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Fairgate parking lot is official

Joseph Tucciarone has been granted a variance for temporary use
By: Bridget Jones Journal staff writer
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City Council voted Monday night to allow a private commercial parking lot next to Gold Country Fairgrounds to continue business, despite objections made by fairground officials. City Council granted an appeal by Joseph Tucciarone for a variance to city parking lot code in a four to one vote. Joseph Tucciarone, who owns a carwash and vacant lot on Fairgate Street, had been charging drivers to park in his lot next to the fairgrounds parking lot. However, his parking facility was not up to city code, which requires parking lots to be paved and landscaped. Tucciarone was allowed to obtain a temporary business license, and his request for a code variance went before the Planning Commission on March 16. The Planning Commission denied the variance, and Tucciarone appealed the decision to the City Council. Tucciarone told the council that he was only trying to make lemonade out of lemons when people started parking on his lot without realizing it was private property, mostly when events such as the Auburn Home Show and the Mountain Mandarin Festival were taking place at the fairgrounds. “I’m only looking at about four events per year,” Tucciarone said. “Really there are four events that overtake me. The carwash is my business. I’m just trying to manage when I become overwhelmed.” Tucciarone said his profits from the parking lot are donated to Meadow Vista Friendly Neighbors Club. The funds provide a great deal of needed support, said Chris Crunk, president of the charity. “Each year Joseph has raised about $1,000 through parking fees for the Meadow Vista Friendly Neighbors Club. We depend on the generosity of people like Joseph … for financial donations to support our programs and assist those in need throughout the year,” Crunk said. Greg Hegwer, Gold Country Fair chief executive officer, said the fairgrounds run on a budget of $1 million, and Tucciarone’s lot is taking away much-needed revenue gained through parking. “Less than 10 percent of our operating revenue comes from the state of California,” Hegwer said. “The remainder 90 percent of the revenues at the fairgrounds is generated by the fairgrounds itself.” Hegwer said although he made attempts to work with Tucciarone, Tucciarone refused. “We’re not the big, bad state agency that I think is being thrown out there,” Hegwer said. Hegwer also said 77 not-for-profit organizations are allowed to use the fairgrounds; 21 of those are not charged to use the property. The fairgrounds is also used as an auxiliary area during other events such as Fourth of July celebrations and during emergencies such as the Highway 49 Fire, making funds at the fairgrounds even tighter. “We’re hurting,” he said. Hegwer said he would like to maintain revenue by working with Tucciarone to make the vacant lot overflow parking for the fairgrounds. Councilman Dr. Bill Kirby said revenue should not be an issue in the decision of the council. “This is not a two-party issue,” Kirby said. “This is an issue about one person and his property rights. This is a matter of this man’s right to use his property within guidelines appropriate to the city.” Councilman Mike Holmes, who voted against the variance, said his main concern is that the City Council has had the power in the past to approve variances that create problems later. He also said he doesn’t like how this business has conducted itself in the past. “I have seen people out there on fair days who have flags, and they’re trying to encourage people to come into that temporary parking area,” Holmes said. “I’m inclined at this particular point to deny this appeal and hope these two parties can work together.” Although Tucciarone has been granted the variance, he will still have to make several improvements to the property, including replacing the driveway and creating a safety barrier around the property. He will also have to apply for a temporary business license each time he wants to use the lot for profit. Tucciarone said he was happy with the council’s decision. “It was great,” he said. “It was about private property rights. I’m glad the council felt that way and spoke about it.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com