Planning commissioners approved on a 3-0 vote Aug. 11 a five-year operating permit for the annual Christmas Market that sets up hundreds of thousands of lights, holiday displays and up to 26 temporary vendor booths in the center of the 23-acre grounds of the Cambria Pines Lodge and at the adjacent Cambria Nursery.
Planning commissioners Eric Meyer and Don Campbell were absent for the rather lengthy discussion and debate that took the entire morning and bled over into the afternoon.
The holiday market has operated since 2012 with some impacts to the surrounding residential neighborhood and East Village-area businesses, especially from parking and bus traffic. Previous one-year permits were granted by the state Coastal Commission, which now has turned permitting responsibility over to the county.
The market is to be operated according to plans governing parking and off-site parking, lighting and pedestrian and traffic-safety. The new five-year permit is subject to four pages of conditions and two pages of findings.
One of the latter says the temporary market “will not generate a volume of traffic beyond the safe capacity of all roads providing access” and “will not create significant adverse effects” on the identified sensitive habitat, or the “natural features of the site or vicinity that were the basis for the Sensitive Resource Area designation.”
No tree removal is proposed.
Various iterations of the lodge have been in operation on the site since 1927. It is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, an adjacent nursery, a couple of churches, a bed and breakfast inn and Monterey pine forest.
Traffic and parking woes also were a concern of Bob and Daun Putney, who live on Wood Drive in a residential neighborhood adjacent to the lodge property. Bob Putney, a former fire chief at Cambria Fire Department, said he and his wife don’t oppose the market.
At the hearing, Daun Putney also read a letter from a neighbor who used to set up outdoor Christmas decorations at their home, as many have done in that area for years. The neighbor wrote that they don’t do the outdoor décor anymore, because of impacts from Christmas Market traffic.
Commissioners also raised a number of concerns, with several of them brought up by Commissioner Ken Topping, a Cambria resident.
The market can operate Wednesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. each evening, for a maximum of four weeks beginning the last Friday in November. The market can be open all of Christmas week; no more than 3,000 guests can go into the market on any given night, and violations could trigger revocation of the permit.
Within two months, lodge management must apply for an encroachment permit and post a cash damage bond for event traffic control within the public right-of-way areas. Plans for physical improvements to the Burton Drive shoulder and Yorkshire Drive site-access driveway also are required.
Market operators shall provide to county planners annual reports, including daily attendance stats.
One bone of contention from Topping during the morning-long hearing was how the conditions and restrictions would be enforced, by whom, and what would happen if those aren’t met.
County counsel advised commissioners that they cannot expect to formally review the annual reports or other documents about the market, because that would in effect reopen the permit-approval process. Enforcement would be handled by county code enforcers,
The application is to include a traffic-control plan prepared by a licensed civil engineer that would be approved by Cambria Fire Department, county sheriff and CHP. Annually, all emergency responders would be advised in advance of the plan, which would, at a minimum, include:
▪ Restricted event parking on specific neighborhood streets, including Wood Drive, Burton Drive, Eton Road, Martindale Street, Patterson Place, Rogers Street and Yorkshire Street.
▪ Limits bus-shuttle traffic to arterial and collector roads, such as Highway 1, Burton Drive and Eton Road.
▪ Restricts pedestrian travel along Burton Drive.
▪ Contracts with CHP to provide traffic direction at the Burton Drive/Eton Road intersection and vehicle-code traffic enforcement in area neighborhoods.
▪ Establishes an event coordinator and outreach program to the community, with contact information readily available on social media, flyers and other sources.