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Hotel Sebastopol?

Healdsburg developer explores new luxury project in West County town

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OUT TO PASTURE If plans materialize, the Sebastopol Tractor Co. could be replaced with an upscale hotel.
  • OUT TO PASTURE If plans materialize, the Sebastopol Tractor Co. could be replaced with an upscale hotel.

A plan is quietly afoot in Sebastopol to build a boutique hotel on what's now the site of the Sebastopol Tractor Co.

Local commercial real estate developer Ronald Basso and the Piazza Hospitality Group, which owns the upscale Hotel Healdsburg and h2hotel (and the upcoming h3 Guest House in Healdsburg) have brought in an architect to design a hotel for the site.

If built, the hotel would be located right around the block from another hotel-in-the-works located at the Barlow, an upscale retail complex. The area is a part of town that's been subject to intense debate over development and the future character of Sebastopol.

Details on the hotel are scant. "We have an idea," says David Baker, the San Francisco–based architect who designed the Piazza hotel properties in Healdsburg.

Baker says Basso and Circe Sher, Piazza group's sales and marketing executive, have been laying the groundwork for the proposed hotel, which, he says could house a restaurant, spa, gardens in the spirit of Luther Burbank and perhaps work space for artists. The property at 6828 Depot St. is 1.13 acres, according to real estate records.

The proposed hotel was news to James Saxson, who owns the 30-year-old tractor business but not the building it's housed in, which had historically been the site of a lumberyard. Basso owns the building and the lot.

"I haven't heard a word about that," says Saxon.

He says Basso's had the 1940s-era building up for sale "since he's owned it," and the asking price is $3 million.

"As much as I'd love to, there isn't much to talk about at this point," says Basso. "At this point, everything is very preliminary."

He says he would like to develop the property, but it's an open question as to what form that will take. "There's a desire on my part to develop the property, no question."

But he says, "You're way premature on this. Nothing has been submitted, not even as a concept."

Basso says he is sympathetic to Saxson and his business.

"He's a small businessman and he's struggling, and I don't want him to think he's getting kicked out next week, before this is even going before the planning commission."

Northeast Sebastopol is where highways 12 and 116 cut through the town, which provides a useful metaphor for a town at the crossroads. Sebastopol has worked to attract the tourist trade to the advantage of the town's tax base, while possibly ushering out some of the last of the agricultural services economy in the process.

"The whole farm-support businesses that were out here are gone," says Saxson. "Ninety percent of what used to be here has disappeared."

Redevelopment-minded Sebastopol leaders had previously put together the Northeast Area Redevelopment Plan for this part of town, historically the city's industrial and commercial district. It called for a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use new neighborhood of 55 acres, with retail outlets, a "civic space" (park) and other developments.

As a candidate for Sebastopol city council in 2010, Basso, who owns numerous commercial properties in town, answered a candidate questionnaire about the plan pretty bluntly: "The Northeast Plan is dead and buried."

Five years later, it's not so dead after all—even if the hotel proposal is in its infancy.

"The [hotel] proposal is unformed as yet," Baker says, "because we're going to be taking a lot of input from a lot of people. We're going to ask people, what do they want to see? Sebastopol's a special place, and people will want to have a voice with what's going on there."

Baker hopes to see "workshops on the site" to talk about the proposed hotel, but none has yet been scheduled, and says the immediate task is to talk to the "various stakeholders and get their feedback on it."

"We're going to talk to the community first and not just say, 'We've got the money, here's the plan, if you don't like it, go away.'"

Last June, city planners put on a workshop devoted to the fate of northeast Sebastopol. Saxson says he wasn't invited to the workshop, but he went to it anyway. He says he didn't hear anything about a hotel to replace his tractor store at the workshop, which Basso also attended.

In an email, Sher said she was traveling and unavailable for comment. Sebastopol councilman Robert Jacob did not return a call for comment.

A spokesperson from the firm that represents the Piazza Hospitality Group, Glodow Nead Communications in San Francisco, said she "cannot confirm that this project is connected to the Piazza Hospitality Group." Pressed, she would only say that Piazza is "investigating" the plan.

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