Negotiations have hit a snag to acquire Healdsburg's Fitch Mountain and create a nature preserve with public hiking trails, frustrating county and city officials.
Most of the prominent, heavily-wooded 991-foot peak is already protected as permanent open space with a conservation easement, but it is not open to the public.
The county's Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District wants to purchase 251 acres to make the peak "a passive recreation park" with hiking trails.
Officials on Monday said Edwin Wilson, the Healdsburg attorney representing the property owners, has made incorrect public comments that make it appear the city is to blame for failing to finalize a deal.
"He was trying to say that we are holding up the process. That's totally untrue," Councilman Gary Plass said in an interview prior to the meeting.
Officials expressed disappointment that he turned down an invitation to discuss FitchMountain at Monday's City Council meeting and has been unable to meet with them, despite repeated attempts.
"I would encourage Mr. Wilson to stop playing games and come to the table and negotiate in good faith," said City Councilman Mike McGuire.
Wilson wrote a letter on Monday stating. "I would not be in a position to say much anyway" due to attorney-client privilege, and because "the Open Space District and I have an agreement that all negotiations regarding the potential purchase of the Fitch Mountain properties are strictly confidential."
In May, Wilson told the council that the Open Space District is not willing to purchase the Fitch Mountain properties unless Healdsburg agrees to take and hold title. He said the city has advised the district it is not willing to do so.
City and Open Space District officials disagree with his assessment.
"I said the district won't hold title (but) another entity might step forward," said Bill Keene, the district's general manager. "I didn't say the city had to be the one."
The Open Space District acquires property via a quarter-cent sales tax that was approved by voters but typically turns over the property to a city, county parks, state or non-profit agency to manage it.
City officials admit they have liability concerns about fire and roads on Fitch Mountain, but have not ruled out eventually taking title to the land after the Open Space district buys it.
Wilson said in his letter that unless the district or the city agrees to hold title to the land, "my clients will have no alternative but to explore other options, including the possibility of selling the Fitch Mountain properties on the open market."
"This seems to have become a public relations plaything," said City Councilman Eric Ziedrich.
According to the Open Space district, Wilson approached the district in 2006 about the property's sale. Following several appraisals, Wilson in late 2008 notified the district that his clients were willing to accept the district's $3.5 million offer.
But things stalled after Wilson expressed concerns about another entity taking title to the land.
Meanwhile, Keene said the value of the land has decreased and another appraisal is required because the district cannot pay more than fair market value.