Warning: Follow the Rules, Please!

By Leslie Westbrook   |   December 3, 2020
The Well in Summerland is wrangling with the County over repairs to the rear building that need signoff from the fire department

Even movie stars and the rich and famous need to play by the rules, so it should seem simple for the rest of us mere mortals. At a Summerland Architectural Board of Review meeting a few years back, the board approved a 26,000-square-foot house (by virtue of a variance on the 25-acre beachfront property) for Kevin Costner, who showed up in person for the meeting. (Any future lot split was given up in exchange for building that size of a house.) Which brings me around to approvals required for businesses in town for paint colors, signage, and any other changes to a building. Follow the rules, please, no matter who you are.

Retail therapy? We all know what that is. But how about retailer’s therapy? Opening a new business can cause headaches and more. With all the activity in Summerland, things have not always gone smoothly. Summerland used to be pretty laid back, back in the day. But there is a Board of Architectural Review that approves paint colors, signage, and building changes, among other things, and Summerland does have a community plan. County permits and other requirements are there for a reason – and yes, hoops must be jumped through in order to do business safely for not only a place of businesses and their customers but for the entire town. Despite the town’s growing pains, which most people are happy about, not everyone is happy about the hoop jumping.

“BAR is essential and makes sure buildings and re-dos conform to community plan guidelines,” says former board member and longtime Summerlandian Fran Davis. “I sat on that advisory committee. The community plan is nicely done and very informative.”

Diana Dolan of Porch moved into the former Just Folk/Letter Perfect space and painted the large building “Summerland antique white.” Whoopsie! Somebody got a tick in their panties and while lovely Diana did neglect to get the blessing of the Summerland BAR before getting out her paint buckets, the color change was approved – after the fact. But as BAR board member Jeff O’Neill told me, they spent many, many months, weeks and hours working with Marcy Carsey when the building first went up on approving the colors, design, underground parking, etc. It was no easy feat. 

In the end, no harm no foul.

The Well (Which Rhymes With..) 

Shane Brown, of The Well, has discovered his own personal you-know-what dealing with the County’s powers that be. The rear building changes, which had to be signed off by the fire department recently, didn’t pass muster. I missed the “fireworks” the day that the enforcers came by, by about 15 minutes. Brown had boldly proceeded with renovations – without following protocol. The inspector and shopkeeper met, but apparently the ax fell on the new back building – which had been nicely arranged with new furnishings and paintings that had to be removed when Brown was informed he needed to install a sprinkler system. He tried to beg off until after the holidays, but “no go” said the powers that be. Besides, with holidays lights and candles and such, who the heck wants the town to accidentally burn down?

“I asked for a variance until after the new year,” Shane said, admitting he should not have had anything in the back gallery but did – and said he was upset the space couldn’t even be used for storage until compliance. 

Shane said he “begged for compassion since we are in the middle of pandemic and had just opened!”

“They threw the book at me and told me to get everything out. We did that and now are in compliance.” Shane signed a contract to get sprinklers put in the upgraded back building, which can’t be used until sprinklers are installed and signed off on.

The fire department returned and Shane showed them the signed contract to have the sprinklers installed.

Did Shane make similar missteps when painting the Brownie Apartments that he recently purchased next door to The Well white, as well as painting the roof black?

Perhaps. Summerland BAR has not heard from him.

“It can take months! I would rather ask for forgiveness. It’s white paint,” said Shane, 

When asked about his plans for the former Brownie Apartments, and two houses next door, he said he was planning for a mix of retail and VRBO, and was trying to get one unit ready by Thanksgiving. When asked what was going to happen to displaced tenants, Brown said he didn’t know.

“Bureaucracy in Summerland is very tough,” he said. “Overall, we have had a good experience. We’re loving it. All of the employees are happy – we’re happy – overall, it’s been a great experience opening in Summerland. But it’s challenging for a small business, having County people all over you constantly.”

He’s not alone: the former Mediterranee space, now a small house down the street, has also been painted white. I have no idea what’s in store for that location.

Even a simple white paint job can run afoul of County mandates, such as the former Mediterranee space

The Powers That Be

Summerland Board of Architectural Review board member Jeff O’Neill noted that a flurry of complaints had been coming in about the repainting of existing buildings. 

“We should have been consulted. Any changes to a building have to get approved,” he said, “That includes paint colors, design, and development including remodels, anything that requires a permit from the County. Generally, when someone applies to the County for a permit – the County gives them contact info for Summerland BAR.” The board then meets “as necessary.”

Other BAR board members include Gary Blubel,a retired civil engineer; Richard Johnson, AIA architect who has been on the committee more than 25 years; Jim McClintock, AIA architect; Larry Ramstrum of Ramstrum Construction; and O’Neill, a self-proclaimed “quasi real estate developer.”

“Some things don’t need permission,” O’Neill told me. “Residences in the urban area (in town) don’t need permission for paint colors, as a general rule. They can change the color of a house at their will,” he said. Rural areas need to stick to natural earth tones and colors that blend into the surroundings. 

“No bright whites in nature,” O’Neill noted. Commercial building paint colors? 

“To change, you do need permission,” O’Neill said. “There are no specific guidelines, but buildings can be repainted as it was. Sprinklers are certainly required on commercial.”

O’Neill said he doubted that Porch would have been given permission to go white, but approved it just the same, after the fact. 

“We took a lot of time on that building both with the County and our board,” he recalled.

 “It’s so complicated anymore you need experts to give you advice before you jump. Ignorance of the codes is not an excuse,” O’Neill concluded.

Going, Going, Gone?

Pat and Ursula Nesbitt’s mansion, designed with Thomas Jefferson’s Palladian-style Monticello in mind, was scheduled for the auction block last week. Despite a field of qualified bidders, the auction house informed me that “the sellers have exercised their right to cancel the auction and the property is still available for offers.” Rumor has it, Nesbitt will buy a remaining lot on his Montecito Estates on the knoll and build a new home there if and when he sells the polo property. Seven lots there are mostly built out.

Many Blessings

Gobble, gobble… it’s time to give thanks and focus on our blessings, even though many of us are understandably sad not to be sharing Thanksgiving dinner with family or friends living outside of our own home this year. 

As some experts warn: it’s better to be safe than sorry, because if you have a large Thanksgiving gathering this year you could risk attending a small funeral in December!

For me, I’m thankful for the encouraging news that there are apparently effective vaccines on the horizon. Stay safe and be grateful for the things you can celebrate – even if it’s a virtual gathering or greetings over Zoom! 

Many blessings to you all, dear readers.


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