The conceptual design for the fire substation.

Amendments modify provisions relating to the design and construction of public trails, grading, timing of payments

 At a special meeting held on Dec. 15,  the Healdsburg Planning Commission unanimously approved several basic amendments to the Montage development agreement (DA) between Sonoma Luxury Resort LLC. and the city of Healdsburg.

The amendments modify provisions relating to the design and construction of public trails, the timing of mass grading for the public park and fire substation parcels, the timing of the conveyance of the public park and substation parcels to the city, construction of the fire substation, and the timing of developer payments and contributions to the park and substation project.

The DA amendment does not include plans to drastically change or curb any of the above items, rather it outlines some logistical requests from the developer regarding the planning process.

“I think the big message is there really isn’t anything of substance changing in this agreement compared to what we heard three to four months ago when this came out in the news about this being amended. It sounded like at that time there were many changes being considered and it looks like there’s not all that much (changing now) other than some technical changes on timing and payments,” said Healdsburg Planning Commission Chair Dan Petrik.

With a recommendation to proceed with the amendments from the planning commission, the amendment item will now move on to the city council for formal approval at a future meeting.

Details on DA amendments

The first item in the DA amendment involves the Northwest Trail obligation.

The easement that the trail was initially going to be constructed on was found to be not an ideal location for a trail due to drainage concerns and the steepness of the area. Through the amendment, the easement of the trail will be vacated and a new easement for a trail area will be recorded for the design and construction of a public trail.

“As the developers designed the trail through the contractor they realized that the easement that is dedicated (for the trail) has slopes that are just too steep in terms of accessibility and in terms of having a trail that drains properly,” explained Linda Ruffing of the Healdsburg Planning Department.

The new trail location will have more gradual switchbacks and views of the surrounding vineyards and of Alexander Valley.

The second item in the amendment is in relation to the multi-use trail that was going to be designed and constructed in conjunction with the project.

The amendment stipulates that the developer will pay a lump sum in lieu of the construction of the multi-use bicycle / pedestrian trail.

According to Ruffing, the design and development of the trail has been so slow going and repeatedly delayed due to COVID-19 and several wildfires, that at this point the DA will have the developer pay a fee to the city in lieu of designing and construction the trail.

The next item in the amendment simply states that the conveyance of the community park parcel from the developer to the city will occur following the completion of the park site’s mass grading. In addition, the developer will pay the remaining balance of the developer park contribution of $2,710,000 at the time the parcel is transferred to the city.

The developer is also responsible for completing public roads and utilities such as curbs, gutters and streetlights on the Passalacqua / Parkland Farms Boulevard extension and for roads in the affordable housing aspect of the project. The DA amendment reduces the amount of grading that the developer will need to do for that purpose, and stipulates that the sidewalks and streetlights will be installed at a later time.

“The reason for that is through the conceptual planning process the affordable housing developer will determine the location of access roads to serve the development. In lieu of construction of those improvements the proposal is to monetize it and have the developer pay a sum of money,” Ruffing said.

In other words, the grading, conceptualization and design of the affordable housing roads will be completed by the housing developer rather than the Montage developer.

Ruffing said it simply makes more sense for the future housing developer to grade the site themselves instead of perhaps having to redo or work with a grading that has already been completed.

“The Montage site is 14.16 acres and is owned by Montage. It is designated for affordable housing,” Interim Healdsburg Community Development Director David Woltering said during a special council meeting in September on the topic. “In terms of staff’s review of the site, the site’s constraints and its rolling topography, we do not anticipate that a full 150 units could be achieved on the site. We’d envision more of a scattered site development there. The number of units may be 70 to 85.”

The Montage resort and project DA expires in 2023 and the developer is preparing to complete the remaining obligations under the DA in 2021-22.

There were no public comments on the item during the public hearing portion of the meeting and commissioners unanimously agreed that the changes in DA were suitable and well thought out.

“Having worked in this area for about 50 years now I understood that there would be a lot of changes necessary on a project like this, especially with the grading components. It makes total sense for them to hold off and not do all of the grading and have each developer for the affordable housing do their grading,” said Commissioner Howard Brunner.

Commissioner Vesna Breznikar opined that the city has handled the DA well with the developer and that overall, the project will be beneficial for the city.

“It seems like the city has really stood up to what it wanted for the benefit of the city and its residents, so I think it has been well designed,” Breznikar said.

Sidebar: Status of the DA with Sonoma Luxury Resort LLC. and the city

So far the developer has completed the following obligations set forth in the DA:

●    Completed the resort and the infrastructure to serve the resort residential parcels

●    Completed the pump station

●    Completed Healdsburg Avenue street improvements

●    Completed conceptual design plans for fire substation

●    Completed initial mass grading of park (to dispose of excess soil from resort) and wetland mitigation on park parcel

●    Dedicated easement for Northwest Trail

●    Provided $1 million contribution for affordable housing development

●    Recorded offer to dedicate public roads and utilities to the city

The developer will have to complete the items mentioned in the article.

So far the city has done the following steps:

●    Identified additional funds of $2 million for the fire substation

●    Initiated master plan for community park

●    Performed site analysis for affordable housing and considered the developer’s offer to purchase an alternative housing site (the city decided to stick with having affordable housing at the originally identified site and has proceeded with a request for qualifications in order to select a housing developer).

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