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Kenwood resort property changes hands

An aerial photo of the 186-acre La Campagna property off Sonoma Hwy. with an outline of the development subdivision (13 lots total) superimposed. The property is permitted for 11 home sites, hotel, and winery.

Over a decade ago, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved a major development on the former Graywood Ranch in Kenwood, a project known at the time as the Sonoma Country Inn, and then La Campagna. And while preliminary work has been done on the property over the years, there has been no sign of actual building construction.

With the recent acquisition of the 186-acre project by a new owner, that is likely to change.

A street view of the property from Sonoma Hwy. at Lawndale Road.
The purchase price tag? An estimated eye-popping $40.7 million.

The transaction? A deed filed Dec. 31 shows the new owner as Tohigh Property Investment, a unit of Beijing-based mega-company Oceanwide Holdings. The seller was Campagna Hotel and Campagna Land companies, owned by Modesto-based Save Mart Supermarkets and its CEO and Chairman Robert Piccinini.

What do you get for $40 million plus? A number of potentially very lucrative entitlements OK’d by the Board of Supervisors back in August of 2004. The property, located off of Sonoma Hwy. across from Lawndale Road, is slated for a luxury 50-room inn with a 125-seat restaurant and spa, located up a hill in a saddle area below Hood mountain.

In addition, the approved development includes 11 residential lots, and a 10,000 case winery on the valley floor that would be open to the public, and allowed up to 20 special events a year. A “country store” for retail sales of local agricultural products can be in a separate building or attached to the winery.

The scenic land identified for the project was once part of the 476-acre Graywood Ranch, a property with a lengthy history of attempts at development, and not without its share of controversies.

In 1980, brothers Lendal and Morton Gray had a plan for an inn, restaurant, and winery, but in 1983 the Board of Supervisors rejected the proposal. In 1984, the Grays come back with a revised plan, which was then approved by the board – a 36-room inn, 18 home sites, and a 25,000-30,000 case winery.

As part of that 1984 decision, the board rezoned a part of the ranch from an agricultural designation to a “Recreation and Visitor Serving” one, also known as “K” zoning. No development of the project took place, but the details were incorporated into the county’s General Plan in 1989.

The 1990’s saw the ranch subject to legal disputes over how best to divide and sell parts of the land. Some in the Gray family had sold pieces of interest in the ranch to third parties.

Then in 2000, a partnership of investors that included well-known luxury resort company Auberge Resorts, Save Mart Supermarkets, and others, bought a chunk of Graywood Ranch for an estimated $7-$8 million, including the portion with the K zoning.

In 2001, the Sonoma Country Inn application was filed for the 50-room inn, 11 home sites and winery, prompting strong opposition from many in Sonoma Valley, including a newly formed community group, the Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA).

Opponents saw the project as a game-changer in Sonoma Valley, and not in a good way, with what they argued were too many negative impacts on the environment and the community. Supporters pointed out that the land was already zoned for the inn, that the project would be an overall economic benefit to the Sonoma Valley, and that the high-end destination resort would generate millions of dollars for county coffers.

Many meetings, hearings, negotiations, environmental studies, and news articles later, the Board of Supervisors approved the Sonoma Country Inn by a 4-0 vote, including an aye vote by then First District Supervisor Valerie Brown. While also touting the potential tax windfall for the county, supervisors said other benefits included the fact that the plans included the protection of sensitive biotic areas, the establishment of a preservation zone along a creek, the dedication of a large open space easement, the development of a trail into Hood Mountain Regional Park, and the fact that the lot sizes would be frozen, prohibiting any further subdivision potential.

VOTMA sued the county over the project’s approval, claiming violations of state environmental laws, but the county prevailed at both the trial court and appellate levels, with litigation ending in 2006.

Over time, the economic downturn hit, leaving specific plans for building the project somewhat in limbo. Much of the infrastructure work was completed, such as installing center and left turn lanes on Sonoma Highway at the intersections of Randolph Ave. and Lawndale Road. Roads were built on the property, some of the utility work was done, required environmental protection work was completed, as well as the dedication of part of the property for open space and the identification of a trail route.

The ownership also eventually changed, leaving Save Mart Supermarkets and its owner Bob Piccinini as the main investor.

In addition to acquiring the 186 resort acreage, new owners Tohigh Property Investment has also purchased from Campagna Land two other residential parcels on the other side of Campagna Lane, the road that comes off of Sonoma Hwy. Those two properties were part of 280 acres that remained in the Lendal Gray estate, which used to total six parcels. One of the remaining four properties was bought by a private party in 2012 and has been built upon, leaving three still remaining in the Lendal Gray Living Trust. Healdsburg attorney Thomas Passalacqua, the trustee, declined to comment on whether sales are pending for those three parcels.

Jim Cipolla, vice president of Save Mart Supermarkets, wrote in an email that Save Mart decided to sell and focus its efforts and resources on its primary grocery business rather than further develop the property.

Paul Schrier, a San Francisco-based lawyer representing new owner Tohigh, said his client declined to comment at the moment on the recent purchase.

Tohigh is one of more than 40 entities of Oceanwide Holdings, a major Chinese international private corporation involved in a variety of sectors, including finance, real estate, energy and media. Tohigh signed an agreement last November to acquire the First & Mission Towers development in San Francisco for $296 million. Tohigh is also developing the $1 billion “Fig Central” high-rise, condo and hotel project in Los Angeles adjacent to the Staples Center.

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