By David Armstrong

The Carmel-by-the-Sea Forest and Beach Commission voted unanimously to reject the removal of any trees – let alone 13 trees – for a large building project proposed by developer Thomas Fountain on the north side of Eighth Avenue between Mission and Junipero streets. The vote was 3-0, at the commission’s May 10, 2018 public meeting, with one commissioner absent.

The victory for critics of the plan is partial and possibly temporary, as the proposal will now return to the planning commission. After that, Fountain’s proposal to build two new condominiums atop a four-car garage and use more than 1,000 square feet of public right-of-way land, build a sidewalk that critics say is unneeded and cut down 13 trees to make room for it all, will go before the city council.

Even so, Thursday’s unanimous vote was heartening to critics of the big project – which includes the Carmel Residents Association Board of Directors. Seven CBTS residents spoke out against the idea, as did the CRA’s attorney, Pamela Silkwood. Two of Fountain’s hires, attorney Anthony Lombardo and architect Eric Miller, spoke for it.

Lombardo characterized the sidewalk, to be built at Fountain’s expense – ostensibly so schoolchildren could use it instead of going across the street to a traditional graded dirt pathway – as “a gift to the public.” The steep, tree-shaded block is the last downtown block not to have a paved sidewalk.

The commissioners thought that was fine.

Said commissioner Al Saroyan, “To my mind, that block is what Carmel is all about. To put in a sidewalk would be a travesty. What we have here is something we want to preserve.”

After viewing an architect’s rendering depicting healthy, mature, replacement trees, commissioner Michael Caddell chimed in: “It will take a long time before the trees look like that. And, even if it eventually does, it won’t look like Carmel. It will look more manicured. No question there is a path that people use regularly. For the safety of the children, move the bus stop [from the northeast corner of Junipero and Eighth] so that it is on the same side of the street as the path.”

Commission chair David Refuerzo concurred. “They have not demonstrated that we need a sidewalk on that side of the street,” he said. “The sidewalk on the south side can be changed.”

Pamela Silkwood ticked off a list of what she characterized as code and policy violations for the project as a whole and called the ‘gifting’ of public land for private use illegal under California’s constitution.

CRA President Barbara Livingston and board members Ken White, Georgina Armstrong and Lauren Banner joined residents such as Mike Brown and John Thompson in passionately opposing the project. Their eloquence, at least for now, brought the project up short.