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Chapman Estate to host more, smaller events in coming years 

The Chapman Estate in Shell Beach could soon begin hosting more than five times as many events a year as it has in the past, which worries many neighbors who say events there already regularly cause traffic, noise, and parking issues.

click to enlarge EVENT HUB? Pismo Beach City Council recently voted to allow up to 100 events each year at the Chapman Estate in Shell Beach, a jump from the previously allowed 18. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • EVENT HUB? Pismo Beach City Council recently voted to allow up to 100 events each year at the Chapman Estate in Shell Beach, a jump from the previously allowed 18.

At a meeting on April 20, Pismo Beach City Council voted 3-2 (with Marcia Guthrie and Scott Newton voting against) to approve various amendments to the Chapman Estate's conditional use permit, including an increase in the number of smaller events allowed on the property, an extension to the estate's events season, and a discount for local Pismo Beach residents hoping to rent the space.

The changes, according to City Manager Jim Lewis, are an attempt to increase the Chapman Estate's event revenue while also appeasing neighbors who often complain that they didn't sign up to live next to an event venue.

"We have produced what we believe is a responsible community use plan that allows the city to invest in preserving the home, protecting the home, and cherishing the home in a way that all of our residents can enjoy," Lewis said at the meeting. "Again, we did not want an event garden, a wedding venue, a major thing that is disruptive to the community. We want events of 50 or less for art, entertainment, family celebrations."

Situated atop a coastal cliff at 1243 Ocean Boulevard in Shell Beach, the Chapman Estate is a popular event venue and museum known among community members for its sweeping ocean views. The property was gifted to the city of Pismo Beach by late owner Clifford Chapman upon his death in 2012. Chapman, a renowned art collector and philanthropist, purchased the property in 1962 and often hosted dinner parties and fundraisers for nonprofits.

Chapman left his estate to the city on the conditions that its outdoor spaces would be shared with the community while Chapman's partner, Don Shidler, continued living inside the home. The city took control of the estate in 2013, and Shidler continued living there until moving in 2019 for health reasons.

In recent years, the Chapman Estate has been open to the public from April through October for up to 18 events, including lunches, sunset walks, small gatherings, community events with up to 100 attendees, and estate and private fundraisers with between 200 and 300 attendees. Only one event was allowed each day.

But city staff say those events aren't generating enough revenue to offset the costs of maintaining the Chapman Estate. Lewis said at the meeting that the estate needs an estimated $2.5 million to $3 million worth of repairs, and a hold on events on the property throughout the COVID-19 pandemic also led to budget shortfalls, leading the city to approve the use of roughly $650,000 in general fund revenue on repairs and upkeep on the property in January.

Through recent changes to the estate's permit, which the city characterized as "resident-focused," the grounds will be open year-round for up to 100 smaller events each year, 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 sunset walks and open gates visits will still run only from April through October.

Events allowed through the new conditional use permit will be significantly smaller, and Pismo Beach residents hoping to rent the space out will be afforded major discounts, which Lewis said he hopes will encourage locals to use the space.

"We hope people from Shell Beach would walk down and enjoy parties with their families. While it would be open to our whole community, we believe that our community would take care and respect this neighborhood. And that's who we market it to."

Some neighbors of the estate, however, aren't convinced. Several noted that the Pismo Beach Planning Commission voted unanimously at a March 23 meeting to recommend that the city deny the changes to the conditional use permit, and questioned the ethics of the city making decisions about its own property.

Shell Beach resident Mike Farley complained that events at the Chapman Estate lead to noise, trash, and parking congestion in his neighborhood. While Farley said he's not opposed to yoga and art classes, or school visits to the site, an increase in events hosted there is the last thing neighbors want. Steve Ball, who said he lives about 500 feet away from the estate, agreed.

"I find it insulting, frankly, that the city labels this proposal as 'resident-focused,'" Ball said at the meeting. "Well look, I'm a resident, and it feels more like resident-targeted. If you want to focus on your residents, listen to them. Because we're telling you we don't want this."

But some residents do. Several said at the meeting that they enjoy visiting the Chapman Estate and want to preserve its history for all to enjoy.

Sandra Gore Nielsen lives on Vista Del Mar, several blocks away from the Chapman Estate, and she said tourists and beachgoers alike drive and walk through her neighborhood and park outside her house. It doesn't bother her, she said. It's part of living in a beach community that people want to visit.

"I've read the [conditional use permit]," she said. "I don't see this huge number of events. When people talk about two or three events on a weekend, I mean, sometimes one of those events is a yoga class. It's not two or three huge weddings."

"I think this is NIMBYism to the extreme," Nielsen continued, "and it's very disheartening to see the same people over and over and over again object to this. And they're the same people who live on the same streets. And it's like, your lives have not been destroyed. And it's not being trashed, and I think it's an unfair representation." Δ

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