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