When retired Colorado software company founder Ed McVaney bought a bayfront house in Coronado in 2010, he didn’t like the look of the front yard – a patch of green with a frontage road running through it that ends with a left hook to a narrow driveway out to 1st Avenue. The frontage road runs parallel to 1st Avenue in the Bay View Estates area that fronts the San Diego Bay.
In 2014, McVaney’s construction crew tore out the west end of the frontage road and driveway, and planted green instead. That was the beginning of a five-year court battle with neighbors over the removal of the access road and driveway long in use by residents – with the city of Coronado playing the wild card. By 2016, the courts ordered McVaney to restore the driveway, but the city of Coronado refused to allow it because the precise spot where it had been is not wide enough for the 20-foot width the city now requires.
McVaney returned to court with the city’s decision in hand, and was ordered to get the tree – a lemon gum eucalyptus – cut down to make room for the restored driveway. On Jan. 10, he got permission to do that, despite several neighbors fighting to keep the tree.
The tree was found to be in good health, according to an arborist assessment, with observations that it had contorted itself to grow around the power lines. It has “a squatty structure in response to maintaining standard clearance for the utility lines above it…….On the southeast side of the tree, there was a branch that was in contact with a lower utility line. It appeared to have started growing around the line itself,” the arborist report notes.
But the work to obey the court order and recreate the driveway is likely to damage its roots and its health, the report notes. That would lead to removal.
Five neighbors showed up to oppose the tree removal, but declined to answer questions or identify themselves. They seemed angry that McVaney got permission to remove the tree – something he doesn’t seem to want to do either.
Contacted by phone, McVaney said his lawyer advised him not to talk to reporters about this – and the 2014 lawsuit still under way.
When McVaney and his wife bought the house via their TPL trust, the west end of frontage road ended on McVaney’s property with a left turn to the 13-foot-wide driveway. The McVaney house is at the end of the frontage road; the next house north of McVaney’s has a bigger front lawn that extends all the way to 1st. Houses along this stretch of 1st are valued at between $6 million and $14 million, according to 2018 sales figures.
In 2014, McVaney hired a crew to tear out the frontage road and the exit driveway, and turn them into a grassy yard, thinking most people would prefer a bigger patch of grass.
But neighbors who rely on the frontage road that starts a dozen or so houses south with a total of four driveway-style entrances did not like the modification – particularly because they were used to exiting the frontage road without backing up or turning around; as were emergency responders, they said.
They worried about ambulances and fire trucks not being able to get off the frontage road except by backing up. And they disliked the loss of parking for themselves, family, friends and the people who work in the houses and the inconvenience of a dead end frontage road.
So in 2014, nearby neighbor Harry DeNardi sued McVaney, arguing that the frontage road belonged to all the neighbors who used it, and if it wasn’t documented, then years of unrestricted use made it legally a frontage road and driveway.
But it was documented, in developer-written deed restrictions from 1949 to 2010, that the first 50 feet north (toward the bay) from 1st Avenue – including McVaney’s property – serve as an easement for the road and utilities, according to court records. (Until the end of WWII, the frontage road ran past military barracks that were home to the Navy’s WAVES.) The easement disappeared in 2010, when the previous owners signed it over to McVaney’s trust.
And, recognizing that, Superior Court Judge Richard Strauss ordered McVaney to restore the driveway.
McVaney appealed Strauss’s ruling to the appellate court where the judgement was upheld in April 2017, and on to the state supreme court, which declined to hear the appeal.
By then, McVaney had taken the matter to the city and was told that the old 152-inch wide driveway no longer meets Coronado road construction standards requiring a 20-foot width; either the power pole or the lemon gum had to go.
Two neighbors wrote to the city’s Tree Committee asking that the tree be saved – neither proposing a solution to the court-ordered restoration.
Meanwhile, DeNardi’s lawsuit lumbers forward. McVaney challenged Judge Strauss successfully and got a different judge, and the matter is scheduled to go to trial in February. This time, the game has changed in that DeNardi has added McVaney and his wife, Carole to the lawsuit, which was filed against the trust. The legal concept of nuisance has also been added, which can make the McVaneys, as well as the trust liable for fines, court records indicate.