Plans return for Guerneville resort hotel

The long-dormant Guernewood Park hotel project is back with a potential new owner hoping to build the riverfront resort on nearly 10 acres west of Guerneville.

“The project would include two main hotel buildings with 100 rooms, two meeting rooms, and a small restaurant and spa,” said the announcement from Permit Sonoma, the Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD). “Detached from the main hotel buildings would be 20 guest suites consisting of 10 two-story bungalows” above Hulbert Creek that runs along the northeast edge of the site, said PRMD’s notice sent to multiple agencies for comment as part of the county permitting process.

Property owner Kirk Lok, who operates hotels in Sebastopol and Petaluma, needs a use permit and design review to proceed with the project that’s in the process of being acquired by Noble House Hotels & Resorts, which develops and operates more than a dozen “upper segment” boutique hotels in the U.S.

Lok and Noble House architect Doug Demers met with some Guerneville residents last month to discuss the planning process and potential local issues such as workforce housing, said Guerneville Community Alliance member Jeniffer Wertz.

Guerneville Community Alliance has concerns about worker housing for the resort’s employees, said Wertz. As many as 100 jobs may be available when the resort is open in peak season, said Wertz,

“They did say they have to provide approximately $500,000” to the county for affordable housing development as a permit condition, said Wertz. “The question is where that would go,” whether for housing in Guerneville or elsewhere in the county.

“They said they expect to apply for a conditional use permit later this year,” said Wertz. “After that there’s a 90-day public hearing process. They’re estimating it would take a year or more after that before work starts.”

Other community meetings are expected during the process, said Wertz. Lok has also recruited former Fifth District Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo to help navigate the permitting process, said Wertz.

Collectively, the project proposes a total floor area of 82,337 square feet of new structures and is expected to employ upwards of 37 people during the peak season, said the project description that PRMD Project Planner Brian Millar circulated for comment.

PRMD’s announcement of the resurrected project went out in May to three dozen recipients including county, state and federal jurisdictions, local fire officials, school districts and recreation and parks districts asking for their review.

Any environmental concerns, comments on the merits of the project or proposed conditions and mitigations, including necessary permits, were due back to PRMD last month.

The Lok Group had previously applied for a permit and design review for the Guernewood Park hotel in 2008 but shelved the project after the economic recession.

The hotel has been on the drawing board in various configurations for more than 30 years under a succession of previous owners. The original Guernewood Park Hotel, a prominent Russian River resort destination before World War II and into the 1950s, burned down in the 1960s, but some of the resort cabins remained into the 1970s as low-cost, year-round rental housing along with a neighborhood restaurant and bar called Ginger’s Rancho.

Berkeley architect Paul Wang bought the site in the 1980s to develop Dubrava Village, a planned community consisting of 80 condominiums, a resort hotel and two-dozen retail shops. Wang finished 55 of the Dubrava Village condos before losing the project to foreclosure during the mid-1980s national savings-and-loan debacle.

Lok and partners bought the remaining property for approximately $500,000 in 1999 when the red-hot Bay Area high-tech economy had yet to experience the dot-com meltdown followed by 9/11’s national impact on tourism.

Lok proposed a contemporary Craftsman-style resort offering “a calm and elegant retreat from which to explore Sonoma County’s wine country,” says the company brochure on the website for the Lok Group based in Santa Rosa.

The four-story hotel designed by Santa Rosa architect James McCalligan would sit on reinforced concrete poles supporting rooms elevated above the Russian River’s 100-year flood plain, as required by county building code.

Lok pledged to preserve most of the site’s mature second-growth redwoods, remove invasive vegetation and restore the riparian habitat along Hulbert Creek that borders the property’s east side. 

The project plans include a public river access trail along Hulbert Creek from Highway 116 to the river, public parking and rest rooms.