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The grass is always greener ... 

Atascadero Community Development Director Warren Frace recently approved placing artificial turf over pavement as a form of required open space at Developer Kelly Gearhart's housing development, according to an Oct. 26 letter from Frace to Gearhart.

Frace's approval of Gearhart's request to substitute artificial turf for grass at his housing development on Marchant Avenue is the most-recent development in a string of events that kicked off in mid-October. Allegations surfaced that a planning commissioner and a local attorney pressured city staff members to circumvent the planning process and approve Gearhart's already-constructed addition of a third driveway and four extra parking spaces in an area mandated as a public benefit open space. Gearhart has denied any pressure by himself or others.

Following the staff's rejection of Gearhart's request, the developer asked the Planning Commission to allow the driveway to remain. He was denied.

"[Gearhart] didn't get the message," said Atascadero Planning Commissioner Joan O'Keefe. "He is continuing to pressure city officials and staff to make the changes he wants."

However, Gearhart maintains that he didn't pressure staff and that he would no longer need to tear out the entire driveway and extra parking places due to the requirements of artificial turf.

"Artificial turf calls for asphalt underneath it," Gearhart said. "It will be nicer than grass."

Community Development Director Frace approved the substitution of artificial turf in any area previously designated for grass.

"It will be a high-quality artificial grass-like product for children to play on," Frace said. "It is staff's opinion that the change didn't require a Planning Commission amendment."

Still, Planning Commissioner O'Keefe wants to look into the feasibility of using artificial turf in children's play areas.

"It was supposed to be a passive play area," O'Keefe said. "Frace is technically right, but considering it had just been before the Planning Commission, I think it would have been best to bring it back because it is controversial and [because of] the current level of distrust at city hall."


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