By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Windsor Councilwoman Debora Fudge remembers the “foggy, wintry” day in 1997, in a field north of town, when an auto salesman first pitched his plan to build a new dealership there.
“There were two white, plastic chairs and some chickens,” she said Wednesday of the meeting she had with auto dealer Tim Sanderson.
He was proposing to move his dealership from Healdsburg, if Windsor would add the property to its urban growth boundary.
The Windsor Town Council eventually would agree to annex the seven acres north of Arata Lane and also approved almost all facets of the project, other than some engineering and building permits.
But 16 years after it was first proposed, the field next to Highway 101 remains, with the car dealership yet to be built.
That didn’t stop the Windsor Town Council from granting Sanderson another extension last week.
“We do have every intention of moving forward with this project. I just need time,” Sanderson told the council before he was granted a two-year extension to begin construction.
“We just right now cannot afford to move forward financially,” he said. “But we do see it happening down the road.”
Sanderson blamed the delay on the downturn in the economy, which particularly affected the auto sector beginning in 2008, the year after he got the annexation for his seven-acre parcel and approval for his new car showroom.
He said that national auto sales went from 15 million that year, down to 10 million at its nadir.
The good news is that the industry is rebounding, with car sales expected to be about 12 million this year, he told the council.
“Our sales have increased 22 percent from 2011 to 2012. In 2013, they’re probably going to increase another 20 percent,” he said.
Although his dealership in Healdsburg went from 40 employees down to 20, he said “we’re on the verge of hiring more people because our sales are increasing.”
Sanderson said it’s fortunate that he is a Ford dealer because Ford Motor Co. is “doing extremely well” and offers small cars, electric and hybrids.
Sanderson did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday to find out when he anticipates breaking ground in Windsor.
Fudge on Wednesday acknowledged the town was eager to get the sales tax revenue generated by the dealership. It also was seen as desirable in the newly incorporated town, which had a lot of houses, but few businesses in 1997.
Windsor officials embraced the new dealership because it was seen as “park-like,” the opposite of the typical expansive car lot under bright lights.
The “ranch and barn” style is planned with open-air pavilions surrounded by grass and shaded by numerous trees.
Healdsburg officials years ago fought Windsor’s plans to annex the Sanderson site, claiming it would encroach on open space between the two cities.
Sanderson has been in downtown Healdsburg since 1946 and in 1952 moved to its current 3-acre site a few blocks north of the Healdsburg Plaza.
Healdsburg has two other car dealers, McConnell Chevrolet-Olds and Silveira Pontiac-Buick-GMC, as well as Opperman and Son, which sells specialized trucks.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or email@example.com.