Almost everyone agrees that trailers and recreational vehicles have been coming to the Lawson’s Landing campground in Dillon Beach, Calif., since the 1920s.
It’s the question of exactly where those trailers were parked – and when – that has divided the park’s owners, county officials and environmental groups, and prevented the Marin County Planning Commission from reaching a conclusion on the 940-acre campground’s master plan, according to the Marin Independent Journal, San Rafael.
“The question for me is what existed prior to any zoning changes or use permits,” Commissioner Don Dickenson said Thursday (Aug. 28). “Is there evidence that a trailer park existed there before 1940?”
About 65 people – including dozens of Lawson’s Landing campers and residents – packed the commission chambers Thursday for the latest chapter in the park’s effort to obtain a permit for construction of new water and septic facilities.
Owners Michael Lawson and Carl Vogler have offered to change the size and structure of the campground, scaling back the number of campsites from 1,000 to 600 and turning the 20 lots occupied by “permanent trailers” into short-term spaces for recreational vehicles. That change is key, since the campground is zoned as a resort, not a residential area.
Yet county officials and environmental groups want Lawson’s to go further, removing campers from the area’s wetlands and the 100-foot buffer zone that surrounds them under a 1981 county law.
“We need to protect the area from any development or use within the wetlands or within the buffer,” said Barbara Salzman, president of the Marin Audubon Society. “We need to protect the dunes, and we need strong protection for the snowy plover.”
Other organizations, such as Audubon Canyon Ranch and the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, suggested the campground allow “conservation easements” that would enable an outside entity to manage the natural resources on its property. In addition, the state Coastal Commission aims to restrict camping on oceanfront land.
“People come here because they want to camp at the mouth of Tomales Bay,” owner Michael Lawson said. “If you require more and allow less to such a degree that we have to raise our prices, the public is not going to want to spend its time at Lawson’s Landing, and we’re going to have to close.”
Park owners say trailers and other campers have occupied those restricted areas since before the county passed its first zoning laws in 1934 – and long before the California Coastal Act of 1976. But county officials say that assertion may be difficult to prove. A map of the park created by owners for a 1977 permit application, for example, shows no evidence of trailers in several disputed areas.
Many of the longtime campers at Lawson’s Landing – including several whose families had visited the campground over several generations – pleaded with commissioners to preserve one of the state’s last inexpensive coastal campgrounds.
“We’re all concerned with wetlands, but you’re applying this buffer concept retroactively,” said longtime camper Terry Brodsky. “Where will people go to camp? Everyone should watch a sunset from a sand dune once in their lifetime.”
The commission is expected to again discuss the plan on Sept. 8. The commission has until Sept. 14 to make a final recommendation to county supervisors, who are scheduled to review the matter Sept. 30.