At Leland Fly Fishing Ranch south of Sonoma, owner Josh Frazier sat on a deck overlooking a pond that he built and stocked with trout, but one that he is barred from casting a line in.
Concerns that the pond could attract birds and pose a threat to pilots taking off and landing at Sonoma Valley Airport, which is adjacent to the Arnold Drive ranch, are at the center of Frazier's long-running land-use dispute with county officials and the airport owners.
Frazier, 39, on this morning dismissed the concerns as "bull----." But with the future of his fly-fishing business on the line, he promised to abide by the ban, which the county imposed in 2012.
"They can trust me to follow the rules," he said.
Even by the rough-and-tumble standards of county land-use disputes, Frazier's fight has achieved rare frenzy, spawning anger, mistrust, legal sparring and allegations that public safety is being unnecessarily compromised.
"It's been heated. It's a hot local topic," said Dick Fogg, a county planning commissioner.
On Oct. 24, the county Board of Zoning Adjustments is scheduled to take up Frazier's application for approval of a retail shop and other buildings on the 13-acre Leland Ranch property, as well as the controversial 2-acre pond, which is alternately described as a "water feature" or "landscape feature" in staff reports.
The terminology infuriates Chris Prevost and Sheryl Carlucci, who bought the airport in 2008 and want the Leland pond gone. The couple say Frazier should not be rewarded for building on his property and then, after the fact, seeking permits for the work.
"It's illegal. Why should it be there?" Carlucci said at the airport recently.
Frazier purchased Fly Fishing Outfitters in 1999 and added "Leland" to the name to honor his grandfather. He and his wife, Laurel, who live in San Francisco, bought the Arnold Drive property in 2004 for $650,000, envisioning it as the ideal place for a fly-fishing school, retail hub and launching pad for adventures on North Coast rivers and streams.
Frazier estimated he has spent $1million on improvements to the site and $600,000 to $800,000 in legal fees and costs related to permitting issues. He said the company employs seven people and has annual sales of about $3.5million. About 90 percent of sales are handled online, with orders shipped from an East Bay warehouse.
According to county records, Frazier in 2007 applied for and then withdrew an application for a permit to operate a fly-fishing school. The county then approved his subsequent application for a grading permit to build the pond, with the understanding he would not fish in it.
Frazier did so anyway. When county officials caught wind in 2009, they refused to issue a final approval for the pond and sent Frazier a notice that he was violating his use permit. Frazier resubmitted an application to operate a fly-fishing school, then withdrew it once again after the county's Airport Land Use Commission and Caltrans weighed in with concerns about potential for birds colliding with aircraft.
In 2012, Frazier agreed to pay a $53,585 fine and to not fish in the pond to resolve the county's original complaint, records show.
Asked about this history, Frazier said he thought he had obtained the proper permit from the county in 2007 to fish in the pond.