“People will want to make sure that not only they can travel but they can travel safely and have a safe experience in coming here to Sonoma County,” said Todd O’Leary, vice president of marketing and communications for Sonoma County Tourism at the Business Journal’s virtual Business Recovery Conference in May.
Big resort on the Napa-Lake border
The biggest hospitality project on the horizon for Lake County is a 16,000-acre ultraluxury resort in Guenoc Valley off Highway 29 near Middletown. The project by Lotusland Investment Holdings was approved by the Board of Supervisors on July 21.
Approvals allow for 400 hotel units in five “boutique” complexes plus 450 resort units, 1,400 estate villas, 500 workforce housing bedrooms, according to the environmental impact report. The goal is to build it over a decade.
But the development has run into legal opposition from an environmental justice group that has accuses the county of inadequate review of concerns about impacts to wildlife, traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, water resources and aesthetics. The complaint from the Center for Biological Diversity, filed in August, claims the county didn’t properly consider project alternatives or address the group’s earlier comments on the draft document. Species of concern to the organization include golden eagles, foothill yellow legged frogs and western pond turtles.
Peter Broderick, the Tucson, Arizona-based groups lead attorney in the case, told the Business Journal that it is still compiling the administrative record for the matter and a hearing is likely several months away.
The first phase of the Guenoc Valley project would cover 1,415 acres and include 127 hotel units, 141 resort cottages, 50 temporary workforce hotel units, 20 campsites, 100 workforce cohousing units and 401 residential villas.
Also part of that would be a 55-acre outdoor entertainment area, spa, sports fields, polo grounds, a new golf course and practice facility, and commercial space.
Of the total property acreage, about 12,000 acres wouldn’t be developed, including 2,700 acres of open space and nearly 2,000 acres of agricultural preserve. That includes preservation of 1,600 acres of oak woodland.
Lotusland, a San Francisco- and Hong Kong-based group, purchased the property four years ago. Maha Resort and Developments is handling entitlements.
Glamping comes to Lake County
At the 4,300-acre Six Sigma Ranch at 13372 Spruce Grove Road southeast of the lake, the Ahlmann family has been looking for more ways to attract visitors to the loop road off the Highway 29 thoroughfare between Calistoga and Lower Lake. And the working farm, winery and trails also have attracted a global “glamping” group that plans to add Lake County to its luxury camping sites.
The capacity for campers and the blend of wine, farming and outdoor recreation attracted Huttopia to ink a land-lease agreement with the Ahlmanns for one of a camp. Named for the combination of “hut” and “utopia,” the 21-year-old French company has 57 locations in France, China and North America, including one in Quebec, Canada, and two in the U.S. Northeast. The company said it has about 11,000 annual bookings, which it calls “pitches,” and annual revenue of 55 million euros (nearly $67 million).
Two years ago, a Huttopia scout for California sites was returning to San Francisco after an unsuccessful trip to the North Coast when he happened across Six Sigma’s wine-tasting sign. He turned in and reportedly was taken with the property during the 2-mile drive up the entry road. The scout’s report led to a visit from the Bossanne family that founded Huttopia.
Beside the Lake County property’s characteristics, there were three key selling points for Huttopia, according to Margeaux Boussane, brand and business developer for Canada and the United States.
First, the area is still “off the beaten track” but is poised for growth in the next few years. Second, it is close to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Third, California is the place to be for glamping, a growing movement of luxurious camping with fine dining and access to amenities.
“Californians have a real ‘outdoor’ culture around camping, hiking, road tripping, National Parks and National Forests,” she said in an email. “It is one of the most diverse environments in the United States, and it is very exciting to have projects in this state. The climate helps, as it is possible to find temperate winters and the camping season is longer. California is also a very populated state, and it is easy to be a few hours’ drive away from a big urban center.”