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County Planning Commission suggests redefining recreation 

County planners are beginning to get a clearer picture for how they should deal with a slew of outdoor activities that seem to have baffled most county officials.

On Jan. 26, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission voted 4-1 on a recommendation to allow county planners to make case-by-case decisions on such projects as zip lines, giant swings, and other recreational activities not currently defined by the county land-use ordinance.

A rash of recent permit applications from landowners seeking to jazz up their properties had staffers at the County Planning and Building Department stumped. The requests ranged from a zip-line in Santa Margarita to BMX racing trails, giant swings, and cable skiing on lakes.

“This is something we don’t come to lightly,” Planning Director Jason Gifford told commissioners. “Only when we’re completely stumped do we bring it up for interpretation.”

Assistant Director Kammi Griffin explained to commissioners that the problem arises from a clause that allows recreational structures to be built on land zoned for agriculture and open space for purposes “like” camping, hunting, hiking, and fishing. The wording suggests that those are only examples, but permit levels and standards have only been established for those specific activities.

The nonprofit group North County Watch wrote a letter to the commission that called the existing zip-line illegal. The group argued that zoning language is meant to be interpreted literally, and changing it would pave the way for amusement parks in open spaces.

“If amendments to the Land Use Ordinance and county policies are fashioned to accommodate the existing zip line, we have the classic tail wagging the dog—never a good basis for public policy,” the group wrote.

After more than two hours of discussion, commissioners approved a recommendation—Commissioner Dan O’Grady voted against it—that would allow staff at the Planning and Building Department to determine on a case-by-case basis what is allowed. Planners could also issue building permits that would be subject to appeal and safety standards. They recommended that BMX and downhill mountain bike courses be regulated by the same rules that apply to other off-road vehicles.

The recommendations are scheduled to go to the Board of Supervisors March 13.

“It’s still up in the air, but we’re happy with the way the county is moving on this,” Blake Rowan of Santa Margarita Adventures told New Times.

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