Planners go back to the future ... again

The Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission took a giant leap into the future Tuesday, stepping in the Wayback Machine for solutions to some ancient issues.

Under the macroscope, as it were, was how Mammoth is to deal with its sign ordinances (specifically banners); how it deals with special events; and how it is to manage outdoor sales (specifically tent sales).

If it seemed like the commission was plowing old ground, it was.

But with a zoning code update scheduled for early next year, the old issues resurfaced in a 9 a.m. workshop with business owners.

The meeting offered the business leaders an opportunity to give their overarching visions of what Mammoth should look like and feel like.

It did not go well.

“People view us as a junk show,” asserted Steve Klassen, the owner of Wave Rave snowboard shop. “You have to concentrate on the aesthetic beauty we have, and people are making willful decisions to go against that.”

Klassen’s remarks were offered toward the commission, but he clearly had Mammoth Outdoor Sports owner Phillip Hertzog, sitting next to him, in his crosshairs.

Hertzog, who last week won approval from the commission to produce a December event called “The Old Mammoth Road Jam” in the Sierra Center Mall parking lot next to his store, ran afoul of the commission and other business owners last summer with repeated violations of the town’s regulations on banner signage and tent sales.

Hertzog was unapologetic in his presentation, asserting that tent sales and special events were core components of where Mammoth’s strengths lay—the middle-income families who come to Mammoth from Southern California.

It didn’t end there, though.

With the discussion devolving into business model sniping, it took repeated requests by the three members of the five-person commission (Mickey Brown and Rhonda Dugan were absent) to keep the discussion above board.

It was not just a Klassen-Hertzog showdown, either. Paul Rudder, owner of the Sierra Center Mall on Old Mammoth Road and the Outlet Mall on Main Street, weighed in, as did Footloose owner Tony Colosardo and John’s Pizza Works owner John Mueller.

The issues involved were almost a carbon copy of those that the Mammoth planners faced when they produced the town’s General Plan, and then again in framing its sign ordinance and its neighborhood district zoning ordinances.

And, just as in the olden days, comparisons with other resort towns came fast and furious.

Commissioner Elizabeth Tenney, decrying Mammoth’s infamous shortage of amenities, recalled Ski Area CEO Rusty Gregory’s remarks last week that whenever he goes to Northstar-at-Tahoe, he gets “facilities envy.”

Klassen, a world-class athlete who dominated all-mountain snowboarding in Switzerland, compared Mammoth to places such as Verbier, as well as European resorts in France, such as Chamonix.

But such is Mammoth’s peculiar layout, with two main commercial, zones, neither of them particularly pedestrian friendly, loosely connected to The Village and all of them only loosely connected to the ski area’s Main Lodge, comparisons are hard to come by.

So it was then, back in the General Plan days and in the days before that.

“We’re never going to be Vail,” sighed Mueller, “unless we have a fire and everything burns down.”