Opponents, backers square off in court over environmental report

Opponents of Healdsburg's largest ever proposed development pressed their case in Sonoma County Superior Court on Friday, arguing that the environmental study for the project was faulty in a number of key areas, from calculations on water use to dealing with greenhouse gas emissions.

But attorneys for the developer and the city defended the voluminous environmental documents for Saggio Hills, the 130-room resort and 70 luxury home complex proposed on the city's northern edge.

Now, both sides will have to wait for up to 90 days for a decision from Sonoma Superior Court Judge S. Boyd, who took the matter under submission after hearing arguments for more than more two hours.

The case could be pivotal for Saggio Hills, because a ruling in favor of project opponents could send it back for more hearings, resulting in further delay for a development that once was anticipated to break ground by 2008.

The resort, with room rates estimated at more than $700 a night and homes selling in the multi-million dollar range, is proposed on Healdsburg's last large undeveloped piece of land, 258 acres north of Parkland Farms subdivision.

Along with the luxury elements, Saggio Hills also includes a 14-acre site for affordable housing and other land and money donated for a large community park, fire station and public hiking trails.

Opponents say the current economy and difficulty of obtaining financing for a luxury development rumored to cost as much as $300 million dollars is as much hurdle for developers as is the lawsuit.

"The economy will stop them. There's no funding available," said Jim Winston, a Saggio Hills opponent who attended Friday's court hearings. "All the venture capitalists are feeling like a lobster around boiling water."

Developers declined to comment Friday on the status of their financing, or any of the issues raised in the lawsuit. "Until we get a decision, it's inappropriate to comment," said Tony Korman, one of the partners in Saggio Hills development company.

Supporters of Saggio Hills have joined the lawsuit by filing a friend of the court brief, hiring an attorney and taking out a full page ad in the Healdsburg newspaper promoting the project.

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