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Plan to create park on Fitch Mountain stalls

By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Negotiations have hit a snag to acquire Healdsburg’s Fitch Mountain and create a nature preserve with public hiking trails, frustrating county and city officials.

Most of the prominent, heavily wooded 991-foot peak is already protected as permanent open space with a conservation easement, but it is not open to the public.

Fitch Mountain

The county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District wants to purchase another 251 acres to make the peak “a passive recreation park” with hiking trails.

Officials on Monday said Edwin Wilson, the Healdsburg attorney representing the property owners, has made public comments that make it appear the city is to blame for failing to finalize a deal.

They expressed disappointment that he turned down an invitation to discuss FitchMountain at Monday’s City Council meeting and has been unable to meet with them, despite repeated attempts.

“I would encourage Mr. Wilson to stop playing games and come to the table and negotiate in good faith,” said City Councilman Mike McGuire.

Wilson wrote a letter on Monday stating. “I would not be in a position to say much anyway” due to attorney-client privilege, and because “the Open Space District and I have an agreement that all negotiations regarding the potential purchase of the Fitch Mountain properties are strictly confidential.”

In May, Wilson wrote to say that the Open Space District is not willing to purchase the Fitch Mountain properties unless Healdsburg agrees to take and hold title. He said the city has advised the district it is not willing to do so.

City and Open Space District officials disagree with his assessment.

“I said the district won’t hold title (but) another entity might step forward,” said Bill Keene, the district’s general manager. “I didn’t say the city had to be the one.”

The Open Space District acquires property via a quarter-cent sales tax that was approved by voters but typically turns over the property to a city, county parks, state or non-profit agency to manage it.

City officials admit they have liability concerns about fire and roads on Fitch Mountain, but have not ruled out eventually taking title to the land after the Open Space district buys it.

Wilson said in his letter that unless the district or the city agrees to hold title to the land, “my clients will have no alternative but to explore other options, including the possibility of selling the Fitch Mountain properties on the open market.”

“This seems to have become a public relations plaything,” said Councilman Eric Ziedrich.

According to the Open Space district, Wilson approached the district in 2006 about the property’s sale. Following several appraisals, Wilson in late 2008 notified the district that his clients were willing to accept the district’s $3.5 million offer.

But things stalled after Wilson expressed concerns about another entity taking title to the land.

Meanwhile, Keene said the value of the land has decreased and another appraisal is required because the district cannot pay more than fair market value.





3 Responses to “Plan to create park on Fitch Mountain stalls”

  1. HDB Neighbor says:

    Took the fire road to the top yesterday, July 14. The road has been graded from top to bottom, and the spurs (to potential seperate parcels?) were all scraped as well. Is there something afoot?

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  2. fitch mtn resident says:

    yet another huge oak tree has fallen behind the homes at base of fitch mtn. and mr wilson is nowhere to be found…..his secretary has some friendliness issues as to how to respond to families who might have been hit by tree… “trees fall every day in the forest” was his last reply when tree took out families decks and fractured structures….
    so….needless to say his heart is not in the right place regarding fitch mtn and the possibility of selling and/or making a reserve/park for the healdsburgians…

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  3. Jake Bayless says:

    I doubt I’ll be the first to say that something about this “deal” stinks.

    The speculative and secretive LLC which was created on or before 2003 (FRANCEZ LLC – APN 087130004 – Delaware LLC file #3635282) seems to be nothing more than a public shill also intended to promote & sustain the ongoing billing and payment for Edwin Wilson’s representation.

    I am certain I’m naive to all the facts (as is seemingly everyone else).

    That said, lacking more information, this “deal” for the public stinks to high hell. It’s time for Mr. Wilson to come clean – you and the “folks” you claim to represent have wasted ENOUGH of the public’s time and resources. I demand that you defecate or get off the pot.

    The big loser, of course, is nothing less than future generations who may never get to explore beautiful Fitch Mountain.

    ~jake bayless

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