A deal to acquire the top of Fitch Mountain on the edge of Healdsburg and turn it into a public park is still intact, despite some recent concerns that it was unraveling.
Healdsburg and Sonoma County officials said Tuesday that the heralded deal to acquire the scenic overlook to the city is moving forward, although it will be at least three more years before the public can access the land.
Supervisor Mike McGuire, who represents the north county, said the property transaction could close by late summer or early fall, fulfilling a decades-old desire to make the upper part of the 991—foot peak legally accessible for hikers, mountain bikers and others.
"Since 1991, residents of Healdsburg and north Sonoma County have wanted Fitch Mountain to be a park and we've been working diligently to make that dream come true," he said. "We are excited we are in the final stretch of this phase of property transfer."
In late 2012, Healdsburg and county officials announced an agreement to buy 199 acres atop Fitch Mountain with $1.8 million in funds from the county's Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.
The taxpayer-supported district had negotiated for years with the property owners to try and reach a deal to buy the land.
There were still a handful of potentially developable parcels on that property, even though the Open Space District in 1994 paid for a "forever wild" conservation easement that put most of it off-limits for building.
The eight parcels in purchase deal are owned by F.R.A.N.C.E.Z LLC, a Delaware corporation represented by Healdsburg attorney Edwin Wilson.
Earlier this month, however, Healdsburg Mayor Jim Wood warned that the property deal was in danger of falling apart because the seller had not met timelines in the title transfer.
Wood said the delay involved some encroachments on the property — essentially ambiguities over boundaries and some longtime unauthorized uses of the land by neighbors and others.
City and county officials said it involved things like a path, wood piles and fencing that encroach on the property.
Healdsburg officials said the city agreed to take title to the land free and clear of any such encumbrances, with the plan to temporarily turn over it over to LandPaths, a local non-profit that would help manage it.
But they said the sellers had not met their requirements.
"If we take it on and can't clear up the encroachments we have liability and it becomes problematic," Wood said Tuesday. "It may seem like small things to people. But this has gone on a long time and they haven't been cleared up."
Wilson, the attorney for the property owners, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.
Wood said that following a meeting with Wilson and county officials on Monday he is "cautiously optimistic" the Fitch Mountain deal will be consummated.
City Councilman Gary Plass said there is a strong desire to get the deal finalized on the part of the Open Space District, as well as Supervisor McGuire, who leaves office at the end of the year.
"This is a real estate deal. People have to remember that there is always negotiation in these things," said Plass, a real estate agent. "This has been a long, protracted process."
Bill Keene, general manager of the Open Space District, said the encroachments are relatively minor "and we're working to iron it out."
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