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Major Lake County resort development approved
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Major Lake County resort development approved

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The Lake County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve a massive resort development known as the Guenoc Valley Mixed Use Project.

The project covers 16,000 acres or about 25 square miles in southeastern Lake County, some 24 miles and 40 minutes from Calistoga. It includes the resort on the Guenoc Ranch property, 100 units of workforce housing on a 12.75-acre parcel in Middletown and a 37-acre well site at the junction of Highway 29 and Butts Canyon Road.

Supervisors approved the project 4-1, adding a requirement that developers provide funds to manage hazardous vegetation. Supervisors certified the project’s final environmental impact report and approved General Plan amendments, rezonings, major use permits, tentative subdivision maps and a 20-year development agreement.

Moke Simon, chair of the Lake County Board of Supervisors, said the “unprecedented” project will transform the county and have tremendous economic impacts, including through property taxes and transient occupancy taxes.

“This will change the course of Lake County’s growth and its future,” Simon said.

Supervisor Tina Scott praised the applicants for going “above and beyond” to protect the environment and answer the community’s questions. She called the project “a game-changer” for the county.

“The community ... is excited about this project coming to Lake County,” she said.

Supervisor Rob Brown cast the dissenting vote. He said the county should clarify that on-site groundwater is the project’s primary water source and an off-site well is merely a secondary source, and there should be a trigger for moving to the off-site well. The on-site groundwater is expected to provide enough water for the project.

“This is the largest land use decision this board will ever make,” Brown said at the beginning of the hearing.

The first phase of the project will include:

  • Five hotels with 127 hotel units;
  • 141 resort residential units;
  • 385 residential estate villas;
  • Resort amenities, including an amphitheater, spa, equestrian area with polo grounds, a new golf course, a camping area and commercial and retail facilities;
  • Agriculture production, including two wineries;
  • Essential facilities, including a 50-unit temporary workforce hotel, a fire and emergency response center, a float plane deck on Detert reservoir, and two helipads;
  • Supporting infrastructure, including a solar energy production area.

The project is described as high-quality agritourism, with low-density residential and preserved open space. In fact, the 385 residential estate villas, ranging in size from two to 500 acres, will be just two units per 10 acres.

It will take an estimated 10 years to build the first of the project’s five phases.

Supervisors received letters Monday from the California Department of Justice, requesting further analysis of the project’s impact on the risk of wildfires, and the Center for Biological Diversity, requesting more study of wildfire risk, greenhouse gas emissions and biological resources.

The project underwent a few last-minute changes. The applicants reduced the number of residential parcels from 401 to 385 to eliminate smaller parcels abutting open space, added loop roads to improve circulation, and pledged that the helipads will be able to accommodate Cal Fire’s firefighting helicopters.

St. Helena attorney Kay Philippakis of Farella, Braun & Martel LLP, representing the applicants, said the project has a comprehensive fire management program that will serve as a model for other projects around California.

“Approving the project means you’re voting for an incredibly robust system of wildfire prevention and defense that will benefit not just the future residents of this property, but everyone in the vicinity,” she said.

The project has Napa County ties. Howard Backen of Backen, Gillam & Kroeger of Napa, will design the Maha Farm Community, which includes a winery, hilltop hotel, community clubhouse, resort, farmers’ market, post office and a water feature. Courtenay Bauer, principal with Verse Design LA, who works with the applicant, Lotusland, said it is the largest and densest part of the development and nearest to Butts Canyon Road.

Philippakis also spoke during the July 7 hearing, saying she has worked on the application for a couple of years, although she has been involved with the property for 18 years, when the late Orville Magoon and his family owned it and ran the historic property once owned by British-American socialite and actress Lillie Langtry (1853-1929.)

Developer and partner Jonathan Breene also spoke on July 7, saying he first looked at the project in 2012 and with Adrian Zecha was part of a group that bought the land in 2016. In a video, Zecha said Guenoc Valley was the biggest piece of land he’d ever worked with, and the goal of the project is to keep the beauty of the land.

The video also listed those associated with the project applicant, Lotusland Investment Group from San Francisco, including Xu Yiming, Adrain Zehca, Tadao Ando, Bill Harlan, Jean-Michel Gathy, Howard Backen, Ed Tuttle, Tom Doak, Kerry Hill and Nacho Figueras and the Ramos Design Group.

According to Latife Hayson, real estate sales associate with Compass, the project is $5 billion in initial investment.

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You may reach David Stoneberg at 967-6800 or editor@sthelenastar.com

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star and The Weekly Calistogan.

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