The Presbytery of San Francisco has quietly struck a deal to sell an iconic property near Glen Ellen that for decades has been the site of a popular camp and retreat.
The 23-acre parcel borders Jack London State Park and includes stands of redwood, laurel and oak trees. It once was part of the sprawling Spreckels estate and also the northeast boundary of Gen. Mariano Vallejo's empire.
The presbytery's real estate agent declined to identify who it has agreed to sell the property to or what the buyer's intentions are for the site. But a flier for the Morningside Mountain Drive parcel touts it as the ideal place for a "private estate" that could include vineyards and a tasting room. The asking price was $1.695 million.
Such a conversion likely would mean the end of the Valley of the Moon Camp, which has been a cherished retreat on the property for at least 40 years.
"It's a piece of California history that's going to be ignored just because someone wants to build a house up there," said Mike Carr, president and CEO of the Petaluma-based nonprofit United Camps, Conferences and Retreats, which operates and manages the Valley of the Moon Camp.
Carr said the camp's potential demise reflects a trend nationwide of churches and other nonprofit agencies unloading properties to offset economic losses. "They just need the money," he said.
The Presbytery of San Francisco is a district governing body of Presbyterian Church USA. The Rev. Leonard Nielson, chairman of the presbytery's Finance and Property Oversight Committee, acknowledged the iconic nature of the Valley of the Moon site and said it would be "sad" if the camp ceased to exist.
But he said church officials, after debating the issue for several years, decided proceeds from selling the property could be spent on other pressing needs as the church was barely breaking even on the camp.
"We aren't going to be in the business of running camps. It's not something we can do. We just don't have the organization that we used to," he said.
The Valley of the Moon property is zoned for diverse agriculture and thus is too small to be divided into smaller parcels. It also cannot include more than one large dwelling, said Karin Theriault, a Sonoma County planner. She said the new owner could apply for a use permit to operate a tasting room on the site.
The presbytery has taken a low-key approach to selling the property, which has not been advertised on the Multiple Listing Service per an agreement with the potential buyer, said Rebecca Harrison, a Realtor with Keller-Williams in Danville who is handling the listing for the church.
Harrison said the property is in escrow but she declined to provide details. She said it's her "assumption" the camp will end.
Harrison said the marketing of the property as a potential vineyard estate was designed to maximize its sale value. As for the low-key strategy, she said "it didn't occur to me that it (the property) would be that well known or that people would care."
Aside from the site's historical and recreational value, conservationists expressed concerns about new development possibly impacting the environment. The site includes mature stands of trees, streams and wildlife, including the likely presence of spotted owls.