Cloverdale City Council grants revisions to Alexander Valley Resort

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Cloverdale’s days as a sleepy little Mayberry, tantalizingly close to Wine Country darling Healdsburg yet largely overlooked by tourists, could be coming to an end.

The economic backwater at the northern end of Sonoma County has struggled for years to attract more business and visitors with such mottos as “Where the Vineyards meet the Redwoods” and “Gateway to the Mendocino Coast,” the latest plug, which still suggests a place to drive on through.

But a long-planned, estimated $200 million to $300 million resort and housing development at the city’s southern entrance has had some major revisions that developers say will help entice investors and make it a reality for the town of nearly 9,000.

The first major change approved by the City Council last week was to drop the requirement for building an 18-hole golf course, a mandate imposed during the last decade when golf courses were more commercially viable.

Another change will allow developers to add more stores and businesses, a concession despite the concerns of Mayor Mary Ann Brigham, who said it will hurt downtown merchants.

The City Council last week voted 4-1 in favor of the revisions to the Alexander Valley Resort, adding 12 adjacent acres that can be developed commercially with a wide range of possibilities.

“This is going to be a great, great opportunity for the city,” Councilwoman Carol Russell said of the destination resort expected to lure well-heeled visitors, stoke economic growth and bolster city tax revenues.

“This broadens the opportunity for the property to be developed,” said Councilman Gus Wolter, who said the council’s vote on the project would help counter the “bad rap of not being business-friendly” that Cloverdale officials consistently hear.

“This sets the tone — we’re open for business,” he said.

The planned resort and housing on 254 acres south of Santana Drive, between Asti Drive and the Russian River, was first approved in 2009. Supporters see it as a game-changer for Cloverdale, with total property, sales and bed taxes estimated at $1.7 million annually for the cash-strapped municipality. The city won’t see all of that initially, because some of it will go toward paying project-related public infrastructure improvements that also benefit the rest of the city.

Still, Councilman Joe Palla called Alexander Valley Resort “huge for the future of our city.”

Cloverdale’s economy has languished over the past couple of decades following the closure of most of its lumber mills, as well as re-routing busy Highway 101 out of the downtown, to a new freeway bypass to the east.

The resort location was the site of the old Louisiana-Pacific wood processing mill and required a massive $24 million clean-up by the current owners, Spight Properties LLC, hauling away wood debris and other waste, along with environmental remediation to clean soil and groundwater.

Although Alexander Valley Resort is seen as an economic boon for Cloverdale, Mayor Brigham doesn’t want it to come at the expense of existing merchants.

“The cream in this town is very limited,” said Brigham, who said she was not happy with the long list of businesses that can be added to the resort property. She cast the lone dissenting vote Tuesday.

“We still have to protect the downtown core. It is going to affect the downtown businesses,” she said.

Brigham, a former Cloverdale brew pub owner, said “it perplexes me — we still expect downtown businesses to thrive, but keep hitting them over and over.”

But her concerns were brushed aside by the council majority, which said there shouldn’t be a problem attracting resort visitors and new residents to spend money downtown.

An enterprising person might even start up a shuttle service to bring resort visitors to the downtown, about a mile away, Russell said.

“Bring the people. We’ll make customers of them,” she said.

Palla said Cloverdale suffers now from retail “leakage,” or residents forced to go elsewhere — for instance to Healdsburg or Windsor — to shop. He disagreed that the downtown is going to be hurting more because of the added commercial component of the resort. He asserted it will help downtown merchants.

“Every city in this county has multiple shopping service areas,” Palla said.

Concord-based Tyris Corp., which manages the property on behalf of the Spight family owners, said potential purchasers want more of a commercial base for a revenue stream, which the new “destination commercial” zoning will provide.

Some of the allowed uses will include restaurants with cocktail lounges; small specialty grocery markets; hotels; athletic clubs; culinary and brewing arts schools; and auto rental agencies.

Another two-dozen possible uses would be subject to more city review, ranging from liquor stores to bicycle shops, jewelry stores, and wine and beer tasting outlets.

Tyris President Andrew Zamberlin said that if his company sells the land this year to eventual developers, construction might begin in 2017 or 2018.

He acknowledged that there could be competition from other planned Wine Country resorts, including Saggio Hills on the northern end of Healdsburg, or from a new casino and hotel if the Cloverdale Pomos finally get approval for their reservation.

“It’s critical we get moving,” Zamberlin said.

The City Council action comes amid doubt over whether a potential developer with a tentative contract to buy the Tyris property is still planning to go ahead.

The leading candidate, Laulima Corp., demanded the city close down the Cloverdale Airport immediately to the south of the property as a condition for building the resort and an equestrian center. But the firm missed a critical deadline to give the city a deposit connected to the airport closure process.

The money, due in early December, was supposed to cover some of the staff time to explore the possibility of closing the airport, a disputed and potentially protracted move that could pave the way for sports fields on the site.

Laulima principal Jes Slavik said his company will probably have an announcement on its plans by the end of this month.

“We’re still interested in the project. We have to work through issues,” he said after Tuesday’s council meeting.

The city-approved plan for the destination resort allows for a 100- to 150-room, multi-story resort hotel with restaurant, conference facilities, gift shop and full service spa.

There could be up to 40 attached residential units; 105 single-family detached homes; and 25 estate residential homes.

A 2.4-acre area near the entry is proposed for wine tasting and restaurant services.

Bruce Reuser, who developed a 30-acre business park next to the Tyris property, had feared there could be traffic issues and other conflicts between his operation and the new commercial uses the developers want. But at the last minute, Tyris agreed to a deed restriction to protect the business park indefinitely into the future.

“They give up their right to complain against the industrial center,” Reuser told the City Council.

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