s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe
You've read 5 of 15 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read 10 of 15 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
Ooops! You're out of free articles. Starting at just 99 cents per month, you can keep reading all of our products and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?

Santa Rosa officials are willing to allow a homeowners association to relocate an entrance to a private park near the fairgrounds, despite some neighbors' objections that the change is meant to discourage public access.

The issue of public access has sharply divided the Linwood Owners Association, which governs a 207-unit development of newer homes south of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Divergent views of the plan expressed at a public meeting Thursday spilled over into the homeowners association meeting that evening where a shouting match erupted over the issue, according to attendees.

"It was just so ugly," said Kristen Wood, a resident who opposes the proposed new walking path near her home on Nectarine Court.

As issue is whether the homeowners association should be allowed to redesign a private park at the northern end of the subdivision in a way that limits access to the park for those outside the association and increases access for its own residents.

Senior planner Erin Morris, acting as the city's zoning administrator during a Thursday hearing at City Hall, said that while she found the change "awkward," she was inclined to approve the elimination of the path connecting the park to Linwood Avenue.

"Although I as a planner like this connection, there is a community preference that it be deleted," Morris said.

Morris stressed that while planners prefer to see more connections to create walkable communities, the city was not in a position to require the association to build the Linwood Path as originally approved in 2003.

"From the city's perspective it is, at this point, a private park," Morris said. "There is no right of public access."

That's not the way it was meant to be. When the Planning Commission approved the project, the intent was that the public would have access to the park, explained city planner Susie Murray.

Longtime Linwood Avenue resident Rick Wantuk says the park, which is right across the street from his home, was "specifically advertised and presented as public space" when the development was proposed. Now, he said, "the tables have been completely turned" and the space is being characterized as purely private property.

"We clearly remember the public meetings where the consultants and the city stood and said that this shall be a part of the common area as a concession to the existing neighborhood that would be heavily impacted by high-density housing," Wantuk said.

The easement that would be necessary to create that public access over the park was never placed over the property, Murray said. It's not clear why.

The original park plan was part of the Linwood Village community proposed by Christopherson Homes, once the largest homebuilder in the city. The company began the subdivision and later defaulted on the project during the recession. In 2010, Lennar Homes purchased the partially completed homes and empty lots and finished the subdivision, but it was up to the homeowners association to complete the park.

The association received money to complete the common areas from a settlement with the bond company that issued completion bonds for the project, explained Leslie Manteuffel, president of the association. She declined to say how much the association received in the settlement.

Another board member, Wood's husband Chris Lockheed, put the figure at $500,000.

The completion of the park hasn't gone smoothly. It was redesigned to eliminate the access from Linwood, replace a ramp leading into the park from Chokeberry Court with a steep set of concrete stairs, and add a path into the park from Nectarine Court.

Work went forward in October, but the city put a stop to it when questions arose about whether the path from Nectarine Court had the proper permits for a retaining wall. Wood and Lockheed consider the new path an intrusion on their privacy because it would go right by their dining room window.

Work on the new path remains halted. Construction is completed on the staircase and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant concrete loop and benches. Where the path from Linwood was to be installed, a split-rail fence has been erected.

Wood and Lockheed are upset not only about the new location of the proposed path, but because it seems to them that the real reason behind the switch is fear that the Linwood path would make it easier for a "bad element" to enter their neighborhood. Lockheed said there has been a "campaign to vilify" those who oppose the redesign.

Supporters of the change noted that it is their dues that pay for the maintenance of the park, and if they want to limit access that is their right. Some noted that during the Fourth of July the park is overrun with residents coming to watch the fireworks because of its vantage point over the fairgrounds.

Others have worried that the path would allow potential criminals to access the park.

Manteuffel said the board's goal in redesigning the park was merely to follow the wishes of its members. Asked why her members supported eliminating the Linwood path, she couldn't say, stressing only that the park is private.

Fellow board member Vic Aiuto said that the goal has never been to block nonresidents from using the park.

"It's not to keep people out, it's to make it more convenient for the people in the community," Aiuto said.

Another resident, Dave Williams, who lives right next to where the Linwood access path would have been, said he sees a "real contradiction" in positions of those against the redesign.

"I hear 'We want to open this up to the public,' but I hear 'I don't want a path in front of my house,'" Williams said.

The whole affair is disheartening to Sudeep Rao, a resident and urban designer, who called it embarrassing for the entire association. He said the board had taken a very "legalistic" approach to the matter instead of looking for the best solution for all involved.

"I think many of us are intoxicated with one viewpoint," Rao said.

He said he worries taking such a legal approach to resolving disputes risks fragmenting neighborhoods and leading to the loss of community character.

"It was very embarrassing to see our association be an association that was trying to close doors and raise fences," he said.

The matter was continued until April 3 to give the board and homeowners affected by the new path time to work out a screening solution. Morris, the city planner, suggested the board talk to Wood about her suggestion for a 6-foot fence between the path and her home.

(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.)