Weeds at shuttered golf course worry neighbors
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said that Adobe Investments is going through bankruptcy, which is false. Adobe Investments is not going through bankruptcy.
As summer heats up and fire season becomes imminent, east Petaluma residents are sounding the alarm about a potentially flammable threat — dry grass at the shuttered Adobe Creek Golf Course.
The 100-acre property has been minimally maintained since its owner, Adobe Investments LLC, shut down the 18-hole course at the start of 2017. Half of the property, the six holes that meander through a subdivision, is within city limits. The remaining land is in the county, which makes enforcement tricky, said Jessica Power, Petaluma’s fire marshal.
She said her office has received several calls about dry vegetation on the property. The course owner took care of the weeds on the city side, she said, which is the only portion over which her office has jurisdiction.
“The city side was abated through our weed abatement process,” she said. “They had it squared away before the June 15 deadline.”
The portion of the course outside of the city is within the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District, which is aware of the weed issue. Bat. Chief Mike Weihman said he received calls from neighbors and went and walked the course last week. He noted a couple of minor infractions, like cut brush collected in a parking lot.
But, for the most part, the land in the county side is considered fallow and since it does not abut any structures, the county’s ordinance does not compel the owner to abate weeds, Weihman said.
“For open land, the fire code is pretty lenient,” he said. “Looking at the situation, I don’t see a big threat to the community.”
Weihman noted that there has been a 200 to 300-foot buffer cut between the homes and the unmaintained overgrowth. And homes in the subdivision appear to have an appropriate defensible space buffer around them.
Still, Peter Kassebaum, who lives near the course, is concerned, and he has reached out to county fire officials.
“If you get that huge area up in flames, that’s potentially dangerous,” said the 76-year-old former broadcaster. “Fires don’t stop at the county line. We’ve all seen that.”
Richard Coombs, the general partner in Adobe Investments, said he works with the Adobe Creek Homeowners Association to do required maintenance.
“We work extensively with them,” he said. “We were out with them last month putting up additional ‘No trespassing’ signs. We respond whenever they have concerns and we haven’t heard anything from them for awhile.”
John Moore, president of the homeowners association, said he hasn’t heard many complaints from residents especially since the golf course owner has abated the weeds within the city limits.
“He’s been keeping it OK, certainly in the city,” he said. “It does create a buffer between our homes and the county property. There’s nothing overgrown that comes up to the homes.”
Coombs is also the general partner in Rooster Run Golf Club, Petaluma’s other public course just a few miles north of Adobe Creek. Adobe Investments is also suing Chicago Title Company. Coombs said he could not talk about the pending litigation other than it was a “title defect” lawsuit.
Coombs has proposed building 55 homes on half of the defunct golf course while keeping nine of the holes as an executive course. But that proposal faces several hurdles including approval from the homeowners association, possible annexation of county land and a zoning change.
The land within the city limits is governed by a zoning requirement enacted in 1989 mandating that public access and use of the golf course be preserved through 2039. It’s also under an open space easement requiring the property be maintained with a golf course or open space use in perpetuity, barring other development.
Coombs has previously said his title company failed to disclose the open space easement when the land was purchased.
Adobe Investments bought the property in 2011 from local developer Bill Gallaher. Gallaher purchased the course earlier that year after the previous owners filed for bankruptcy and the land was placed into a court-appointed receivership.
Moore said that the homeowners association and Coombs began negotiating this year about the future of the property, but those talks are on hold pending the outcome of the title lawsuit.
“We were having good negotiations,” Moore said. “We are working toward a conclusion that will be mutually beneficial.”
Ron Nadeau, who lives along what used to be the 10th fairway, said he is concerned about the overgrowth and the potential for fire on the county portion of the property.
“It’s probably four to five feet tall and dense and dried out,” he said. “We’re worried. Everyone is.”
(Contact Matt Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.)