Pismo Beach wrestles with how many events to allow at Chapman Estate

The 1.5-acre Chapman Estate property was willed to the city of Pismo Beach in 2013.
The 1.5-acre Chapman Estate property was willed to the city of Pismo Beach in 2013. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Pismo Beach has a conundrum: How will it continue to finance the Chapman Estate in Shell Beach?

The 1.5-acre property was willed to the city in 2013, following the death of local philanthropist Clifford Chapman. At the time, city officials envisioned the property as a cultural center, hosting weekend yoga classes and afternoon weddings on the lawn — but concerns from the neighborhood limited that vision to a handful of events per year, all closely regulated, and almost none bringing in any revenue to the estate.

Now, close to three years later, the city is still struggling with how to finance the expensive property while remaining sensitive to neighborhood concerns about traffic and safety.

That struggle was clear Tuesday night as the Pismo Beach Planning Commission considered — and ultimately decided to hold off on — an amendment to the estate’s conditional use permit that would remove all of the limitations on how many events can be held at the property each year.

It is a bit of a chicken and the egg story.

Jeff Winklepleck, Pismo Beach community development director

The permit came before the commission almost two months after the City Council approved a strategic plan for the property that outlined the need to increase the number of events at the property to help pay for a range safety improvements and to meet handicap accessibility requirements.

“It is a bit of a chicken and the egg story,” Community Development Director Jeff Winklepleck said Tuesday night. “We need additional funds, through either fundraisers or events to actually complete those improvements.”

When it accepted the property in 2013, the city also accepted a $300,000 endowment from Chapman for the estate’s upkeep. The city used $192,000 of that for some of the accessibility repairs, as well as for some early maintenance.

The Pismo Beach Planning Commission held a special tour of the Chapman Estate grounds on March 9, 2015. Here's a look around the landmark oceanfront property.

The estate does not have an alternate source of revenue, beyond fundraising, and with a $60,000 annual operating cost, the remainder of the endowment could disappear within 2 to 3 years, city staff estimates. Winklepleck said the property also needs about $2.5 million to $3 million to finance capital improvements.

To pay for those improvements, city staff recommended Tuesday allowing more special events such as weddings or corporate retreats at the estate. The property’s current conditional use permit — which expires later this year on Dec. 24 — restricts the number of events to 13: four fundraisers, three free community events and six “gatherings” of less than 49 people.

Please don’t run us out, just for the sake of money.

Clare O’Brien, Shell Beach resident

But the neighborhood once again turned out en force to protest unrestricted events at the Chapman House.

“I’m a full-time resident of Shell Beach and you do not have my permission to intentionally reduce the value of my property; to congest my streets day and night, and impact public safety; to disrupt my family’s sleep from noise; to impact our ability to park in front of our home; to increase the potential for vandalism, theft and loitering; and to block the view of the ocean with large event trucks, food vendors, sound systems and equipment and shuttles,” resident Clare O’Brien told the commission through tears. “I appeal to you to consider these impacts and listen wholeheartedly to the pleas of the residents. Please don’t run us out, just for the sake of money.”

Other residents also expressed a desire to find different solutions for funding the property.

“I just want you to take into consideration we that have bought our homes, we’ve worked hard, we love this,” said resident Pam Roberts. “We’re not against the Chapman House at all, but let’s consider another way to raise money for this. I will get in there and work my butt off for fundraisers — I’m for that — just not my quality of life.”

The commission instead decided to continue the matter to its Aug. 9 meeting, to give more time for staff to draft an amendment that better regulates the number of events, while still opening it up for more small- and medium-sized events.

“I’m not for the blank check,” Commissioner Kari Bhana said Tuesday. “I think we need to step back a bit.”

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie