November 7 2009, Rio Nido -- 25 Rio Nido residents gathered on the site of the former Rio Nido Lodge (also known as the Rio Nido Inn) at 11:30am to meet with the new property owner, Dennis Judd. After a series of informal conversations with board members from RNHOA, the Sebastopol-based developer and owner of Cipora Properties invited everyone to a meeting so he could introduce himself and address concerns about his plans for the site.
This was definitely a good move on Mr. Judd's part, considering recent problems with the Rio Nido Lodge property itself; ongoing drug, crime and quality of life issues associated with other multi-unit dwellings in the area; and the fact that Mr. Judd's company specializes in affordable housing and recently obtained Russian River Redevelopment Oversight Committee (RRROC) approval for redevelopment funds for a nearby complex on River Road. For indeed, some neighbors did come with metaphorical torches and pitchforks in hand.
As people arrived, Mr. Judd and Stephen Radeljik (also from Cipora Properties) passed out fliers with an endorsement from local activist and West County Gazette publisher Vesta Copestakes vouching for Mr. Judd's care for the communities in which he builds on one side and yours truly's Top 10 possible uses for the Rio Nido Inn on the other side. (Flattery will get you everywhere!)
Mr. Judd described how he has worked with communities towards "transforming properties" and has been brainstorming with the Community Development Commission about possible uses. Many Rio Nido residents assumed that Mr. Judd intends to build another low-income housing complex. Instead, Mr. Judd stated that he really doesn't know "where to go with this property," and that he wants to work with us on "not just this property, but the whole community." He pointed out that since purchasing the property -- which has caused major problems due to neglect by the previous owner -- things have already gotten better. Mr. Judd also mentioned that the squatters are gone and "now it's cleaned up." He added that "this sends a message that we're a beautiful community & we're not going to put up with this crap any more."
With apparent sincerity, Mr. Judd restated that he hasn't made a decision on what do do with the Rio Nido Lodge and is open to suggestions. He even mentioned that his first choice would be to build a "healing retreat" for people suffering from cancer. Mr. Judd mentioned that he has also discussed the possibility of a specialty grocery store with the owner of a small, local chain. Amazingly enough, it appears that even real estate developers are capable of idealistic dreams.
Ironically, previous Rio Nido Inn owner Jim Friedman had also purchased the now-notorious Faerie Ring Campground in Guerneville back in 2001 with the intention of transforming it into "a healing retreat." Matthew Hagan wrote a flattering article, "Lord of the Faerie Ring", in the December 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian. Quel ironie. Then again, Mr. Friedman is a prison psychologist at San Quentin who rented out his various local properties to people just getting out of prison and recovering (or NOT recovering) methamphetamine addicts. So what would you expect?
Following Mr. Judd's presentation, a heated discussion followed. Rio Nido resident and writer Justin Raimondo (whose vituperative response to a conciliatory piece Mr. Judd wrote for the the West County Gazette will appear in next week's issue) adamantly warned Mr. Judd that "We WILL oppose affordable housing." (Not River Rattina -- the way things are going, she might actually need one of those units soon!) Others expressed similar levels of skepticism.
"I don't think you know what we're going through. We have three section eight houses which are drug houses," exclaimed second-generation resident Amy Merkel Rose. A discussion of problem properties throughout Rio Nido ensued, with one neighbor adding, "When the roach motel closed, the roaches scattered but they didn't go away." and another chiming in, "Some of them live next door to me." Dennis Judd responded, "You're fighting an issue that isn't real. I'm not saying we're going to do low income housing. We're still investigating." Justin Raimondo shot back, "You mean you bought a building for $250K without knowing what you'd do with it?" Another neighbor agreed, "That seems suspect."
Sonoma County Planning Commission member, Tom Lynch came to Mr. Judd's defense, explaining that the previous two owners did not have sufficient resources to maintain the Rio Nido Inn. "Dennis Judd has resources to wrok with the community. He fixes up and cleans up neighborhoods. You can't stereotype the tenants ... Can't we get some more positive energy to move forward?" Tom Lynch is also a local resident, member of RRROC, and the owner of a construction company. He is also a long-time friend of Mr. Judd who has worked on projects for him.
Domenic Farnocchia, RNHOA board member, Russian River Parks & Recreation board member, and unofficial Mayor of Rio Nido, inquired of Mr. Judd, "Are you willing to be part of this neighborhood and do a neighborhood watch with us?" The meeting wound down as local resident Randie Johnson asked, "How can we -- as your neighbors -- help you to come to a decision?" Tom Lynch stated that the next steps would be to hav a larger neighborhood meeting with more advance notice and someone from the Community Development Commission present. A tour of the vandalized and gutted -- but now clean -- interior followed.
The next meeting will be held Saturday December 12 2009, 2:00pm at the Rio Nido Lodge and facilitated by Mr. Farnocchia. Panelists are to include: Mark Krug, executive director of the Community Development Commission; 5th District Supervisor Efren Carrillo, RNHOA board member Doug Meisner, local resident and RRROC candidate Chris Auzten, and others.