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Read more about the recovery from the October wildfires in the North Bay: nbbj.news/recovery

This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com.

Sandy Steele doesn’t play golf, but before she lost her Wikiup Drive home in the October wildfires she relished the peaceful routine of walking her Labrador retrievers along the former Wikiup Golf Course.

Now in a rental with her husband about a mile from their homesite, she still visits her old street frequently and plans to rebuild. Just the other day, she was delighted to watch a mama fox chase a deer near the old fairways.

Alongside many other Larkfield-Wikiup residents, Steele, 75, hopes the former Wikiup Golf Course retains its country-style feel.

The future of the 31-acre property is now the topic of widespread discussion in the neighborhood after the family that owns the Kendall-Jackson wine empire revealed they purchased the golf course in 2015. And they’ve asked for community input on what the property should become.

Katie Jackson, vice president for sustainability and external affairs at Jackson Family Wines, hosted a June 14 meeting at San Miguel Elementary for area residents to give feedback on how the property — renamed Wikiup Commons — should be developed. About 150 area residents expressed their hopes, thoughts and concerns for the future of the former golf course, including the possibility of new housing to help replace some of the thousands of homes that burned down in the October wildfires.

WBR LLC, a limited liability company wholly owned by the Banke-Jackson family, acquired the property because its zoning provided a wide range of potential development options.

“We were interested in this property because it’s such a beautiful property and it also had K zoning, which is very rare in Sonoma County. But we didn’t know what we might want to do with it,” Katie Jackson told the crowd at the meeting. “Obviously, a lot has changed since 2015, and the needs of the community have changed quite a bit. We think we can meet some of those needs on this property.”

K zoning in Sonoma County consists of commercial and recreational designations, such as hotels, motels, schools, churches, parks, libraries, agriculture, restaurants, parking lots, residential community care facilities and more.

Tony Korman, who was the director of real estate for Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates from 1996 to 2002 and now leads WBR and Korman Development, said during the meeting that K zoning might not be the best use of the property. During the open mic session that took up the bulk of the meeting, Larkfield-Wikiup and Mark West residents nearly unanimously agreed.

“You’re really open to whatever we’re saying?” one woman holding the microphone asked Jackson and Korman. Her question garnered applause from the crowd.

The answer was a resounding yes from Jackson and Korman.

“We really haven’t come up with a plan,” Jackson said later in the meeting.

While some expressed hopes for an open space for wildlife to roam, others expressed anxiety over the desperate need for housing in Sonoma County.

But there wasn’t an agreement over the type of housing that should be built. Many spoke against high-density housing, while others said they wanted their grown kids to be able to afford to live near them.

When Steele took the mic, she proposed a community center where some of the 9,000 Larkfield-Wikiup residents, along with Mark West residents, could gather.

Read more about the recovery from the October wildfires in the North Bay: nbbj.news/recovery

This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com.

People have gotten closer since the October wildfires, she said, and a place to congregate might be a good idea. The community meeting was held at an elementary school. Why not have a designated place for these types of gatherings?

The night of the fire, it was her neighbor, Tim Delaney, who helped a great deal when he opened her garage. She was one of the last people on her street to leave, and with the power out, she was unable to open the garage to evacuate by car.

It made her appreciate neighbors more than ever, she said.

Other suggestions that came up during the meeting included a trail along Mark West Creek, a community garden, a park, pedestrian walkways, quality water supply, maximum tranquility and better exits in case of an emergency.

There was bumper-to-bumper traffic getting out of the neighborhood the night of the fire, down Wikiup Drive and on Old Redwood Highway, Steele said.

Korman said he would take all of the comments expressed at the meeting and on an online survey at wikiupcommons.com to come up with a few schematic plans. He will present the plans at a July 11 meeting and once again seek community feedback.

“This is a very open and public process,” Korman said.

Architects and engineers will design some concepts that will likely take into account housing, a Mark West Creek trail, and a park or open space of some sort, Korman said.

“I didn’t hear commercial use suggested in the slightest,” Korman said in an interview Tuesday.

Larkfield resident Brad Sherwood noted it was rare for a developer to have an open dialogue with neighbors. He hopes this will be a catalyst for good changes, like safe passage for his kids to get to school and more affordable housing.

“I hope in a month they come back with evidence that they listened to the community,” Sherwood said.

The Banke-Jackson family said they did not initially reveal they were the buyers because they had not made any decisions about the future of the site and was not prepared to discuss them.

“After the fires, the family became more focused on the site and exploring its potential to revitalize the Larkfield-Wikiup-Mark West community,” the project’s website states.

There is no specific timeline for developing the property, but the family wants to make decisions “relatively soon,” the website states.

“There are a lot of needs in this community postfire. We would like to help address some of those needs at this site. So, timing is more important now than it was a year ago,” it states.

You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216.