Disagreement over possible partnership with real estate investors to build Sonoma Springs plaza
SONOMA, Calif. (KGO) — Sonoma Valley residents have long wanted a place to gather in Boyes Hot Springs.
The site of an anticipated plaza is right at the doorstep of the post office and Empire Barber Studio.
“I think it’s great to be honest. For my business, it will bring more business,” said Erick Gomez Miranda of Empire Barber Studio.
But where Erick Gomez Miranda sees opportunity, others say they fear risk.
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According to 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin, Sonoma County is entertaining the possibility of a partnership with real estate investor Ken Mattson to build the plaza.
“Probably two years ago Ken Mattson approached me with a proposal to collaborate and partner with the county,” said Supervisor Gorin.
Veronica Napoles created the website wakeUpsonoma.com.
“I don’t think their intentions are to develop. I think their intentions are just to acquire,” Napoles said.
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Napoles says the website’s mission is to create transparency and accountability for all properties and projects owned and managed by Tim Lefever and Ken Mattson in Sonoma Valley.
Via partnerships, Mattson and Lefever have purchased dozens of properties around Sonoma, including the property where Gomez Miranda works.
“Me as a tenant to them, I mean, so far it’s been great. I have no issues,” said Gomez Miranda.
At a recent public meeting, Mattson said, “I understand that there is concerns we are doing a lot of stuff in town. I believe that the bigger picture vision that we have for the area is completely in line with what has been talked about for the last 20 or 25 years, in terms of what everybody wanted to see the Springs area go.”
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But some residents are doubtful. In addition to the volume of purchases which some find rattling, there’s also the perception among some that they’re not being developed quickly enough.
“There’s some landmark buildings within the city of Sonoma that are not being used to their full potential, if you will, and one of them is the Sonoma Cheese Factory,” said Sonoma Mayor Sandra Lowe.
“Of course we want businesses to be there to flourish for people in the community to use them,” she continued.
“These were vibrant businesses before and they’re not vibrant as they were,” said Avram Goldman, Sonoma resident.
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It’s in part for those reasons that while a plaza is welcomed, not everyone welcomes this proposed partnership. Supervisor Gorin says Mattson is the only one investing in the Springs.
“I would love to have a number of developers come to the Springs with some great ideas. Then I would partner with them,” said Gorin.
“What is the county doing to reach those developers,” ABC7 News reporter Melanie Woodrow asked Gorin.
“It’s not necessarily the role of the county to put a shingle out on the Springs area and say come on down,” Gorin responded.
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While shooting the story, Woodrow ran into LeFever outside The Depot Restaurant, which he said was purchased in the form of a partnership. LeFever would not agree to an on-camera interview but told Woodrow he and Mattson are real estate investors and that some of the properties they’ve invested in don’t yet have permits.
Goldman says the permitting process in Sonoma County is very slow.
Still, he wants to make sure if a partnership is formed, that there’s progress.
“If we can get into an agreement with you, Ken, there’s got to be some assurances and accountability there has to be something built in,” Goldman said in the recent public meeting.
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Mayor Lowe says she has some ideas for the buildings within city limits.
“We’re considering some sort of fine or vacancy tax that would compel them to do something either sell it or get the business going,” said Lowe.
Supervisor Gorin says there will be another public meeting to discuss the plaza likely in January or February.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Ken Mattson writes, “Members and leaders of the Boyes Hot Springs community have expressed a desire for a community plaza. We have offered to partner with them to make this dream a reality. There are supporters and opponents of this project, and we are listening to both.”
In the meantime with no plaza to gather, the proposed site still remains the talk of this town.
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