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Chapman Estate gets support for more events 

Since the late Clifford Chapman gifted his Shell Beach home to the city of Pismo Beach upon his death in 2012, the Chapman Estate has been open to the public for around seven months and 18 special events each year. Soon, though, the private residence turned public venue will be open year-round for up to 100 such events.

Pismo Beach City Council approved the changes in April, but two Chapman Estate neighbors appealed that decision to the California Coastal Commission.

click to enlarge THE SITE A map shows the entirety of the Chapman Estate at 1243 Ocean Blvd. in Shell Beach, which will soon begin hosting more smaller events than ever before. - SCREENSHOT FROM COASTAL COMMISSION STAFF REPORT
  • Screenshot From Coastal Commission Staff Report
  • THE SITE A map shows the entirety of the Chapman Estate at 1243 Ocean Blvd. in Shell Beach, which will soon begin hosting more smaller events than ever before.

Shell Beach residents Steven Ball and Diane Farley both argued in their May appeals that expansions to the Chapman Estate's operations would take up already limited on-street parking spots near the coast and negatively impact the surrounding neighborhood, violating Pismo's local coastal plan and the state's Coastal Act.

"The development was never intended for public events," Farley wrote in her appeal, "but since the city has obtained ownership, they have greenlighted their own agenda without regard to the impacts of the ever-expanding uses for the development."

At a hearing on Aug. 12, the Coastal Commission followed a staff recommendation to side with the city of Pismo Beach, voting unanimously that there were no substantial issues with the city's plans. Coastal Commission staff determined that the proposed expansion would not inhibit public coastal access or rub with the neighborhood's character.

"In fact," the report reads, "part of the project objective is to open up the estate for more public use and enjoyment, including through recreational classes and an expanded Open Gates program, which will help to enhance public access."

There's adequate on-street parking in neighborhoods surrounding the site, according to the report, and the city will require organizers of larger events to provide shuttle services.

Clifford Chapman, a renowned art collector and philanthropist, purchased the property at 1243 Ocean Blvd. in 1962 and often hosted dinner parties and fundraisers for nonprofits. He left his estate, known for its sweeping ocean views, to the city on the conditions that its outdoor spaces would be shared with the community.

In recent years, the Chapman Estate has been open to the public from April through October for weekly sunset walks, lunches, and events and fundraisers with between 50 to 300 attendees, one event per day.

At a Pismo Beach City Council meeting in April, where City Council voted 3-2 to change the estate's conditional use permit, city staff said estate-generated revenue wasn't offsetting the property's maintenance costs.

Permit changes enable the grounds to open year-round for 100 smaller events, nearly all of which will be capped at 25 to 50 attendees. Up to two events will be allowed each day. Only a few 300-person fundraisers will be allowed each year, and open gates visits will continue as they are.

City Manager Jim Lewis said the expansion honors the wishes of its late owner, who wanted the public to be able to enjoy the expansive grounds.

"It's a beautiful estate," Lewis told New Times. "It's a wonderful gift."

But not all the estate's neighbors agree, and Lewis said the amended permit is intended to keep them in mind. Pismo Beach residents hoping to rent the space out will be afforded discounts. The city also plans to host neighborhood-specific events.

"We're hopeful that many of those using this estate will be Shell Beach residents themselves," he said.

Attorney Michael Schulte, representing Farley, argued at the Aug. 12 commission hearing that such a big expansion of events must be considered a "substantial issue" for the Coastal Commission.

He also pointed to a section of the staff report admitting that the city's plans for the estate don't meet Pismo's local coastal plan requirement of 33 off-street parking spaces.

"This lack of available street access is admittedly a substantial issue," Schulte said at the hearing, "as the staff then provides some tortured justification to get past the issue—justification which should not be considered at this cursory level of review."

North Central Coast and Central Coast District Director Dan Carl acknowledged that the Chapman Estate doesn't meet the off-street parking requirements. But, he said, the purpose of that section of the coastal plan is to ensure that coastal streets aren't inundated with vehicles parked for private uses.

"The commission is not being asked to find whether or not the project is consistent with every single [local coastal plan] policy," Carl said. "It's been asked to identify whether or not there's a substantial issue requiring the commission to take jurisdiction over the coastal permit. They're different standards, and in many cases there are technical inconsistencies where the commission has found no substantial issue."

Pismo Beach City Councilmembers Scott Newton and Marcia Guthrie voted against expansions to the Chapman Estate's permit in April over what they said were genuine concerns about noise and parking among many Shell Beach residents. Now, Newton said, the decision is final.

"With the [conditional use permit] being approved by the Coastal Commission," he told New Times, "the onus is now on the city to ensure that there are no unreasonable negative impacts on the neighbors or the neighborhood." Δ

Reach freelancer Kasey Bubnash at kbubnash@newtimesslo.com.

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