Remarkable Theater, Levitt Pavilion Clash Over Parking

Jun 22, 2022 | Arts, Government | 1 comment

David Waldman, local real estate developer and board member of the Remarkable Theater, was one of several speakers who told the Board of Selectwomen that Levitt Pavilion officials have been uncooperative over sharing use of the Imperial Avenue parking lot for both organizations’ programs. / Screenshot by Gretchen Webster

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — Parking downtown — a decades-old issue for businesses and customers alike — proved a flashpoint between two cultural institutions at Wednesday’s  meeting of the Board of Selectwomen.

Controversy erupted as the selectwomen reviewed a seemingly routine request by Remarkable Theater officials for approval to use the town-owned parking lot at 50 Imperial Ave. for “Phase 2” of the theater’s drive-in movie screenings from July 1 through Nov. 30.

Members of the Remarkable Theater board — three in person and one in a written statement — told the selectwomen they are frustrated by disagreements with officials of the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts over shared use of the parking lot.

“Why can’t we both co-exist?”

“We want to have a better understanding of why we can’t both co-exist,” Remarkable Theater board member David Waldman told the selectwomen. “It seems like we’re somewhat bullied by the Levitt and their use of the parking lot.”

“It has been punishing and painful, and I feel like we have been bullied by the Levitt,” agreed Stacie Curran, also a member of the Remarkable board. “If I ran a theater on Broadway and I wanted to be the only theater on Broadway … or the only restaurant in town. … It doesn’t work that way.”

The board members also told the selectmen they had heard from their donors and others that the Levitt’s management has been complaining about the theater group’s use of the lot.

According to Waldman, the Levitt management’s delay in providing the pavilion’s schedule of summer performances has hampered the theater’s ability to plan movie screenings that don’t interfere with Levitt programming, thus avoiding conflict between both groups’ need to use the parking lot.

He said Levitt officials have been “playing games” with their schedule, and “It caused us a lot of financial harm.” He hinted the theater — which employs disabled staff, with the goal of opening a permanent theater — may have to halt operations if the Levitt continues to limit its ability to schedule outdoor movie screenings at the Imperial lot.

Selectwoman Andrea Moore, during Wednesday’s meeting, tried to quell complaints by Remarkable Theater officials on disagreements over shared use of the town-owned Imperial Avenue parking, indicating their concerns were not pertinent to extending the group’s permission to screen movies on the property. /  Screenshot by Gretchen Webster

Shouting match erupts

Although there was no one representing the Levitt Pavilion in an official capacity at the selectwomen’s meeting, a woman in the audience got into a shouting match with Waldman.

When Selectwoman Candice Savin said she had been unaware of the conflict between the two groups, the woman in the audience, apparently from the Levitt, said, “We can speak about this in a meeting.” 

“We’d like to talk about this in a public meeting, though,” Waldman retorted. “It’s not about a private meeting … I’d love you to get up and tell why your schedule is so late.”

No one from the Levitt Pavilion responded to a request for an official comment left on its administration’s voicemail.

Selectwomen set aside complaints

At that point, Selectwoman Andrea Moore intervened, attempting to calm the tension. “We’ve heard what you’ve said, and thank you for coming and voicing your concerns,” she said, noting that the agenda item addressed only the Remarkable Theater’s request to use the parking lot for the rest of its season.

The Board of Selectwomen then voted unanimously to approve the Remarkable Theater’s application.

Earlier in the meeting, the selectwomen responded to a statement by Curran, suggesting they had not given sufficient support for the Remarkable Theater’s mission to employ people with disabilities.

“We have spent many hours talking about these issues and trying to come together and work out dates that work for everybody,” Moore said. “This is not something that has been ignored by the selectwomen’s office We have worked hard to try to manage this situation.”

“We want all our institutions to thrive,” First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker added.

Gretchen Webster is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Westport Journal. Learn more about us here.

1 Comment

  1. Gloria Gouveia

    Since the Planning & Zoning Commission must authorize use of Town land under Section 8-24 of the Connecticut General Statutes and must then approve the use (The Remarkable Drive-In) under the Site Plan and Special Permit requirements in the Westport Zoning Regulations, more public hearings are necessary before the Remarkable Theater can resume when the agreement expires on June 30, 2022.

    It follows that unless both legally mandated Planning & Zoning Commission processes are completed and the theater’s use approved by the P&ZC, the Remarkable Theater cannot continue to operate after June 30.

    F.Y.I. As the Planning & Zoning Commission recently adopted a regulation requiring Section 8-24 review of art proposed to be located on Town-owned land, it would appear unlikely that the Commission would ignore the process for any other more intensive use of Town land.

    Civics, anyone?

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