The owner of Oliver's Market is buying a vacant lot in Cotati near Highway 101 with an eye toward potentially building a new store on the site.

Steve Maas, owner of the chain of three local markets, says his purchase of about six acres of land is a defensive move in the event negotiations with the grocer's current landlord don't bear fruit.

"In 21 years, I've never spoken to the landlord in person," Maas said.

With just four and a half years left on the lease for his East Cotati Avenue market, Maas said he has been seeking a 10-year extension from the landlord, the Sunhill Corp. of Mill Valley.

The extension would allow him to justify making the significant physical upgrades the store needs, such as new plumbing and other utilities, he said. But the landlord has so far been unwilling to even discuss an extension, making him wonder whether they want the market in the center at all, Maas said.

"It's hard to be the anchor of a shopping center and not have a great relationship with your landlord," said Tom Scott, general manager of Oliver's Market.

Officials for Sunhill did not return a call for comment on Monday.

Maas recently purchased 3.2 acres of land at the southeast corner of the intersection of Highway 101 and Redwood Highway from developer Orrin Thiessen, paying $1.9 million, he said. He reached agreement to purchase the adjoining three acres Monday, he said.

The property, once owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa, has long been a supermarket battleground. Plans to build a Lucky store on the site spawned opposition from locals who worried it would put home-grown Oliver's out of business. In 1997, voters passed Measure F, which prohibits retail outlets larger than 43,000 square feet.

Whether the company constructs a new building on the site remains to be seen. That decision will depend on a number of factors, including city approvals and negotiations with the landlord.

Thiessen had plans to build a large mixed-use project with condominiums and retail space, in the same vein as Windsor Town Green, Scott said. The economic meltdown put that project on the shelf.

Maas cited access to Highway 101, having a state-of-the-art store and "being in control of your own destiny" as the project's advantages, among others. "It's certainly a good time to build, as far as the cost is concerned," Maas said.

[END_CREDIT_0]You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or