Two appeals of neighborhood-related issues — a tree-removal request and a code-enforcement case over a boat parked in a front yard — came before San Luis Obispo leaders this week.
One property owner went home happy. The other did not.
In one case, resident Chuck Miller applied to the city to remove six palm trees at his home on El Caserio Court on the city’s eastern side. Three palms on the west side of his property were approved for removal, but three others on the east side were not. Miller applied to remove the remaining trees, saying they were ruining his driveway, could damage underground sewer pipes and are messy.
But the city’s Tree Committee denied the request in June, stating that sewer issues were not likely to be caused by the palms because they have shallow roots. The trees are healthy, the committee also found, and removal would harm the character of the neighborhood.
On Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo City Council unanimously disagreed on that latter point.
Council members said they didn’t like to see mature trees removed, but were pleased that Miller intends to replace the palms with six trees from the city’s master street tree list.
“My intent is to enhance the character of the neighborhood,” Miller said, noting that all six neighbors that he surveyed supported removal.
Miller also received support from Matt Ritter, chair of the Tree Committee, who missed the committee’s June meeting.
“After seeing the trees, I think a fine and reasonable decision to make would be to allow for removal,” Ritter said. “The palms don’t provide much shade … and are not a particularly special species.”
After the hearing, Miller said he had been surprised to learn he needed a permit to remove the trees.
In the other case heard Tuesday, another San Luis Obispo property owner seemed similarly surprised that his boat, which he has had in the same spot for more than 20 years, is considered illegally parked in his front yard.
Joe Gambucci said he believed the parking should be considered a legal nonconforming use because the driveway was poured long before the city approved rules in 2012 that allows only vehicle parking on driveways that lead to approved off-street parking spaces, such as a garage.
In Gambucci’s case, city staff said the boat has been parked on a paved pad that is outside the driveway area. Gambucci had received a notice to correct the violation after the city received a complaint in May 2014.
He appealed the notice, and a subsequent inspection resulted in a citation and $50 fine. Eventually, he appealed the issue to the Planning Commission, which upheld the citation on a 4-3 vote in May. Gambucci then appealed to the City Council.
City staff said a legal nonconforming use would only apply if Gambucci had secured a permit to allow parking in the front yard area before the 2012 rules were passed.
Gambucci said it’s likely the driveway was constructed prior to 1979 zoning regulations prohibiting parking in a required street-yard area.
“There’s no stronger proponent of the residential character of that neighborhood than myself,” he told the council. “My wife and I don’t drag furniture on the roof and drink beer.”
While sympathetic to his situation, the council voted 3-2 to deny his appeal, with Councilmen Dan Carpenter and Dan Rivoire dissenting.
“What I’m struggling with here is, we don’t know if permits were required at the time because we won’t know when it was constructed,” Carpenter said. “He’s demonstrated that he’s been a good neighbor. The last thing I want to do is push something on his family that would push him out of the neighborhood.”
But the other council members said they felt bound to fairly apply the city’s rules.
“The pad is not at issue,” Mayor Jan Marx said. “The pad can stay there. Essentially Mr. Gambucci is asking for a one-time exception to be able to park his boat on a pad that doesn’t meet the requirements for that purpose.
“Is there a basis for making an exception?” she added. “I haven’t seen one so far.”
When reached for comment Wednesday, Gambucci said the ruling “doesn’t make sense to me.”
“My property has been this way for 20 years, and it has always been this way,” he said. “And for them to say, ‘You can’t use it this way anymore,’ doesn’t seem right to me.”
Gambucci said he’d like to pursue the issue further in court but isn’t sure whether he’ll do so, noting the cost.
“It might be cheaper for me to try to get the boat on the side of the house,” he said. “You can’t fight city hall.”