Springs plaza proposal with Sonoma Valley real estate investor Ken Mattson scrapped

Ken Mattson’s involvement and the concept aired for the plaza off Highway 12 had both generated controversy since a pair of packed public meetings late last year.|

A tentative partnership between Sonoma real estate developer Ken Mattson and Sonoma County geared to develop a public plaza in the Springs area has been halted, according to Supervisor Susan Gorin, who has sought to advance the long-sought gathering space in what’s expected to be her last term in county office.

Mattson’s potential involvement and the loose concept aired for the plaza, on a half-acre county owned site just north of the historic Boyes Hot Springs Post Office, had both generated controversy since a pair of packed public meetings late last year.

Opposition to the partnership sharpened in public and private meetings since then, and Gorin indicated Thursday that Mattson’s role had become a non-starter for many of her constituents.

“I called him and I said, ‘It is time for us to conclude this relationship,’” Gorin said in an interview. “It was a great idea, but the community concerns about you are overshadowing any potential benefits of a community plaza at this location.”

Susan Gorin's comments on Plaza.pdf

Mattson is Sonoma Valley’s most prolific real estate investor. With his wife Stacy — and their many limited liability companies — the couple has purchased more than 60 properties in the Sonoma Valley over the past seven years.

Requests for comment made with Mattson’s property investment company, LeFever Mattson, were directed to Jeff Neads, who has handled public relations for Mattson. Neads did not return calls and emails for comment on Friday.

Mattson, through another affiliate, KS Mattson Partners, owns the Boyes Hot Springs Post Office building adjacent to the county site envisioned for a plaza. He has not said what he wants to do with the building.

Opposition to Mattson’s involvement in a plaza project first erupted in a Nov. 15 community outreach meeting in which Ken Mattson made a rare public appearance, along with his project team and Gorin.

During the meeting, Michael Ross, a Boyes Hot Spring architect who partnered with Mattson, presented his 2015 concept design of a brick plaza with trees for shade, benches for the public and an open space where commercial vendors could set up a farmer’s market.

There was concern over the site plan, as well as whether Mattson’s interest in the plaza project was rooted at least partly in the opportunity to carve out parking spots for future business customers, possibly through an underground lot beneath the plaza.

“If there is underground parking, who will own? If paid parking, who will collect the money?” Jesus Alcaraz asked at the Nov. 15 event.

A Spanish-language version of the meeting followed the next night, going over some of the same concerns and others.

In the weeks following that meeting, a group calling itself Wake Up Sonoma formed and gained popularity as an outlet for community members to express their frustration with the agreement process and its lack of transparency.

People aligned with the opposition group and other unaffiliated residents continued to voice their concerns over any partnership during monthly meetings held by the Springs Municipal Advisory Council.

The drumbeat was enough to spur the advisory body to favor drafting a letter to the county relaying the overwhelming disapproval of any project pursued with Mattson. The council held meetings to discuss the letter on Dec. 14 and on Wednesday.

At the council’s Wednesday meeting, speaker after speaker stepped forward to denounce a partnership, citing Mattson’s lack of progress on his many real estate endeavors in Sonoma Valley.

They also criticized the views of his wife and business partner Tim Lefever, who both have a history of anti-LGBTQ comments.

“I’m a member of LGBTQ community, and I have to say I’m alarmed. Personally, I do not want them as a business developer in our community. The gay community is not safe with the Lefever Mattson’s having control of community businesses, as they have been very clear about their prejudices,” Lisa Storment said. “There are ways to provide a plaza experience in Boyes Hot Springs without selling our souls.”

Gorin, who has represented the Springs area and Sonoma Valley on the Board of Supervisors since 2013, also was strongly criticized for lending her support to a potential partnership.

She has said publicly it was Mattson who approached her with the development proposal. She had secured $2 million for the project several years ago, and the county recently earmarked a small amount of money for staff time and payments to a project planner handling the outreach efforts.

But many of her constituents viewed the stance as overly cozy with Mattson.

“In her rush to cement her legacy and deliver a plaza, Mrs. Gorin seems to have sided with big money over her constituency. What makes her think that Ken Mattson is the man for the job? We don’t know, nor do we know what the future will bring for the plaza, but we will be paying attention,” Mike Marnell said in public comment at Wednesday’s meeting.

Gorin said Mattson was gracious in their call and understood the reasoning for ending any joint plans for a plaza project. She had hoped work on a plaza could be launched before she leaves office at the end of 2024, but the tide of public opinion was clearly against any project with Mattson, she said.

“What could have been an opportunity to develop a community plaza as gathering space for the Springs, while maintaining and expanding parking at this key location, instead became focused on perceived distrust and accusations regarding the motives of Ken Mattson and the county,” Gorin said in a news release on Friday.

She added that any funding previously allocated for a community plaza by the Board of Supervisors will be preserved until it can be used or reallocated to another project during the board’s budget process in June.

Contact Chase Hunter at chase.hunter@sonomanews.com and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter. Contact Rebecca Wolff at rebecca.wolff@sonomanews.com.

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