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Yurt in trouble 

When Mikel and Brian Robertson opened their Green Goods building supply store in Atascadero earlier this year, they figured they’d create a buzz by putting up a yurt behind their El Camino Real storefront. They were right; neighbors, curious passers-by, even cops stopped by to check out the round, canvas and wood teepee-like shelter. What they didn’t expect was that their yurt would become the center of controversy that pitted two brothers’ vision of sustainability against the city’s own vision for commercial development.
 
“We had it up for about six weeks, and people really loved it,� says Mikel. “Then about two weeks ago we got a letter from the city telling us we had to take it down because it was a building code violation and ‘didn’t meet their vision’.� Mikel admits that he and his brother didn’t obtain a permit for the yurt, but he adds that it’s only because neither one of them thought they’d need to. “We were using it as a display. It’s up on blocks and it’s not hooked up to any utilities. Honestly, we didn’t think it would be a problem.�
 
“It isn’t necessarily a problem,� says Warren Frace, the city’s Community Development Director. “This is just a standard building code issue. It has to do with the zoning ordinance.� Frace says he can’t go into details about exactly what codes the yurt may be violating because the city is still trying to figure that out. “We’re conducting an analysis of the situation right now, just checking to see what problems it might pose,� he explains, adding, “The general plan doesn’t necessarily address visual issues. This is the first yurt we’ve had to deal with, so there’s nothing formal to work from right now.�
 
Brian Robertson says that he and his brothers have written a letter to the city, spelling out exactly what the yurt will be used for. They’re also hoping that the outpouring of community support will work in their favor. Frace has said they can keep the yurt in plac e for the store’s grand opening party, which is scheduled for this Friday. After that point, it’s unclear what the future holds for the structure. The brothers say they are willing to work with the city to keep the yurt in place.
 
“If it’s within our means, we’ll do what they ask,� says Brian. “We’d just like to keep it up. It really works within our ecological ideals. And it’s unique. It seems like everybody’s intrigued by it.� ∆

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