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Commission Alters City Policy on Trampolines

In reversing Planning Director Mike Moore’s determination, panel deems trampolines to be accessory structures like sheds, pools and detached garages; owner says city is “now in the business of regulating fun.”

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.”

Kim January 27, 2011 at 02:51 AM
So if a trampoline is no longer play equipment but an accessory structure, what about a swing set? A tire swing? A sandbox? All involve fixed placement in the yard and the inevitable noisy kids that will follow. Which is what this is really all about. It's not the trampoline that's the problem. It's the noise that accompanies it. My neighbors had a swing set outside our kitchen window that was eventually replaced with a trampoline when the kids got too old for the swings. In another few years they will have moved on to cars and other teenage pursuits and I, for one, will miss them. There really should be a more productive use of everyone's time than filing a lawsuit over a trampoline.
Tim Amyx January 27, 2011 at 06:30 AM
In this new era of civilized speech, and a toning down of the political vitriol, I won’t even joke about what Shakespeare said we should first do with all the lawyers…. Instead, how about we bounce them up and down on a trampoline until they turn blue and cry Uncle? Absurd…. The only thing more silly than a lawyer taking up this case for the Stones, are the two Mill Valley commissioners who have now turned a yard toy into a accessory structure. Regretfully this somewhat NIMBY attitude of these scrooge neighbors is all too common in modern day Mill Valley…. Just what we need, more regulations on fun. Sad…
Elizabeth January 27, 2011 at 02:17 PM
This Planning Commission needs to take a step back and think about the narrow and intolerant community they are fostering by continued over-regulation; now, to the point of micro-managing backyard play equipment's placement. This is not a positive direction for our City.
Magoo January 27, 2011 at 04:34 PM
If the trampoline is in the backyard and not the front yard, then it should be OK. However, the trampoline should be place as far as possible away from the other homeowner. Too bad we can't have housing that says, " If you have children or planning to have children, live on these blocks, and if you don't have any children nor intend to have any children, live on these other blocks."
Nancy Puckett January 27, 2011 at 05:16 PM
I understand a possible noise issue, but this happens when the kids play other games in the back yard, trampoline or not. Is it children,s laughter that you can't bare? Maybe the kids should be locked inside playing video games and getting fat. This should not be regulated by the city planning commission or attorneys.
Michael Hraba January 27, 2011 at 06:26 PM
I am happy to put together a sandbox commission. We could make a lot of money regulating the size of the grains of sand. Each grainy piece of sand is revenue. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceWZ624wBVA That's all I have to say about Trampolines.
Mike January 27, 2011 at 06:33 PM
Kudos to Mike Moore for his original decision, and to Chuck Utzman and Barbara Chambers for trying to uphold it. Though its understandable that the noise can be annoying, hiring a lawyer to involve the city seems like a heavy handed approach. Neighbor disputes have always existed and always will. I don't want my tax dollars paying for their resolution. How about instead of a lawyer, hire a mediator for a session between the two neighbors to work out a solution they can both live with? I suspect all the city staff involved have more important things to worry about (like creating an 8-80 age safe bike route on Miller <grin>).
Ricardo Capretta January 27, 2011 at 06:34 PM
It is imperative that City officials enforce the Zoning Code and not arbitraily interpret the code based on their biases. Zoning Code 20.08.020 is clear. A trampoline is clearly not an accessory structure. This now esclates this ruling far beyond the landress/Stone situation. The Planning Commission has now determined that a trampoline is an accessory structure regardless of its placement on a persons property. Hopefully, the Council can bring some sesnibility to this situation. Further, it's a sad day in Mill Valley when your neighbor hires an atorney and submits a 38 page document fighting such a basic issue.
Magoo January 27, 2011 at 08:38 PM
The Stones can always turn up their stereo and play Donna Summer's Love to Love You Baby.
bob bowen January 27, 2011 at 08:58 PM
I hear Rand and Richardson are planning on building a wall on Miller near the high school, and calling it Checkpoint Charlie. Bob Bowen
Daniel Archer January 27, 2011 at 09:49 PM
One can assume residents over 18” tall are ‘accessory structures’ too since the make noise and are movable like trampolines, badminton nets, swings, portable barbecues, lawn chairs, patio tables and umbrellas. It is Comedy Night at the Commission…so Mill Valley! I will chip in $15 for your appeal Scott, since the City Council can be as funny as 142 Throckmorton Tuesday Night.
Hugh January 27, 2011 at 11:23 PM
No No No. This is absurd. Shame on the Stones. Shame on the Stone's unprincipled lawyer. Shame on Heidi for the flip flop. C'mon folks, this is a family town, with kids and play and laughter. I'll kick in with Daniel for my ticket to the CC Comedy night, and bring my own form of standup for the Public Comment period. Geez.
Tracey January 28, 2011 at 01:35 AM
Usually I can see both sides of an issue, but I don't understand the Stone's position here. What on earth is offensive or bothersome about a trampoline? Children playing outside make noise (trampoline or no trampoline). That's life, and it's a good thing. Relax, Mr. and Mrs. Stone. Enjoy the sun, enjoy the sound of kids playing, enjoy your beautiful life here in Mill Valley. It's not that complicated, and it certainly doesn't need to be legislated.
Magoo January 28, 2011 at 03:17 AM
This could be the Stone's side of the issue. Children make noise regardless, BUT no one has cared to mentioned the noise that the springs of the trampoline might make. If the Stones can hear that trampoline in their house with all the doors and windows shut, then they do have some point. That unending noise might drive me crazy.
Kirk January 28, 2011 at 08:49 PM
I too would like to chip in $'s for your appeal Scott. For the likes of the Stone family, I suggest you find your "peace" by other means /actions. Think about moving to a low-density, rural area, far away from Mill Valley like, uh, Wyoming.
Heather January 29, 2011 at 06:05 AM
We have three contiguous neighbors, and two of them have trampolines. One of them is certainly inside the setback, the other may be. But I wouldn't dream of objecting to them, much less filing a complaint with the city, hiring a lawyer, and waging a two-plus year battle over them. Kids playing and laughing in their own back yard is part of the music of life, and we're lucky to live in a place where it can be heard. Why try so hard to silence it?
Magoo January 29, 2011 at 04:04 PM
The Stones would not have had to file a complaint etc. if their neighbor had not chosen to DEFY the ruling made by City Hall in 2008.
Citizen January 29, 2011 at 05:09 PM
Let the kids play. What kind of an example are we setting for our kids by arguing over trampolines? We should focus on lifes teaching moments on how to get along with ones neighbors NOT regulating trampolines
Magoo January 29, 2011 at 06:01 PM
What kind of an example are we setting by ignoring rules and regulations?
Citizen January 29, 2011 at 07:06 PM
If trampolines can no longer be placed in the side yard setback, then the same rule(s) should obviously apply to sand boxes, swing sets, badminton nets, inflatable swimming pools, rope swings, patio tables, portable barbecues, lawn chairs, umbrellas, and ... not to be overlooked ... the occasionally boisterous, yet portable, residents of Mill Valley, too!!!
Magoo January 29, 2011 at 07:19 PM
You mean the rights of all Mill Valley residents except the Stones. I don't like government intrusion unless there is a disagreement between opposing parties.
Citizen January 29, 2011 at 07:41 PM
Scott Landress, What you fail to mention in your comment is that David Rand specifically noted that the recommendation of the Planning Director was being overruled for THIS trampoline and not ALL trampolines, which is a big difference. As I understood a number of the commissioner's comments, the fact that a PERMANENT stonewall enclosure had been built around your "temporary" trampoline was also one of the considerations in their decision relative to YOUR trampoline. You also fail to mention the fact that Heidi Richardson changed her opinion based on comments by David Rand, who argued that the City should not be "retroactively" changing a decision that was made in 2008. In spite of the fact that she agreed with the Director of Planning that trampolines are not "accessory structures", Heidi shared David's concern about reversing the City's 2008 ruling. Hence her reversal of opinion. As for me, I'll admit that my personal opinion about THIS trampoline has been colored by the fact that you were told in 2008 to NOT install your trampoline in the side yard setback, yet you chose to proceed with the installation anyway. What kind of precedent do you think your actions set ...are we all to simply ignore the rulings of city government if we don't like them? Personally, I'd much rather have this nonsensical ruling about trampolines stand, than reward you for ignoring the City's clear, unequivocal and unambiguous ruling back in 2008.
Magoo January 29, 2011 at 10:20 PM
I am the "original Citizen" who does not know either of the parties involved nor of this matter until I ready the article posted in the Patch. I ask again the possible noise this 15 feet diameter trampoline makes. Also many of you writers give the impression that the City is banning trampolines. The City only wants the trampoline to be moved a few feet from where the family wants it. Who is being unreasonable here eh??
Citizen January 29, 2011 at 10:42 PM
Scott, A couple of clarifications here: 1. No, I'm not one of the Stones, simply a resident of Mill Valley. 2. David Rand was very clear in stating that the ruling of the Planning Commission applied to THIS trampoline, (which I understood to mean in this location, under these circumstances). David also stated that he had no problem with the City changing their position relative to allowing trampolines in the side yard setback in the "future", but as applies to yours, he had a problem (as did Heidi Richardson) because this would require changing the ruling from back in 2008, 3. I tend to agree with many of the other commentators that find this whole issue ridiculous, and that trampolines should be allowed in the setback. That said, I also agree with David Rand that it sets a bad precedent to back track or overrule a previous ruling. That said, if you had a problem with it back in 2008, why didn't you appeal it to the City Council, rather than choosing to be above the law and ignoring the City's ruling. Right or wrong, we all still have to play by the rules, which you apparently aren't willing to do with the neighbor on the other side of your house, either.
Magoo January 29, 2011 at 11:00 PM
I take it your trampoline makes quite a bit of noise as you will not directly address my question. ORIGINAL CITIZEN
Citizen January 30, 2011 at 02:10 AM
Scott, simplest way to be done with this entire (and totally ridiculous) episode is to move the trampoline to some other place on your property, unplug the ole ego, and be done with it.
L. Haugen January 31, 2011 at 05:40 AM
Citizen said, "What kind of precedent do you think your actions set ...are we all to simply ignore the rulings of city government if we don't like them? "--and Yes, absolutely I think we need to CHECK this current city government. Look at the absurdity of the Brew Pub and it's neighbors as the city suggested they stay open longer than was originally submitted to the neighbors!. That situation is about people drinking past 10pm, 7 days a week in a neighborhood. This is about kids on a trampoline, in their yard, I "assume" in the day time. I think it's totally ridiculous!! Although bothersome noise IS bothersome NOISE! There should maybe be a truce to the hours as a halfway point. In this cute, quaint, artistic, family town, everyone is getting more & more ridiculous and I would hope the city would protect that from happening but, personally I don't see it happening. I have an issue with a neighbor and the city has ignored her violation and I doubt they are fining her monthly as they said she would be for not complying. I just don't understand why this current city council has become so questionable, albeit a more flexible one than 15 years ago!
Another Citizen February 02, 2011 at 12:56 PM
When was the last time you jumped on a trampoline? If it's been a long time, give it a try. At ANY age, it will make you laugh! We need more laughter in Mill Valley, not less. Clearly the Stone family needs a little "Tramp Time" and a few laughs. We need MORE trampolines, not less. Mill Valley is not Kansas. Most every home is squeezed onto a tight, highly conoured lot. Who in this town has a lot big enough to relocate a trampoline? It must be that annoying sound of laughter which is such a nuisance. Perhaps a robust sound system playing "A Whole Lot of Love" by Lead Zepplin or " Why Can't We Be Friends" should be set up by the trampoline. Unless of course that would be considered an accessory structure too. Get Over it!
Citizen February 04, 2011 at 04:28 PM
The issue is about property rights. It just happens to involve a trampoline this time. Citizen Cain
Rick Hopelain March 07, 2011 at 03:57 AM
Free the trampolines!

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