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Bill Lynch: Need to see a man about a horse?

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The recent announcement that the Castagnasso family has put their Clydesdale farm property on East Spain Street at Second Street East on the market for $7.6 million was seen as inevitable as far back as the late 1980s.

A proposal to preserve it and the other few remaining vacant lands near downtown Sonoma that added to its charm and ambience was actually put before the Sonoma City Council in 1989.

Warren Jaycox, a former local superintendent of schools and member of the Sonoma City Planning Commission, expressed the opinion of many residents at the time that the rapid loss of vacant lots would rob Sonoma of its rural charm. Warren suggested the city should try to conserve precious open spaces like the Castagnasso property by requiring a right of first refusal when undeveloped land is sold. In other words, the city would have the option to buy the property if and when it came on the market.

His proposal was aired and discussed at several council and other public meetings. One of the biggest challenges was how the city would pay for the lands it wanted to conserve. In the end, the proposal failed to gather enough support to move forward.

Another issue with that property came up in 1995, when Professor Edward Castillo, Native American studies coordinator at Sonoma State University, announced that he had found in the Sonoma Mission archives records that indicated there were two grave sites near the mission in which at least 896 named Native Americans were buried. He stated that one of those two gravesites was the Castagnasso pasture where the Clydesdales currently graze.

Local dentist Peter Meyerhof, a historian and active member of the Sonoma Valley Historical Society, has done an extensive search and study of what historical records are available regarding the gravesite locations, and places it roughly 500 yards northeast of the Mission, probably even east of the Castagnasso property. There is no conclusive evidence that offers a more precise location. But it does add to the potential for the development of the Castagnasso property to be challenged by more than those who would just like it to stay open space.

The people representing the interests of local Native America tribes might have an interest in protecting such a gravesite.

In addition, the property’s pending sale comes at a time when advocacy for the preservation of the open pace on Schocken Hill, the city’s backdrop, has been revived.

A large group of Sonoma residents have organized and lobbied against a proposed residential development that, in their opinion, appears to be in conflict with the city’s hillside preservation ordinance.

These kinds of conflicts between local residents who want to protect open space from being developed and those who own the land and have considerable economic interest in its highest and best use to maximize their investment has been going on in Sonoma Valley for decades.

The Castagnasso property is just the latest and possibly the most sensitive recent example.

Back when Warren Jaycox made his proposal, he understood that the preservation of privately owned vacant land had a price, and in most cases, the closer to the center of town, the higher the price.

Had his proposal be allowed to proceed with a funding mechanism included, perhaps lands like the Clydesdale farm on Spain Street and Schocken Hill would already be protected.

Just confiscating the land or downzoning its use to keep it open without compensation to the owners is probably not an option.

The option for the city to buy it and keep it open is here. All it will take is $7.6 million.