'Passive park' on Healdsburg open space delayed by sellers' attorney

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.

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