By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Bluebird Canyon Farms can continue to host events and add 17 beehives following the City Council vote Tuesday to deny an appeal from a group of neighbors.
The Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit June 19 for farm owner Scott Tenney to host up to two events per day but no more than five per week. Appellant Aaron Talarico argued the approve conditional use permit allows unprecedented land uses under the Farm’s zoning in Laguna Beach. Neighbors said the evening events create a nuisance for homeowners who sit on their decks and can hear conversations at the farm because of the canyon’s acoustics.
Dozens of residents came out to advocate for and against the farm’s conditional use permit. Most speakers were complimentary of Tenney’s work to improve his property over the years and the organic agricultural operations, but also recommended that the City Council reduce the number of allowed events and limit them to daytime hours.
“I’ve been really happy about the outpouring of goodwill,” Tenney said after the vote. “This has been a two-year process, so we’re just pleased that it’s over.”
When Tenney and his wife, Mariella Simon, bought the 13-acre property at 1085 Bluebird Canyon Road in 2010, they undertook a massive rehabilitation that included repairing erosion and removing tons of dead trees and brush. They also remodeled the structures formerly occupied by the artist collective from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Through its Growing Skills internship program, the Bluebird Canyon Farms aims to develop young people into self-sufficient, balanced adults. Tenney started helping young people after seeing how many lacked basic skills to live independently and hold down a job. He and his three full-time farmhands primarily teach young men from 18 to 26 years old and individuals with developmental disabilities.
Students learn life skills including how to change a tire, cook a meal, use a chain saw, raise crops, and build a piece of furniture. So far, 50 people have gone through the program, Tenney said.
As a resident of Crabbe Way, which sits opposite on Bluebird Canyon Road from the farm, Talarico didn’t want to see the farm-to-table dinner lecture series and other nighttime events that bring dozens of guests to the Farm at night.
Neighbors also opposed additional people driving to the canyon to attend classes in sustainable cooking, aquaculture, beekeeping, chicken husbandry, and emergency response planning. One of their big concerns was how these students would add to the line of cars evacuating Bluebird Canyon during a wildfire.
Mayor Bob Whalen proposed the council-approved event hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Tenney volunteered to not host events on Sundays.
“I think the City Council did a good job, I think the Planning Commission did a good job,” Talarico said. “I’m sure it’s not everything the applicant wants, and we certainly didn’t get everything we wanted, but I think it’s a starting point.”
Talarico added that he and his neighbors plan to stay vigilant if Tenney proposes amendments to the farm’s conditional use permit in future years.
“If he asks for more activities it will be a process to see how that plays out,” Talarico said.
Councilmember Sue Kempf said she cannot hear the farm from her home in Bluebird Canyon but agreed that the farm’s events should be limited to daytime hours.
“It creates animosity for people, and I’ve seen it happen a lot,” she said.
Another major topic of discussion was whether the farm’s monthly farm-to-table dinner lecture series that hosts 20 to 25 people per event is considered a dinner party or a restaurant.
Bluebird Canyon resident Tom Bent said he’s most concerned about the Planning Commission’s decision to allow the farm to host more than 260 events per year.
“If I wanted to live next to a restaurant, I would have moved next to Mozambique,” Bent said.
Tenney said he welcomes the Orange County Health Agency to inspect the farm’s kitchen anytime and he will show he’s not running a restaurant, adding that other Laguna Beach residents are allowed to host birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and bar mitzvahs.
“Sometimes it feels that we’re not allowed to do things that everyone else is allowed to do,” Tenney said. “We’re in the bullseye.”
Talarico pointed out that guests pay to attend dinner lecture events at the farm, and he only requests dinner party guests at his home to bring food with them.
Bluebird Canyon resident Jean Ardell said she sees the public good of being noisy and hosting parties that bring neighbors together.
“If I had moved there 30 or 40 years ago, I probably would think it’s a private canyon but it’s not,” she said. “It’s a public canyon with lots of private property in it.”
The City Council agreed to revisit its decision to allow the apiary to grow from the current 13 hives to 30 hives in September 2020.