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Fletcher Cove Community Center use policy still controversial

SOLANA BEACH — Rather than direct staff to develop rules for using the newly renovated Fletcher Cove Community Center, as was planned, City Council instructed stakeholders to create policies that are acceptable to residents who want the facility to be available for celebrations and those who don’t.“This was like a snowball going down a hill,” Councilman Tom Campbell said at the April 25 meeting. “It got too big too fast.

“We need to get together with community members on both sides of this issue,” he said. “We need to get them to sit around a table to see if they can reach a compromise that will satisfy the people that live there and satisfy the people that want to use it.

“Some of you will never agree with the other side,” Campbell said. “But those of you that are rational, I think you can sit down and come up with something.”

Even before the $370,000 renovation of the former World War II Army barracks was complete in July 2011, the city began receiving requests to reserve the facility for birthday parties and receptions, events that took place there in the 1980s and 1990s.

Those activities stopped because the building had fallen into disrepair or those living near it complained about noise, traffic and people urinating on sidewalks. No one seems to know for sure.

Either way, City Manager David Ott said he doesn’t remember one request to use the center for celebrations or parties since he came to Solana Beach in 2003.

Until the renovation began, however, the building was used for educational, nonprofit and city programs such as San Dieguito Union High School District adult education classes, summer camp and Del Sol Lions Club and Civic and Historical Society meetings.

Those groups have resumed use at the community center since the renovation was complete. They can continue to hold their events there and will not be subject to new policies, if they are ever adopted.

This past October council members asked staff to create a use policy for the facility, which was moved to its bluff-top location on Pacific Avenue in 1944. Recommendations presented March 14 included limiting use to two ceremonial, leisure, noncommercial one-time events such as birthday parties and receptions, on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

There were provisions for maximum occupancy, music, parking in the surrounding residential neighborhood and serving alcohol.

But the draft policy created more ire than agreement and staff was asked to revise the rules.

When the modified plan was presented at the April 25 meeting, about half of the approximately 20 speakers were residents who live near the community center. They said they weren’t asked for input.

The biggest issue was allowing alcohol at the site, but there were also concerns about traffic and noise.

“This isn’t good against bad,” said Wayne Brechtel, an attorney for Frederick Augusta, who lives across the street from the facility. “This is a community center in a residential neighborhood.

“Good things, well-intentioned, can have really adverse impacts on the neighborhood,” Brechtel said. “This is one of those situations where good folks are going to create circumstances where there’s going to be significant impacts.”

Former Mayor Celine Olson said at 86 years old, she’s had experience with loud neighborhood parties.

“I had the good sense years ago not to buy or build a house next to a community building that could be used anytime,” she said. “Whatever happened to buyers beware?

“Every nearby town has a facility where the residents can celebrate happy occasions like weddings and anniversaries and sad ones like memorial services,” Olson said. “Why can’t we?”

“At first glance it might seem harmless to allow Solana Beach residents to hold or sponsor private events at the community center,” resident Kelly Harless said, adding that when she bought her house near the facility 14 years ago it wasn’t used for parties and celebratory events.

“However, we know from history that along with the private parties will come a number of negative impacts to the surrounding neighborhood. These negative impacts outweigh any potential benefits and, most importantly, they will harm our neighborhood character, lower our property values and endanger the health and welfare of residents.”

Eric Lodge said many of the speakers who live near the facility prefaced their remarks by saying how pleased they are with the renovation.

“It does look quite nice and that has certainly enhanced their property value,” he said. “They seem to be very surprised now that the city might want to actually use the community center for something. So they’ve gotten the benefit of it. Now they don’t want to accept what may be slight burdens.”

Other residents said prohibiting alcohol and overly restrictive policies would render the facility useless.

A few council members said some of the comments made were inconsiderate and inappropriate.

“The neighbors have to be considered,” Councilwoman Lesa Heebner said.

Mike Nichols said he wouldn’t agree to any policies unless they are acceptable to those who live near the community center.

Campbell said allowing two events every weekend is a deal breaker for him. “You’ll never get my support on that — never,” he said.

Regardless of what policies staff returns with, events will be held on a trial basis for at least six months before anything is made permanent.

“We’ve got two very caring groups and we’re not going to know unless we try something,” Councilman Dave Roberts said.

“It’s the jewel of our entire coastline,” resident Steve Goetsch said. “It’s not something that should be shut up and used once a month.

“I think we should give this a try,” he said. “If we messed it up, change it back.”