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Council Backs Trampoline Owners, With Disdain

After a two-hour hearing, councilmembers conclude that trampolines are not “accessory structures” and that the dispute shouldn’t have come before it in the first place.

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.

Magoo March 08, 2011 at 04:03 PM
After learning more about it in this article I side with the Stones. It IS like in your face. Seems like the Landresses want the trampoline out of their way. And what Mr. Landress said about the fountain. A fountain is a "natural" enhancement to a yard, not a trampoline. This is not about a child's happiness no mater what some parents are trying to make it look like.
Matthew Roche March 08, 2011 at 04:11 PM
Dr. Stone, The trampoline will get outgrown soon enough and you will no longer be blighted by their laughter. The kids will grow up quickly, will you?
Andrew J Wiegel March 08, 2011 at 04:37 PM
The council should be commended for drawing the line in the right place. Planning decisions should be limited to permanent improvements, as they have been traditionally. Otherwise we are going to waste the time of valuable city personnel with disputes over where a neighbor puts the cat box. There is a well established body of law which exists to deal with issues of private nuisance, which is what this is. If the matter can not be resolved through efforts at mediation, a judge will make the decision. If it is egregious enough, the judge can award punitive damages. There have even been cases where neighborhood nuisance damages have been awarded in small claims courts without the need for the involvement of lawyers. I beleive that private disputes between neighbors over rudeness and lack of civility should not become something which consumes the limited resources of local governments charged with making and enforcing more sweeping planning and policy decisions. Andrew J Wiegel
Maggie March 09, 2011 at 05:56 PM
The city council made the right decision in this case as it is clear that a trampoline, which is not a permanent fixture, does not meet the definition of an accessory structure. Andrew Wiegel also is right that the recourse for the situation is a private nuisance action, in which the Stones would be required to prove that the trampoline usage was in fact interfering with the quiet enjoyment of their home - which I suspect would be rather difficult. However, I'm troubled by the council's apparent view that this matter should not have been brought before them at all. It appears that a number of councilmembers fail to understand that they were not being asked to resolve a neighborhood dispute but to review a plainly incorrect ruling by their own Planning Commision. This is how government is supposed to work and it is the job of the City Council. It is inappropriate for the council to admonish a citizen for exercising his or her rights, particularly in the face of an overreaching Planning Commission ruling which failed to implement the Municipal Code as written and instead chose to follow its own feelings and opinions on the specific matter before it. It was the Stones who repeatedly brought this before the City not the Landresses. Whether the Councilmembers like the placement of the trampoline is irrelevant. In the operation of city government, opinions and personal attacks really have no place.
Another Citizen September 13, 2011 at 09:00 PM
I know Landress personally and he is not a nice person. He is litigious, off balance mentally, and a Class A jerk. Seriously. I speak from personal experience. No other neighbor would have taken it as far. I feel for the Stones.
J. Leslie Wyness May 10, 2012 at 02:06 AM
I garden as a hobby and am newly retired. My yard is my sanctuary, or was. I have new neighbors with 4 children who recently purchased a trampoline and placed it adjacent to the fence on my property line. Don't get me wrong...I quite enjoy the sound of children at play. However in my humble opinion, when the sound of children at play includes their heads bobbing over the fence it becomes an invasion of privacy. I have asked the neighbors to move the trampoline to the other side of their yard (they are on a corner lot and would not be making this imposition someone else's problem). Frankly, I feel penalized for maintaining my yard, thereby increasing property value in the neighborhood...not a concept this neighbor would understand, by the way. I know that some cities support a 'good neighbor code' that addresses issues like this and others such as storage of holiday trailers on residential property. My city, unfortunately does not, therefore there is no forum available, and outside of a noise by-law, there is no recourse when a neighbor is uncooperative and/or inconsiderate. Perhaps a 'Good Neighbor Code' is something this very busy city council could support.

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