For Costa Mesa mom Alison Burchette, Camp Lila is a neighborhood gem, a place where kids ages 3 to 8 can play and take part in a series of art classes that introduce toddlers to painting, to music and the basics of yoga.
Her daughter attended classes there and her 4-year-old son attends daytime classes. Every time he goes there, she says, his face lights up.
“It’s magic in a bottle,” Burchette said of the space, which opened in June on Cabrillo Street in Costa Mesa. “It’s not only a beautiful mission, but it’s beautiful for the neighborhood.”
Operating from a rented house-like structure east of Newport Boulevard, in a part of town where residential and commercial uses seem to blend, Camp Lila offers classes in four-hour blocks in the mornings and weekday afternoons.
Some attend on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while others go on Tuesdays and Thursdays, owner Katheryn Sherouse explained during a March 25 tour of the facility, showing an art studio with tiny chairs and easels, a meditation room, and an outdoor yoga space with neatly lined mats in rows.
“It’s my dream – I just want to teach the kids art,” the Costa Mesa resident said. “My families love and adore me, my teachers and my program.”
But behind this bucolic scene, a battle is brewing over the use and zoning of the property and whether Camp Lila complies with Costa Mesa municipal code or operates as an illegal daycare center without the proper city and state permits. .
The fact that several cannabis companies are considering nearby sites for legal dispensaries in applications filed with the city further complicates the picture.
Regulations passed by Costa Mesa state that dispensaries cannot operate within 1,000 feet of day care centers, K-12 schools, and other “sensitive uses.”
They also cannot open within 600 feet of a “youth center,” which the state broadly defines as any facility that hosts recreational or social activities for children, but that the Costa City Council Mesa restricted to exclude dance and martial arts studios, tutoring centers and the like. companies.
Currently, nine pending applications for cannabis dispensaries are within two-tenths of a mile, or about 1,000 feet, of Camp Lila, according to a list maintained by the city. Two are within 300 feet.
In this context, defining exactly what kind of business Camp Lila is — and whether it can stay open — could be crucial in approving or denying dispensary permits.
Sherouse keeps a random record of communications with the city and with the California Department of Social Services, both of which maintain that Camp Lila is an illegal daycare center. She says she hasn’t changed the nature or timing of classes since opening, despite alleged conflicting advice from city employees on site zoning and permitted uses.
She claims that, acting on the recommendation of a city staff member who said the site was zoned for residential use, she applied for a home day care license through the state in May and was approved three months later. When another city employee later insisted the property was commercial, she attempted to revoke or revoke the license on December 30, apparently to no avail.
“Tell me what to do, and I will respond to any request you make of me,” she urged officials.
Although city officials declined an interview, City Atty. Kimberly Hall Barlow confirmed in an email response to a public request for information that a complaint was received Aug. 11 from a nearby business alleging Camp Lila was an illegal daycare.
Since then, code enforcement officers have visited 10 times and issued three violation notices. Eight citations were sent to Sherouse and the property owner, Barlow wrote.
On March 11, a team of uniformed police officers arrived at the property with children inside to conduct a court-ordered inspection of the property. Two weeks later, relatives, friends and neighbors held a rally to show their support for the company.
Barlow confirmed that the Community Care Licensing Division of the Department of Health and Human Services opened an investigation into Camp Lila on October 15 and sent representatives to the site on multiple occasions, resulting in additional fines.
The Costa Mesa zoning map indicates that 175 Cabrillo St., Camp Lila’s address, is designated commercial land for “neighborhood commercial” uses, including administrative, professional, and local businesses. On the same block, some structures bear commercial signs, while others appear to be residential.
Dispensaries can legally operate on commercial properties outside of sensitive use buffer zones. In a March 25 statement, city officials emphasized that the complaint against Camp Lila did not come from “anyone from or related to the cannabis industry.”
But at least one neighbor says that after years of people operating home-based businesses without incident, the city has recently begun mandating commercial-only uses.
Ryan Abbey owns OC Spas and Hot Tubs, a neighboring business to Camp Lila. He bought the property in 1999 and later sold it, remaining a tenant. In 2012 he opened the business while living there and had no problems until a few months ago.
“The city came and wanted to come through the house, so we let them. Now there is something (wrong) with the fence,” said Abbey, who recently changed residence to be safe. “We moved because it was getting too crazy with the city.”
Its owner is now considering bringing in a cannabis tenant, which means he will have to move the established business.
“The architect has been here before,” Abbey added. “He has all his plans in place.”
Meanwhile, Sherouse, who estimates she is fined $200 every day she stays open, has filed claims for damages against Costa Mesa and Social Services. A lawyer working on his case said Friday his office is ready to sue for restraining orders against the agencies.
An administrative hearing on Camp Lila is scheduled for Tuesday, at which time Sherouse says she will make her case to the city’s director of development services.
“I just want to fix it and be able to stop being bullied,” she said.
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