CALISTOGA — Calistoga voters will be asked to decide in the spring on a major new resort development, the second such vote in just four months.
The Calistoga City Council decided Tuesday to place the fate of the proposed Enchanted Resorts complex on a special election ballot on March 5 after critics collected enough signatures on a petition to challenge the council’s original approval of the project in August.
“I’m inclined to give this back to the voters, as has been requested, even demanded” by resort opponents, Council member Chris Canning said before the vote, “and to let the voters decide.”
On the Nov. 6 ballot, voters approved a similar but unrelated proposal by a Colorado developer to demolish the exiting Silver Rose Inn on Silverado Trail and replace it with a high-end resort and 21 free-standing houses. The voters backed that project by 60-40 percent, according to preliminary returns, after an expensive and bitterly-fought campaign.
The March vote will settle the future of Enchanted Resorts, a plan to build a 110-room resort on 88 wooded acres on the hillside near the intersection of Highway 29, Foothill Boulevard, and Lincoln Avenue. The property would also feature a spa, ballroom, restaurants, 20 fractional-ownership houses, and building sites for up to 13 private houses.
Critics of the plan say it would snarl traffic, overwhelm the city’s aging water and sewer system, and degrade the small-town atmosphere of Calistoga. Residents of nearby Diamond Mountain were particularly active in the opposition, raising questions about noise, glare, fire safety, damage to wildlife, and degrading views along the ridge where the resort would be built.
Supporters of the resort projects, including city officials, say the new hotels will generate much-needed tax revenue for the city, particularly the Transient Occupancy Tax, the 12 percent levy that hotel guests pay on every room night. The new resorts are estimated to generate more than $2 million per year each in TOT revenue, in addition to sales and property taxes.
The leaders of the opposition urged the City Council on Tuesday to back down and rescind its earlier approval of the resort, saving the city the expense of a special election. Others asked the City Council to delay action to allow newly-elected councilmembers make the choice when they are seated in December. There will be at least two new councilmembers once final election results are released next week.
“This is not a decision for those being shown the door … why not wait for the new Council to be seated,” asked Norma Tofanelli, a fierce critic of all the recent resort proposals.
Councilmembers, however, said there was no reason to delay a decision and voted unanimously to schedule the special election.