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Supporters of eco-buildings press council for review of city codes

ENCINITAS — Supporters of the yurt at Yoga Swami packed the City Council meeting Dec. 8 after about 100 people walked from the business on South Coast Highway 101 in what they called a sign of unity for the ecologically intelligent building that has become a sanctuary for many.
Despite the wellspring of support for maintaining the structure, the infamous yurt at Yoga Swami was disassembled Dec. 9 due to city code violations. Measuring just 27 feet in diameter and 557 total square feet, the yurt was located in the back lot of the Yoga Swami building.
Tara Teipel, the owner of Lemongrass Aveda Concept Salon and Spa on Second Street, said a yurt is also an integral part of her business. She told the council that approximately 70 percent of her business is in done in the yurt, generating $500,000 annually and employing 20 people. “Today we’re faced with the potential of being displaced,” she told the council.
According to owner Dawn Singer, the city gave the business verbal permission to erect the large tent in 2005. Under state law, people can put up temporary “tent” structures, including yurts, in a backyard without permits, she said.
Singer told the council that her intention was to shift awareness to sustainability in Encinitas. Elizabeth Taylor, chair of the city’s Environmental Advisory Commission, told the council that both businesses lead the way in environmental sustainability. “Both play a vital role in our community,” she said. The commission has formed a subcommittee to review the current city codes and investigate ways to make structures like the yurts compliant.
All of the speakers agreed that Yoga Swami has taken on an iconic character that goes beyond the reach of the community. Thousands of supporters from all over the world have expressed their opinions on the business’ Facebook site and through e-mail and phone communications.
Michael Fukumura, one of the original yoga teachers at the yurt, said the space “allows access to every single person. One of the special things about this yurt is that it’s so close to nature. Yoga at the yurt creates better people,” he told the council.
Approximately two months ago SDG&E was upgrading its metering system, so Yoga Swami had to update electrical systems to comply. Shortly thereafter Singer received a notice of violation for having the unpermitted structure on the property.
The notice requires several things to happen in order to come into compliance with current city code. Planning Director Patrick Murphy said the structure did not have a permit and was not in compliance with the city’s building codes. “You have to have a permit for these things and go through the proper channels,” he said.
Because the yurt is not an average structure, Singer said the notice provides an opportunity to expand the code to include environmentally sustainable buildings.
“I think the deeper issue is eco-conscious building practices,” Singer said. While she respects the city staff and their roles in protecting the public, she said there is no need to take down the yurt out of fear. “They are uninformed and I think I should educate them,” she said, referring to city officials.
“The current codes don’t reflect sustainable building,” Singer said. “The yurt is considered a sacred space by so many people,” she said. “It is literally legalizing sustainability.”
Todd Sykes, a green building consultant, told the council that the yurt is “highly resource efficient,” compared to traditionally constructed buildings. “It is designed to be engineered to meet IBC code,” he said. “Yurts don’t fit well into existing building codes.” He said he supported an avenue to construct alternative structures that is not cost prohibitive for small business owners. He encouraged the council to “think outside the box and take a leadership position on this issue within the county and the state.”
The yurt has a light footprint according to Singer and complies with fabrication requirements for safety. The fire department has not inspected the yurt to Singer’s knowledge.
“The city’s recommendations are not made from anyone who has come and experienced the yurt,” she said. Two code enforcement officers inspected the yurt and agreed that it did not fit into any of the usual building codes.