Residential, spa project remains  in court  nearly a year after city approval

HEALDSBURG – Eleven Planning Commission meetings, 15 City Council hearings and one court appearance, and the Saggio Hills story continues.

Saggio Hills – a resort project with 33 bungalows and 130 total guest rooms, 70 for-sale luxury homes, a spa and health club, at least two swimming pools, conference and wedding facilities, a restaurant and other amenities – has been hotly contested.

The original expectation was that the groundbreaking would have taken place in 2008.

But 11 months after final approval by the City Council in late 2008 the project faces more delays as it awaits the result of a court challenge.

“We bought this property Aug. 5, 2005,” said Tony Korman, the developer. “We went before City Council around four to five months after we bought the land and laid out the deal structure and deal points about what the city would get. We got approval by the city almost a year ago, and now it will be 11 or 12 months before we get a decision.”

Rick Tooker, planning and building director for the city of Healdsburg, noted that the application was formally filed with the city in February 2006, but that "they had been working with the city for quite some time before that.”

He said the developer's first contact with the city was in 2005 when they purchased the property from the former owner and began assembling the new project.

According to Mr. Korman, that was when they started calculating the details of what the city would get out of the deal.

While tourism revenues dramatically increased in Healdsburg in recent years, from 2000 to 2006, the city’s annual lodging tax receipts nearly tripled, reaching $1.4 million. City officials projected that Saggio Hills would become the largest tax-generating project in Healdsburg’s history. By city estimates, Saggio would generate more than $90 million over 20 years in lodging taxes alone.

In addition to a 14-acre site for affordable housing, Saggio Hills agreed to give 37 acres for a community park plus $3 million toward park construction, land for a fire substation and $1 million toward construction.  In addition, it has agreed to give $1 million for the affordable housing.

Mr. Tooker included penalties for the removal of trees or pruning of trees by homeowners for the purpose of views as well as how Parkland Farms Boulevard will connect Saggio Hills.

It was only a day after the council gave the project approval that Healdsburg Citizens for Sustainable Solutions filed a lawsuit wanting the project to be looked at again.

The lawsuit alleges that Healdsburg and the City Council didn’t address a number of environmental issues. A spokesman for the group challenging Saggio Hills did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Originally scheduled to be heard in court in July, the case against Saggio Hills was postponed due to an illness of one of the attorneys in the case. It was heard on Sept. 4, 11 months after getting approval from the city.

Judge S. Boyd listened to arguments for two hours and as of that time had three months to make a decision.

The history of Saggio Hills meetings includes:

-- In fall of 2007 there were three meetings with the Planning Commission to get the Environmental Impact Report certification, and in 2008 the City Council had three meetings on the same topic.

-- In November of 2008 there were meetings for a general plan amendment, an area plan, a subdivision map and a pre-zoning policy statement. The City Council looked at the same issues in three meetings this year.

-- For the development agreement there were three meetings with the Planning Commission, two in December and one in February of 2008; and it was discussed at nine council meetings in 2008.

-- In January, February and March of this year there have been several meetings with the Planning Commission about resort and residences design review and heritage tree permits.

-- In June and July the council addressed non-entitlement issues.