The Mill Valley City Council backed the owners of a trampoline in a Monday night, but councilmembers didn’t hide their irritation that it was even ruling on the matter.
The council reversed that the trampoline of Scott and Laura Landress of 580 Throckmorton Avenue was an "accessory structure," a categorization that includes things like decks and in-ground swimming pools and triggers the city’s zoning regulations on where such structures can be placed. The couple have placed the trampoline near the property line with its neighbors.
But in backing the couple’s position that trampolines are not accessory structures, the council made clear its distaste that a dispute over the placement of a trampoline 15 feet in diameter had taken up more than two hours of its meeting on the heels of multiple decisions by city staff, a ruling by the commission, and a 61-page staff report.
“This isn’t the mechanism for us to do anything about this,” Councilman Andy Berman said. “It’s not an issue for the council. I don’t like where this trampoline is placed. But it’s not for us to decide. This is neighborhood stuff.”
“If I were your neighbors, I would be upset too,” Councilwoman Shawn Marshall told the couple. “We are not neighborhood dispute resolution people. So I guess tonight you win. But it’s not very neighbor-like at all.”
Just as the planning commission meeting did, the matter got bogged down early in a debate about the implications of the council’s decision.
Robert Knox, an attorney for the Landress’ neighbors, Kevin and Susan Stone of 1 Throckmorton Lane, tried to reset the parameters of the debate, saying that Planning Director Mike Moore was wrong in telling the council that its decision would change the categorization of all trampolines in Mill Valley and not just the one at issue in this case.
“The framing of this issue to the council is absolutely wrong,” Knox said. “This is not some legislative action to add a trampoline to the list of prohibited accessory structures.”
City Attorney Greg Stepanicich disagreed, saying that there was no application before the city for a trampoline, but rather an appeal of the commission’s reversal of Moore’s determination in December 2010 that a trampoline did not meet the definition of an accessory structure and therefore was not subject to the city’s zoning regulations.
Stepanicich later reiterated that view “in the event that a party wanted to challenge this decision” in court. The Stones declined to comment after the meeting.
The matter drew plenty of mud-slinging, with Knox and fellow Landress neighbors Paula and Butch Hubbard highlighting additional disputes and painting the couple as obstinate and aggressive.
Scott Landress sought to turn the tables on the Stones by noting that they have a large fountain within the setback on their property and that he could ask the city to intervene but has chosen not to do so.
Kevin Stone said it was simply a matter of where the trampoline was placed.
“The only reason we’re here is that we requested that you move your trampoline over to the middle of your property,” he said. “They have made no effort whatsoever to be accommodating to us or any of our neighbors. If you’re going to have a trampoline, put it in the middle of your property – just don’t stick it in your neighbor’s face.”
Three local residents spoke up on behalf of trampolines in general, saying that the council was treading on a slippery slope if it were to classify the bouncy devices as structures.
“If they want to fight each other in another venue, fine” said Elizabeth Sheppard. "But these are trampolines – let’s not micromanage this.”
The council agreed to uphold the Landress’ appeal and vowed a future review of both its definition for accessory structures and the types of permitted uses within yard setbacks, irrespective of the Landress’ trampoline.
As if it didn’t have enough of the trampoline debate, because the council is upholding the appeal, city staff must prepare a new resolution that will come back to the council at its March 21 meeting.