No to Chateau Hotel…perhaps The Springs

Posted on March 20, 2013 by Submitted

Editor: With all the conversation around town about Darius Anderson’s Chateau Sonoma 59 room hotel proposed for just of the plaza, I wanted to offer an alternative.

Most of Sonoma agrees, a “French” style Chateau is not historically accurate for the town hosting the furthest northern Mission on El Camino Real. Sources say he is considering a “Monterey” style in the next set of revisions. Most also oppose the sheer size of the project given parking, traffic concerns, and the negative impact on Sonoma Plaza and our ability to get around town efficiently. Some have suggested alternative traffic routing like Fred Allebach or general opposition like the comments offered by Kathleen Parks Perry in last week’s Sun. Water usage has also been mentioned as has saving an historical mural.

My suggestion to Darius Anderson is…why not abandon the Plaza project. The community is not going to stand for it as evidenced by tonights announcement to City Council by our brave former Mayor Larry Barnett and a group calling themselves “Preserve Sonoma.” They intend to circulate petitions to change the general plan to limit the options for hotels forever and effectively crush Chateau Sonoma.

Instead Mr. Anderson, why not focus your attention on The Springs. Boyes Hot Springs, Fetters Hot Springs, and Agua Caliente are in dire need of restoration and revitalization. The Fairmont-Sonoma Mission Inn has struggled recently yet has a long heritage of spa resorts and a proud history here in Sonoma Valley attracting Bay Area vacationers for decades. Why not buy the Sonoma Mission Inn, retrofit, upgrade or enhance as you see fit. Personally I still don’t see a “French” theme on the Mission Inn but the County is easier to negotiate things with. My guess is sorrounding land would be available and the County has been trying to acquire and develop the area for some time, parcel by parcel when available. The County has a nice set of plans for a “Plaza” of sorts with the Post Office as the hub, community center, shops and restaurants and a place for cultural festivals, farmers markets and the like. There are a couple more sattelite hubs of economic activity as well to the North. Sonoma County has designated the Springs as an “Economic Redevelopment Zone” and given special assistance to make improvements, tax and financial incentives, etc. if I’m not mistaken. They are just waiting for a developer to lead the charge. If Darius would dedicate himself to this area of Sonoma Valley and turn it around, I submit he would be a hero beyond hero’s. We’ve all driven through there, wished for wider streets and a brighter image knowing what potential is just waiting to be opened up.

Anderson claims he also wants to be a winery owner and has acquired land as far back as about 2000 and started to develop his Kenwood estate several times. If he actually ever gets involved in the wine business he will come to realize the Vineyard Workers he or his grower will employ to harvest his grapes and work the land have long been overlooked. Affordable housing is always talked about but nobody ever seems to actually do anything. Our Latino community wants to own their own places, homes, not be part of some “project” multi-family housing or apartment complex. If they could have neighborhoods set aside and perhaps provide sweat equity like Habitat for Humanity, I am certain they would flourish. Darius could be the catlyst.

Darius Anderson boasts of his trips to Cuba and love for the culture, but we have a beautiful culture right here, one that supports our wine and other small business. The problem with many of Americans today is they focus attention on far away lands, and often overlook local needs.

Well, I for one challenge Darius and all his associates to put their energy into a worthy cause, into these great people, and a critically important part of our beloved Sonoma Valley. The banks would fall over each other to get Community Reinvestment Credits (CRA) and they could likely lend at lower rates because of the benefits like CRA they would be reaping. Westamerica has a dismal record of lending into The Springs and perhaps would have a change of heart under the right circumstances. Exchange Bank, Union Bank, and Bank of Marin have all lined up in the past when I was working with Sonoma County on healthcare, affordable housing and the general revitalization plans. Everyone would rally to support such a venture. This could make an eternal impression to last several lifetimes if Darius would just think more about the local people and commit himself.

I am certain it could be done. I for one would stand by his side and see it through.

Ralph Hutchinson
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Ralph Hutchinson