In Mammoth, when people get upset about new development and neighbors encroaching upon their property, the fight is over height and setbacks. And every foot is precious. Three feet less height might mean fifteen minutes of more sun on a summer day. Or a setback of 20’ from the property line versus ten feet might mean the difference between hearing the neighbors’ television blasting Colbert at midnight versus hearing a dull hum.
But NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) – wanting distance and protection from a neighbor’s activities – is all relative.
In the Mono Basin, off Cottonwood Canyon Road, about eight miles east of Highway 395 along State Route 167, there is a small residential enclave where the lots are about 20 acres in size on average.
One resident, George Swiggum, wishes to develop a few campsites on his property.
Swiggum bought his property in 2004. For those who don’t know George, he’s a jack-of-all-trades, a carpenter, a seller of firewood. Sometimes, he’ll take more lucrative short-term jobs out of town to help pay the bills.
As some may recall, in the mid-2000s, George suffered fairly harrowing injuries when he was caught in an avalanche while skiing the Sherwins. He broke both femurs in the accident – the left leg was a compound fracture – and he was rescued via helicopter.
So … he acknowledges his body has been failing a bit of late. He needs a few surgeries. Which is why he hatched a plan to make some passive income.
That plan, in quick summary, is Hip Camp – the Airbnb of “glamping.”
Swiggum proposes to build out one site on his property which already has a 10’ by 12’ bunkhouse.
Then hopes to build a 250-square foot cabin on a second site.
And an RV and tent platform on a third site.
All would have to meet various codes, require septic, water tanks, et. al.
Many neighbors, in a nutshell, hate the idea, have formed the Friends of the Northern Mono Basin, have retained a law firm, and oppose Swiggum’s project for the following reasons: water quality impact, dark skies impact, general aesthetics, noise, increased fire risk and emergency response times and limited emergency resources.
They’re tossing the kitchen sink at him.
Neighbors are also irate about Swiggum’s proposed rezoning of his property from rural residential to specific plan.
Why is he able to do that? they ask. It’ll set bad precedent, they say. And will ruin the neighborhood.
But in the staff report prepared for the August 18 Mono County Planning Commission meeting, the report states, “Mono County has determined that the proposed project and General Plan Amendment would have similar or reduced environmental impacts from those described in the certified 2015 RTP/General Plan Update EIR (Environmental Impact Report).
Because a lot zoned Rural Residential can legally be subdivided into 20 one-acre lots.
Whereas Swiggum is asking for just three ADU (accessory dwelling units).
He views his small project as “a logical way to direct a few people off of public land and onto legal campsites.”
The neighbor located directly behind Swiggum is Michael Light. Light is a photographer of some renown who edited the NASA Moon Landing project. His book, Full Moon, was published in eight International editions.
Light replied to our request for an interview with an email with links to various documents, including his public comment letter.
“Opposition outweights support for this project in a landslide, and the applicant does not have the stated or written support of a single property owner in the actual Cottonwood Creek Road/SR 167 area, while many property owners there are publicly against this proposal, including the largest landowners in the area, the Hunewil and Scanavino families, as well as the oldest, the Mono County Kutzadika Tribe,” wrote Light in his email.
*The official staff report counted six letters in favor of the project and eight in opposition.
Light, according to Swiggum, has told him, “If you can’t afford it [the property], sell it and move to Hawthorne [Nev.] and put your trailer park there.”
Swiggum’s neighbor to the east is John Rea. Rea is supportive of Swiggum’s proposal. In fact, Rea thought of doing the same type of thing himself … until he was subjected to the scorn of neighbors [Friends of the Northern Mono Basin].
“They lied to Dave Swisher [Chairman of the Mono City Fire Protection District],” said Rea, obtaining a draft letter Mono City Fire had penned in regard to a prior Rea development proposal and using it as fodder against Swiggum.
Swisher has since written, “The exhibit was obtained through deceptive means without my approval or authorization. It is obvious the organization that shared the document … did it for personal gain to restrict growth in Mono County.”
Rea said he ditched his proposal out of fear of retaliation and has shifted his focus to his logging and milling business.
He supports Swiggum and says, “The level they [opponents] are willing to go to stop this thing is unbelievable – relying on a stolen document to make a case.”
The item was continued at the August 18 Planning Commission meeting. As Swiggum wishes to have a full complement of Planning Commissioners on hand when the item is heard, it looks like it will likely be delayed until November.
Swiggum says he’s a bit puzzled by the attitude of his neighbor Mr. Light. The two used to be, at the very least, good acquaintances (“I’ve partied with the dude at Burning Man”).
Swiggum thinks Light’s attitude changed when another neighbor (Joe Suppa) got approved for four yurts and an RV spot (“Light didn’t learn of it until it was too late”). And then, says Swiggum, the controversy over development of workforce housing at Dennis Domaille’s Tioga Inn project “sort of lit the fuse around here.”