John Hooper at his home in Paradise. (Photo: Kirkner)
On Wednesday, Mono County Principal Planner Gerry Le Francois told The Sheet that the only way the County’s Planning Commission would be unable to make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors regarding the Rock Creek Canyon Project would be if there was too much information to digest from the field trip and public hearing that the Commission held on Thursday. It seems that Le Francois may have a sixth sense since too much information was the exact reason the Commission used for tabling its decision on the project to a meeting on Nov. 5.
“There are too many non-conforming issues to deal with in one night,” said Commission Chair Scott Bush. “There are no definitive answers on the cabins, so we really need to have staff research the legalities of multiple structures on a parcel and when FEMA is triggered.”
The issue that flummoxed the Commission related to the historic aspects of the Rock Creek Canyon Project site. The site was formerly a fish camp and it contains many old fishing cabins, as well as the Paradise restaurant that is currently in shambles. Owner of the project, John Hooper, plans to renovate the old restaurant as well as keep some of the old cabins on the property.
In regard to the restaurant, Commissioner Steve Shipley claimed it was difficult for him to make a decision. “It doesn’t look like a shack right now,” he said. “You wouldn’t even know it was historical. If you are going to call it historic then it needs to be returned to its original state.”
Hooper plans to turn the old restaurant building into a home. According to Mono County regulations, since the restaurant building already straddles the creek, Hooper would be allowed to grandfather in this aspect into the new home he would build. Community members did not agree with this policy.
“I would rather the restaurant be bulldozed than turned into a house straddling the creek,” said Mono County resident Jay Jensen. “It’s a scheme to call it a renovation. It is crafty and a falsehood. He should have the 30 foot setbacks like everyone else.”
Similarly, the remaining fishing cabins that are on the property would be allowed to stay in the positions they are in, which for four of them means right alongside the creek. New regulations state that new structures have to be setback 30 feet from the creek.
All of these buildings are non-conforming to current County code. If the County says Hooper cannot build what he wants then his other option is to destroy the buildings completely. Already Hooper has removed three of the cabins from the property in an effort to preserve their historic nature. By moving the three cabins to Parcher’s Ranch, Hooper pointed out on Thursday, he had removed 3,800 square feet of non-conforming space that he does not plan to build on so he is in essence giving that space back to the community.
Shipley tried to make the case that the history really lies in the location and that the ancillary buildings are just additional, but many of the community members disagreed.
“The fishing camp is all gone, there is no historical resource left,” said one community member. “Why were the cabins removed when the project wasn’t approved? He [Hooper] is not respecting the process.”
“The cabins were removed with the demolition permit and at the advice of an historian,” Hooper replied.
Shipley tried to put things in perspective by saying “If we’re making it a private property instead of public then the historic site goes out the window. It’s not the same as preserving a resource.”
Still other commissioners felt that discussions should be had to see what could be done to keep the restaurant building historic in look and feel plus explore other options regarding the cabins.
In regard to the cabins Hooper conceded to leave them freestanding rather than connect them to the homes he is planning on building. This solved the issue of their close proximity to the creek because if they are not touched they just remain non-conforming, but it raised a new issue of how many livable structures are allowed on each parcel. If the cabins were not connected to anything and yet a new home still built, then some parcels would end up with three, habitable structures sitting on them.
The issue of when the buildings become new structures was also raised. If the buildings have to be renovated they could end up becoming new structures if they have to be totally torn down to their foundations or if upgrades cost more than 50 percent of the value of the structure. Once the upgrades cost more than 50 percent of the value of the structure then they have to conform to FEMA guidelines which would essentially make it a new structure needing to conform with new county codes such as the 30 foot setback from the creek.
“It’s frustrating that you do all of this work and then get to a stopping point but the historical aspect has not been handled properly,” summarized Commissioner Daniel Roberts.
The Commission therefore tabled its decision to a meeting at 10 a.m. on Nov. 5 so that it could work through the issues with the non-conforming units. Staff will research legalities related to multiple structures on a parcel, as well as the value of the cabins and when FEMA would be triggered. The location of the meeting is to be determined.
For more background on this project, pick up a copy of this week’s print version of The Sheet, available at newsstands throughout the Eastern Sierra.Share Email This Post