! Not Chappelle, but the fact that Yellow Springs is fighting over his words.

  3. Jujubean Halloaven says:

    “Cancel Culture” LOL the comedian engages in the ultimate cancel culture himself! He smokes like a freakin’ chimney and THAT will eventually cancel a person for good. He is kinda the Black John Wayne of comedy! Or maybe a defiant little kid who when presented with behavior objections, the toddler just does more of the same for attention. Attention is not necessarily talent but a ‘go to’ tactic when you just ain’t got good material. Myself, I’m more of a Chris Rock fan; he truly is talented and doesn’t seem mean spirited because he doesn’t have to be.

  4. JW says:

    As a transgender woman, all that I can tell you is that I feel less safe today when I walk down the street than I did a week ago. After four years of assault by Trumpence, right-wingers and evangelicals, personally my nerves are still a bit raw. Does Mr. Chappelle have any personal life experience being Transgender? Or is his experience garnered through third-party accounts? Those “jokes” certainly don’t describe my experience being Trans. His “jokes” just come off as the perpetuation of vicious stereotypes. I don’t believe in “cancelling” Mr. Chappelle, I just don’t think that humor which may Justify violence in some warped minds against .2% of the population is a good thing. I have no power to ‘Punch-Down’ and wouldn’t if I did. The events of Jan 6th and Trump Junior’s hateful anti-Trans speech and incitement of the crowd that morning are still recent in my mind, and were just red meat to that Trump flag flying bunch of insurrectionists. In any event, I hope the laughs at my community’s (I see where a previous commenter conspicuously left the T out of LGBTQ) expense were worth it. If the crowd drawn to YS by Mr. Chappelle’s new club contains such people, Yellow Springs is no longer a “Safe Space”. That perception of safety and acceptance has been taken from me and cannot be given back. Thanks for the memories.

  5. Kari Krantz says:

    Chappelle’s latest comedy skit was NOT appalling. And, it was NOT at all an LBGQ slam. Come on, people. Seriously. Dave Chappelle simply calls out the hypocrisy of of our world and draws from his authentic life experiences to make his hilarious points. We need to seriously think about the rules we are imposing in quick stupid-f reaction to deal with today’s inclusive social issues. We are idiots! I’m still laughing at the visual Dave created of the feminine dress-wearing trans pulling out his/her “d” at the urinal – as opposed to the guy backing up to sit at the urinal! He presented a hilarious juxtaposition of the reality of our madness.

  6. BW says:

    Given the amount of violence afflicted onto transgender and non-binary peoples in this country, Chappelle’s latest comedy skit was appalling; I’ve lost some respect for him. His ‘profession’ is not without standards of conduct and responsibility. “Gender’ refers to your sense of who you are as a guy, girl or something else, as opposed to what your physical characteristics, genes and hormones indicate.”
    Race, too, is often self-defined as it currently is on the US Census. It’s tragic that Dave took a global platform to disrespect many in a small village that claims open acceptance to all. More sad than funny.

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