Owner ends lease for Point Reyes commons

11/22/2017

The West Marin Commons has less than two weeks to vacate the corner lot popularly known as Point Reyes Station’s town commons. The historically vacant property has served as a community hub since 2011, with various community groups holding fundraisers, art shows and events on its grounds. But heavy use by tourists has led to conflicts with the property owner Maggie McDonogh—who runs her family’s business, the Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry Company—over issues like trash management, noise and overcrowding.

“The challenge for the property has been—and will continue to be, regardless of its fate—a tension between the mixed uses it’s meant to serve and the intensity of all those different uses,” said Mark Switzer, who chairs the Commons. “How do community events jive with low-key, serendipitous enjoyment by locals and also with intensive flocks of bicyclists?”

Ms. McDonogh did not return calls or emails to the Light this week, or provide a reason for the 30-day notice, Mr. Switzer said. The organization has until Dec. 3 to remove the large wooden rounds, the bench dedicated to Jonathan Rowe, the bicycle racks and other fixtures that community members have contributed over the years. 

The Commons will be returning a chunk of funding to the county, which awarded the nonprofit $10,000 of its $15,000 annual budget this year.

The termination also came as a working group tasked with devising a management plan for the property was in the final stages of refining its plan, meant to address concerns expressed by both the landowner and community members. The group, which formed with guidance from Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, included nine members equally representing the Point Reyes Village Association, the West Marin Commons and local business
owners.

The working group spent the summer studying the current impacts on the property and making small adjustments to management—such as removing picnic tables to observe shifts in use, a move that generated particular outcry from locals. 

“I’m disappointed,” Melanie Stone, longtime owner of Zuma and a member of the working group, said of the decision to end the lease. “I’m disappointed we didn’t have better communication with the landlords and that they were not more forthcoming in trying to work out an agreement.”

Ms. Stone said the commons “makes our town more welcoming to travelers.” Though she commended a few local businesses for providing picnic tables, she lamented that the commons played a uniquely important role as a public resource. 

Socorro Romo, the program director for West Marin Community Services, which helps organize numerous Latino events at the commons, called the news “disappointing.” “I don’t know what will happen next. We will just have to get creative,” she said. 

Supervisor Rodoni said he personally attempted to negotiate a longer lease with the owner and her attorney. “I’m disappointed we didn’t have more notice,” he said, “but I think that the property owner did what she felt she had to do to protect their property.” He said he requested that they not put up construction tape or anything “unfriendly” that would be an eyesore for the community.

Since 2014, the property has also been home to a small farm stand owned by Point Reyes Station farmer Arron Wilder, of Table Top Farm. Mr. Wilder said he did not know yet if his access would continue, but that he was “hoping for the best.”

The West Marin Fund first obtained a lease for the lot in 2011. Three years later, the West Marin Commons, which had already been managing it, took over the lease and renewed it for another three years. 

But in 2016, the owner declined to renew a longer lease “because we did not exercise our right to renew in a timely way,” Mr. Switzer said. The group has had a month-to-month agreement ever since. 

Now, the Commons is turning its attention toward community outreach to get a sense of what residents would like to do with the property, with the hope of influencing its future. (The lot’s zoning allows for both commercial and residential uses.)

The working group will also finalize its management plan, which Mr. Switzer said could inform the design and management of the property if and when it can be acquired for community use. 

“I believe that it is suited to community use, but I’ve also been convinced that leasing a private property for public use is fraught with inherent contradictions,” he said. “All along, at every point of possible contact, we have asked the owner if she is interested in selling to the community. The answer to date has been ‘not sure, don’t know.’ That has been the dynamic.”