Blue Waters Kayaking shuts down Marshall operation

12/08/2016

A once bustling business on the East Shore has packed it in: John Granatir, owner of Blue Waters Kayaking, decided not to renew a lease for his Marshall location after a report conducted a year ago by his landlords called into question the property’s permitting. The business will continue to operate out of its site in Inverness.

The report, in the form of a request to the county for more information, suggests three functions on the four-acre property owned by Vilicich Family Enterprises—the kayak company, the Marshall Store and some storage containers—are either unpermitted or not in full compliance with permits. The report said it did not appear that there was a permit for Blue Waters, which filed a pre-application for one in 1994. 

“I didn’t follow up on the pre-application because I wasn’t asked by the owners or anyone else to get a use permit,” Mr. Granatir said.

County planner Jeremy Tejirian said he plans to respond soon to the Vilicich family with permitting information about the property, which also houses Fisher-Smith Boatworks anmd the post office.

Blue Waters has enjoyed booming business on the East Shore: last year 4,300 people set off to explore the bay from Marshall in rented kayaks or take kayak tours with one of 35 seasonal guides. Mr. Granatir said the business served 12,500 total kayakers last year 

But the business’s lease was up for renewal on Nov. 30, and Mr. Granatir said he decided to resign because of the permitting issues. “I won’t fight it,” he said. “Technically speaking, I quit.” 

He and his business partner and wife, Pamalah MacNeily, said the loss of the site will cut one-third of their services. “It’s going to be drastic,” she said. 

Four Vilicich family members declined to be interviewed or did not respond to calls and emails.

Blues Waters will continue to launch kayaks out of Nick’s Cove and the Miller Park boat ramp north of Marshall, but to compensate for the loss they have begun to look outside Tomales Bay. They’ve offerred services out of Lake Sonoma since 2015, and are looking into doing the same at the Redwood City marina. Mr. Granatir said he had talked with the family about moving the operation to the southern part of the property, but called the outlook far from buoyant. “I submitted a business plan [to the landowners] for the south end this last week. I’m hopeful, but I wouldn’t say I’m optimistic,” he said with a laugh.

On Nov. 27, Blue Waters Kayaking hosted a farewell party that pulled in over 40 attendees to commemorate the site’s legacy. “Somebody said, ‘You got 23 years out of this,’ and that’s a nice way to look at it,” Ms. MacNeily said.

Last year, the Vilicich family hired Marshall architect Ronald Casassa to file a pre-application review to the Community Development Agency to assess the property’s permitting history. According to the preapproved minutes from the East Shore Planning Group meeting last month, Dave Kenyon, the family’s attorney and real estate broker, said the family intends to put the property on the market. (The property is zoned for a mixture of residential and commercial uses; for large dwellings and businesses that accommodate over 40 patrons at a time, the county requires a use permit.)

The pre-application noted three spots on the property that require new permitting. Behind the post office are 14 portable cargo containers that hold items that are not building materials, but the zoning only allows storage for building materials. The Marshall Store is currently permitted as a grocery store, according to the pre-application, and Mr. Tejirian, the county planner, said the seating along the highway is “more than normally allowed.” The store’s owner, Shannon Gregory, said the business is currently “getting everything straightened out to be in compliance.”