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Resident ordered to change remodel

Nevada City’s planning processes was the centerpiece of a contentious debate Wednesday night that was resolved when a property owner agreed to remove parts of an art studio she is building.

On Thursday, Ruth Bleau was coming to terms with a City Council decision concerning her project on Nevada Street in Nevada City.

“I’m pleased with the outcome,” she said. “I’m glad it’s all over.”



But Bleau could not conceal her frustrations, which, at times on Wednesday night, came gushing out in torrents when she challenged Nevada City’s architectural review procedures.

“Yea, I screwed up. I admitted that,” she said Thursday. “But the fact that you have to go to the city for every single change you make and they go at such a slow pace, it makes your product too expensive. It’s not the norm in other places.”




Bleau’s complaints about Nevada City are not unique. The city has a reputation for paying close attention to the building plans it approves and then holding applicant’s accountable. In some cases, the Planning Commission will review a project several times as conditions change.

“Some people want the benefits of owning property in Nevada City, but they don’t want to follow all the rules,” Vice Mayor Barbara Coffman said Thursday. “This is all about choices. You know your house will be worth more here than if it is in the county.”

Bleau’s problems began last year when the city became aware that an art studio she was building and a home she was remodeling were not conforming with city-approved plans. In March of that year, she received a stop-work order from county inspectors.

However, she pushed on with the project and, according to her attorney, Ron Harper, only made minor changes to the home and studio that is typical in construction projects.

The Planning Commission decided to approve the after-the-fact permit for the remodeling project and the removal of trees. But it ordered changes to the art studio, which Bleau appealed on Wednesday.

City officials disagreed the studio changes were minor.

“We’re here because you didn’t follow the rules,” Coffman said. “We have rules, we have procedures to follow and you chose not to come back when there were problems.”

Bleau, who lives in Grass Valley, was asking the council to approve an “After-the-fact Architectural Review Application,” meaning she wanted changes approved after the project was completed.

Previously, the Planning Commission voted 3-2 to approve the application as long as the studio’s dormer and loft were removed, the roof’s angle changed, the gable roof was returned to its original orientation and the owner agreed to stipulate that it would not be used as a second unit.

Bleau’s attorney told the council the conditions imposed “are tantamount to a tear down and rebuild of the structure. It’s simply cost prohibitive to do this.”

Bleau, who at times pleaded and then lashed out at city officials, said she never intended to deceive the city. Rather, she approached this project like others she had in different communities where changes were routine and expected by officials.

“Honest to God, I did not try to deceive anybody or make you guys mad,” Bleau said on Wednesday night. “You have to be pretty damn stupid to do that, and I’m not stupid.”

Bleau offered to purchase playground equipment for the city rather than remove and replace the roof on her art studio. But City Attorney Jim Anderson said the city could not accept that offer.

“Yes, I screwed up. But to remedy this by making me tear off the roof doesn’t make sense,” she told the council at one point. “It’s not going to teach me anything. It will just make me bitter.”

At the end of the nearly two-hour debate, Bleau offered to comply with all but one of the conditions.

The council then voted 3-1 to let her keep the gable roof in its current location as long as she complied with the other conditions. David McKay voted “no” without comment.

City Planner Cindy Siegfried said the city is streamlining the planning process. The city now assigns liaisons who work with builders to make minor changes without going to the Planning Commission and staff is authorized to approve certain changes as well.

But Nevada City is going to continue to work to “preserve its uniqueness,” she said.

“A lot of folks laugh about Nevada City,” Siegfried said Thursday. “But when folks visit Nevada County where do they bring their friends and family? They come to Nevada City because of its ambiance, its architecture and its history.”

To contact Staff Writer Pat Butler, e-mail pbutler@theunion.com or call 477-4239.


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