As Larkfield-Wikiup rebuilds after October’s wildfires, parks are a priority
Larkfield-Wikiup may get a couple of new neighborhood parks and possibly its own recreational organization to manage them if the efforts of some October fire survivors and others prove successful.
Park advocates say the unincorporated community north of Santa Rosa has long lacked enough green, open spaces for families to enjoy the outdoors within walking distance of their homes. Already, a few opportunities have emerged for new parks, namely a burned property in the Larkfield Estates subdivision and part of the former Wikiup Golf Course.
Fire survivors have formed a committee to discuss the issue regularly. Supporters are contemplating a few different organizational structures to help create and maintain the new parks, any of which would require a public vote if they decide to fund the effort through new taxes, said Brad Sherwood, who lost his Larkfield Estates home in the Tubbs fire.
“There is a movement moving forward to better organize parks and recreation in Larkfield-Wikiup,” Sherwood said. “We want to leverage the fire recovery opportunities along with development opportunities.”
One of the potential park locations is the Brighton Drive site where Jack Symons' former house was destroyed in October. Symons, 78, and his 75-year-old wife built the home five decades ago, back when they had only one neighbor and there was still an orchard growing nearby.
After flames wiped out the subdivision, Symons and his wife bought a home in Cloverdale because “it's gonna be years before the neighborhood gets back to halfway normal,” he said. He'd like to see the site of his old home, which is about 1.5 acres, become a new park.
“We lived there for 50 years, and there's never been a park,” Symons said. “I just thought it would be an asset to the neighborhood.”
Another potential park location is the old Wikiup Golf Course, which is owned by the family behind the Kendall-Jackson wine empire. The family bought the property in 2015 and only recently revealed itself as the owner, viewing the site as an opportunity to help the Larkfield-Wikiup and Mark West area recover from the fires' devastation.
The Banke-Jackson family has envisioned a combination of uses for the 31-acre property, with a possible park or open space on about 16.5 acres and homes on the remainder, though details are still in flux, according to Tony Korman, a spokesman for the family.
But the family hasn't decided exactly what the park should look like as part of the project, which the owners are calling Wikiup Commons.
“That's not something that we are going to dictate or mandate,” Korman said. “We're opening this up to the community.”
The proposed development has already encountered resistance from some homeowners in the area, particularly where construction of new homes is being considered on land that's now de facto open space. White and red signs with “NO” painted on them were hung on parts of the property in apparent opposition to what the Banke-Jackson family has proposed.
But the family is trying to work through its plans with the community at multiple neighborhood meetings. The next is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. Sept. 12 at San Miguel Elementary School.
Homes rise in communities
Meanwhile, the community's rebuilding continues to show steady progress, particularly around Mark West Springs Road and Old Redwood Highway, where entire neighborhoods were reduced to rubble in October.
The county has issued 315 building permits for homes in the greater Larkfield-Wikiup-Mark West Springs area, according to county permit data, which stretches all the way into Knights Valley. Another 82 permits are in progress.
Numerous homes are rising in the Mark West Estates and Larkfield Estates subdivisions. One of the builders leading the effort is Orange County-based Stonefield Cos., which is rebuilding 77 homes in Mark West Estates and 15 in Larkfield Estates.
Stonefield has secured about 50 building permits so far and is in varying stages of construction on the properties, company officials said. The company expects to have its first home completed in late January or in February, and finish 10 to 12 homes each month after that, weather depending, said Stonefield president Bob Pack.
“It's falling in line very nicely,” Pack said. “It's really nice to see the homeowners seeing their neighborhood being revived.”
Stonefield has an office set up in the Larkfield Center near Molsberry Market. Pack's son, Jeff, the company's vice president of business development and land acquisition, moved from Southern California to Sonoma County to help with the rebuild, and company officials said they're open to taking on more customers as well.
Another group rebuild in Larkfield, led by Fairfield-based Silvermark Construction Services, ushered in completion of the community's first rebuilt home two months ago.
While rebuilding is moving along clearly in the lower-lying areas, progress appears to be going more slowly in the community's higher-elevation neighborhoods. Willie Lamberson, a former Sonoma County planning commissioner who lost his home in Wikiup during the fires, has the only property on his block where the skeleton of a rebuilt home is already coming into place.
Lamberson joked he encourages his neighbors “every day to get started,” saying he doesn't want to “be the only one out here.” But he got a quick start on the rebuilding process, he said, and he's all too familiar with the various complexities that lie between losing a home and building a new one.
“You have to hurry but be patient in this rebuild,” Lamberson said. “You got to really push it to get all your different testing done, get your plans back from your architect, but then you have to be patient because there's a lot of people ahead of you.”
Power system progress
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has also made more progress on restoring the electrical systems in Mark West Estates and Larkfield Estates. Crews with the utility's contractor focused in August on installing underground utility boxes where transformers, switches and phone equipment will be stored, according to PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras.
The utility has finished trenching more than 3 of the nearly 4 miles of underground electrical work planned in both subdivisions, according to Contreras. Work is on track to be finished by the end of the year.
You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.On Twitter @thejdmorris.