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.