The large commercial property has been circled and sniffed at for years by interested developers. The most recent, the Kessler Collection of southern California whose great desire was an 80-room hotel, was put off by City regulations, and withdrew.
Now holding the option to develop the property is Owen Smith, until recently an employee of Kessler, and also a southern California resident, and his development and investment company Sunlever. His stated wish for this meeting was to figure out a best use for the property with input from citizens. “What does the town need? What does the town want?” were his questions.
And the answers were varied indeed.
The absolute consensus was “No chain stores!” Beyond that, some comments were that whatever the eventual use, it must match the scale, size, and traditional feel of the neighborhood. Cluster housing, dotted with open space was suggested, as was underground parking so as not to overwhelm the area with cars.
One suggestion that gained much support was a congregate marketplace, like the Oxbow Market in Napa, perhaps with integrated housing.
The word “hotel” was conspicuously avoided, but when it was finally uttered, there were anguished screams in the room, “No Big Hotel!” Smith, Southern Californian with scant credentials so far, hurried to reassure the crowd that he was not hoping to replicate the Kessler Collection’s plans.
Larry Barnett, former Sonoma mayor, urged the developer and his speaker for the evening, Architect Michael Pattinson, to remember any site use should be resident-centric and not just tourist-centric.
Mr. Pattinson concluded his Q&A with the assurance that any resulting plans hopefully would be “a rich tapestry of mixed building.”