A family that owns a 400-acre property along the coast near Harmony filed a lawsuit Friday against the Coastal Commission as part of its dispute over a public access easement to the ocean on their property.
But Coastal Commission representatives say that their denial in August of a proposed removal of the easement — a one-mile stretch of road on a bluff-top property — is consistent with local and state coastal law regarding public recreational access to the coast.
The property, located just off Highway 1 near the Harmony Headlands State Park entrance, is owned through a family trust by three sisters — Denise McLaughlin, Sharyn Schrick and Sandra Bowman.
The sisters say their renovations of an old barn and home on the property have no impact on the coast and they shouldn’t have to follow the easement’s restrictions when it comes to their project.
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“We have had this property for years, and we haven’t been able to sleep one night in the home because of the condition it’s in,” McLaughlin said. “We don’t think we should be required to have this easement imposed because we just want to renovate what’s already here.”
The sisters also claim public access will push cattle away from the bluff top. A rancher, Pat Molnar, grazes cattle on property he leases from the family.
But a Coastal Commission staff report states the property’s easement was already in place due to an existing Coastal Development Permit application submitted by the family in March 2004.
And the local Sierra Club director, Andrew Christie, said that removing that requirement in the initial permit will be a step backwards for public access.
“This meets the definition of the Local Coastal Plan and Coastal Act in that new development must provide coastal access,” said Christie, who heads the organization’s Santa Lucia chapter. “We’re very pleased the Coastal Commission reaffirmed what the plan says.”
The sisters’ initial construction application was for a new porch and bath area and utilities, as well as a new septic tank.
A subsequent application in December 2004 sought to construct a new 4,576-square-foot barn and remove the easement on the property.
The county Board of Supervisors’ decision to remove the easement requirement in 2006 led to the appeal to the Coastal Commission by the Sierra Club and others. The Commission favored those appealing.
The family is being represented by Sacramento-based lawyer Paul Beard from the nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation, which aims to limit government infringements and strengthen property rights.
Coastal Commission lawyer Chris Pederson said he would not comment on the issue because the agency hadn’t yet been served with the lawsuit.