Rubble Rousers

Rubble Rousers After decades of red-tagged fill piling up, neighbors appeal to Board of Supes.
By Sara Rubin

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Good fences aren’t always enough to stop neighbors from sparring, and taking it all the way to the county Board of Supervisors.

The Aguajito Property Owners Association joined residents Eric and Teresa Del Piero in filing a $5,040 appeal Dec. 19 that asks the supervisors to overrule the Dec. 8 approval by the county’s Minor Subdivision Committee of a lot-line adjustment.

Sounds simple enough, but in a 2009 letter to the Greater Monterey Peninsula Land Use Advisory Committee, the Property Owners Association complained about broken asphalt, garbage, rebar, chunks of concrete and pieces of broken metal they believe are illegally buried on the site. Their attorney, Tony Lombardo, describes a thick yellow ooze that froths up on the 8.9-acre property when it rains.

“Why the hell would you give someone a permit to legalize something that was illegal?” Lombardo says. He describes decades of dumping fill, pick-up load by pick-up load, designed to make the steep property flat enough to build on. “What kind of public policy statement is this: The longer you violate the law, you’re more likely to get away with it?”

But by property owner Gordon Steuck’s account, he’s fully in compliance with the law, according to his attorney Aaron Johnson of Johnson, Moncrief & Hart. And according to the county Planning Department’s recommendation to the subdivision committee, “There are currently no known violations.”

County building inspectors red-tagged Steuck for the fill in question some 20 years ago, and ordered him to haul away illegal dirt. In 2009, he was required to perform additional restoration and fill removal, leaving the code enforcement case closed.

Johnson says if the county demands full restoration to match native topography and vegetation to a tee, it would set an unreasonable precedent. “If we did that, anybody who had violated the tree ordinance in the past would have to wait 50 years [for regrowth] before they could lift a red tag. Clearly, that’s not the policy Monterey County has adopted,” he says.

But Lombardo and the Del Pieros see a more insidious precedent, arguing Steuck’s been finagling his property into two developable lots in piecemeal fashion, including the illegal grading work. Today’s lot line places his house on the only flat portion, with the rest of the property too steep for construction; the redrawn lines change that.

The two lots also both fall short of the 5.1-acre minimum required by the General Plan. But because potentially developing two flatter lots would cause less erosion than building on a steep parcel, the Planning Department recommended approval.

“‘Development that protects and enhances the county’s scenic qualities shall be encouraged.’ This is such a project,” according to planning documents quoting the General Plan.

The 5.1-acre minimum is a sticking point for County Supervisor Dave Potter. “That’s been pretty well protected over the course of time. The value of Jacks Peak has been that you have rural zoning on the doorstep of an urbanized area,” he says.

Lombardo argues it’s a development proposal in disguise, based first on illegal fill to stabilize the property for building, then the lot line adjustment. Steuck withdrew an application for two 10,000-square-foot homes on the property. “Times have changed. He has nothing on the table,” Johnson says.

“Ownership’s a right. Subdividing is a privilege,” Potter adds.

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