A dispute between two neighbors over a trampoline led the Mill Valley Planning Commission to alter the city’s categorization of the devices Monday night, a move that could change the way the city handles similar clashes over backyard bouncing in the future.
The ruling, in which the commission overturned a determination by Planning Director Mike Moore, came after a lengthy discussion and ended with a 3-2 vote that turned on commissioner Heidi Richardson changing her vote and reversing the outcome.
The decision categorizes trampolines as “accessory structures,” making them subject to the city’s zoning regulations in terms of where they can be placed in a yard. The category of “accessory structures” includes things like storage sheds, swimming pools, stables, gazebos, detached garages or carports, detached second units and patio deck that are 18 inches or more off the ground.
“I don’t see the distinction between this and an 18-inch deck,” said commissioner David Rand.
“It’s more intense of a use than a swimming pool, which is not allowed in the setback,” Richardson added.
The trio was unable to convince commissioners Chuck Utzman and Barbara Chambers, who said a trampoline, which can be moved from place to place, simply did not qualify as an accessory structure.
“If that’s the case, a picnic table shouldn’t be allowed there,” Chambers said. “This was permitted. In my mind, as an architect, a trampoline is not an accessory structure – it’s just not. Especially a movable one.”
Scott Landress, whose trampoline outside his family’s home at 580 Throckmorton Ave. is the subject of the dispute, said he was baffled by the decision, but had not yet decided to appeal the ruling to the City Council. He has 10 days to do so.
“Mill Valley has decided that toys are structures and it is now in the business of regulating fun,” he said.
The trampoline is 15-feet in diameter and cost Landress $200 four years ago. Its placement in the Landress’ yard has been the source of an ongoing clash with neighbors Kevin and Susan Stone of 1 Throckmorton Lane, who were successful in getting City Hall to force the Landress family to move it in June 2008.
In July 2010, the Landress family moved the trampoline back to the disputed area on their property, and Moore declined the Stones’ request to enforce that June 2008 ruling by Denise Stoneham, who was then the city’s code enforcement officer.
Moore, who was not the planning director at the time of the 2008 ruling, determined that the trampoline was not subject to the city’s setback requirement because it was not an accessory structure. Moore cited the need for the city’s zoning regulations to focus on the public’s health, safety or welfare.
“There is a limit beyond which protecting the public’s health, safety or welfare may be considered or even legally determined to be an infringement on an individual’s enjoyment of their private property,” Moore wrote.
“In the absence of a stated or reasonably applicable compelling public interest to regulate the use or placement of the trampoline, it falls to the individually affected parties, not the city, to resolve any problems between them,” he continued.
The Stones then hired Mill Valley attorney Robert Knox to appeal the decision last December to the commission, which spent nearly 30 minutes at the beginning of the hearing Monday debating whether its ruling would impact only the Landress’ trampoline or the categorization of trampolines in general throughout the city.
“All you can do is decide the specific case before you,” Knox told the commission. “It is simply not in your jurisdiction to decide on whether or not a trampoline is an accessory structure. We are not talking about some ideal mythical trampoline. We’re talking about this trampoline.”
But Moore emphasized that the commission was ruling simply on his determination that a trampoline is not an accessory structure, and reversing that decision made trampolines throughout the city accessory structures.
“Even though there were specific circumstances associated with this particular issues, the fact that the commission determined a trampoline to be an accessory structure would apply to other similar circumstances,” Moore said afterwards.
Rand said he had a problem with the city changing its mind on the issue between 2008 and today.
Utzman wasn’t convinced.
“Let’s say they have to move it over 5 feet,” he said, referring to placing the trampoline outside of the setback. “What has been accomplished, other than forcing them to spend a bunch of money? If they move the trampoline over five feet does that help the neighbors at all? I don’t think so.”