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Bill McCormick has watched his neighbors sell their property one by one to an American Indian tribe that has steadily acquired land next to Windsor's western boundary.

He's one of the few who has not sold to the Lytton Rancheria, which has purchased about 150 acres along both sides of Windsor River Road to develop a tribal housing project and cultural center.

"I'm totally surrounded on all four sides," he said last week. "I'm like a little postage stamp inside their property."

McCormick lives on a three-quarter-acre parcel and enjoys his country living, but it may not last.

"I have the most beautiful view from my backyard, open space and fields," he said. "Now, I will have a building at the edge of my fence."

That's because the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians is proposing to build up to 147 homes that would come close to his property line.

With the help of revenue from its San Pablo Casino in the East Bay, the 270-member tribe with roots in Sonoma County has for a decade been assembling rural properties on the western periphery of Windsor.

Most of the land is heavy oak forest and lies south of Windsor River Road, extending more than a half-mile to Eastside Road. But it also includes a meadow north of Windsor River Road behind the upscale Deer Creek subdivision. There the tribe is proposing a four-acre "effluent pond" that would hold treated wastewater generated by its housing and community center, which would not be connected to the regional sewage system.

Under the direction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the tribe is wrapping up an "environmental assessment" for the project, which has been under way for more than two years. The public has until July 8 to submit comments.

It's a prelude to declaring the property American Indian land to be held in the trust of the federal government and allowing construction to proceed. But the BIA still must decide whether a more extensive environmental impact study will be required.

Local government agencies, including the Town of Windsor, County of Sonoma and state water regulators, all have urged more in-depth environmental review.

"To say I have significant concerns related to this project is an understatement," said Mike McGuire, the county supervisor whose district includes the site. "The environmental review document that is currently in circulation . . . is completely inadequate."

He said the development, which could remove as many as 2,000 trees, threatens "one of the county's healthiest blue-oak wood habitats."

And McGuire said the project's demands on police, school and park services also need to be more carefully scrutinized.

He noted that such a high number of dwelling units would never be allowed on the land under existing county zoning. Once the property is taken into federal trust, that zoning won't apply.

McCormick, who has headed opposition to the project, points out that the tribe doesn't have to follow local planning and zoning laws.

"It's ridiculous the federal government allows a group of people to be privileged above others as some compensation for past doings," he said.

Officials and nearby residents are leery of the tribe's intentions. There are lingering suspicions that the Lytton Pomos may want to build a casino despite their insistent denials that they have no such plan.

McGuire said the county wants the tribe to agree to a "permanent prohibition on any casino or future gaming activity on the site." The tribe previously rejected that condition, citing the need to protect American Indian sovereignty rights.

Doug Elmets, a spokesman for the tribe, said Thursday that a casino has never been an option. "For the record, the tribe has repeatedly said they have absolutely no intent to build a casino, or to use the land for anything other than a master planned community for their members," he said.

"The tribe is absolutely committed to being a good neighbor and working cooperatively with the Town of Windsor and neighboring communities. The project will be one that everyone will be proud of and will embrace," he asserted. "The fear of the unknown by the detractors of the tribe is far-fetched and mean-spirited."

The Lytton Pomos said they want to provide a place for members to congregate "for governmental, cultural and social purposes, and to assist the tribe in meeting a long-term, viable and sustainable solution to the tribe's lack of a tribal land base."

The original 50-acre Lytton Rancheria north of Healdsburg was established by the federal government in the 1920s for homeless American Indians. It was dissolved in 1961, with the land distributed to individual members.

The tribe regained federal recognition in 1991 as the result of a court decision in which the government acknowledged that the termination was illegal and the promise to provide services to the tribe was not fulfilled.

In 2000, a controversial Congressional Act enabled the tribe to convert 10 acres in San Pablo to American Indian land and turn an old cardroom into a casino with electronic bingo games that resemble slot machines.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office two years ago questioned if the Lytton Rancheria qualifies to have more land taken into trust. Despite the legal ambiguity, the tribe has pressed forward with its Windsor project, amassing property, sometimes at premium prices.

"One of the concerns of residents is, why are they buying so much for homes when the tribe is actually 300 people? It appears they have more land than they need," said Windsor Councilwoman Debora Fudge.

The tribe is proposing to put 124 acres into federal trust to build up to 95 single-family detached homes, 24 cottages and 28 high-density units. A tribal community center, retreat and roundhouse also are planned.

The tribe bought 24 acres to the north at 1144 Starview Drive that are not part of the application. And late last year, the tribe purchased 20 acres on the south side of its current properties off Starr Road.

Elmets said some of the acquisitions are investments, opportunities for the tribe to buy properties "for either current, existing use or to be included in the master plan" for the project.

Other factors are in play as well. Windsor rebuffed the tribe's preferred plan to hook up to Windsor water and sewer systems, citing the project's location outside the urban growth boundary.

One apparent reason the tribe expanded its land holdings was potentially to build a holding pond for highly treated wastewater and spray irrigation. But it would require a permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to operate the wastewater system and a sewage plant.

McGuire called the effluent pond "the type of lakefront property any individual would want to avoid at all costs. It's unacceptable."

Some residents say they aren't that concerned about being close to treated wastewater because it presumably will be similar to Windsor's system, with holding ponds for irrigation and surface discharge.

"I'm not worried about it at all. If the technology is appropriate for the town and other communities to use, I don't know why it wouldn't be for an Indian community," said Doug DeFors, who lives in the Deer Creek subdivision.

But he worries about the traffic the project will generate on Windsor River Road as well as the possibility of changes, including a casino.

"I'm worried the development on paper will be far less troubling than what might be divulged later on," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer

Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@


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