In The News

Limited Golden Bear Renovations OK'd

New owners had been redoing the lodge until the county halted work.

March 10, 2001

By MATT WEISER Press Democrat Staff Writer

The owners of the historic Golden Bear Lodge in Kenwood persuaded county officials to restore their operating permit, though neighbors vowed to appeal the decision.

The restaurant on rural Adobe Canyon Road has been closed since 1997. But new owners have been working for more than two years to renovate and reopen the 1905 building, which has played host to such luminaries as Jack London and Walt Disney.

Last June, the county rescinded the lodge's operating permit and halted renovations, saying upgrades by the new owners violated county rules. Because the lodge is a pre-existing use in an area that is now entirely residential, renovations are limited to just 20 percent of the building's value annually.

Lodge owners appealed the county's decision, and on Thursday the Board of Zoning Adjustments voted to let the lodge keep its grandfathered status as a restaurant. The owners, however, will be required to obtain revised building permits and pay unspecified penalties.

The board also affirmed the county's original 1984 operating restrictions on the lodge, which will protect neighbors from any expanded uses. Residents feared the new owners were moving toward holding large special events with outdoor music, which is forbidden.

The action came on an informal vote that will be formalized at the board's next meeting, March 22.

The dispute centered on the appraised value of the property and the value of the renovations performed. Each side offered its own interpretation of the values, and the county's rules on the process were vague.

County officials eventually accepted a revised appraisal presented by the lodge owners, which still showed the 20 percent limit had been exceeded but not by as much as originally estimated.

Les Perry, an attorney for the lodge owners, said his clients did nothing illegal and still disputed the county's calculations.

"Every nail that was driven, every board that was placed was consistent with the county permits that were issued," Perry said. "They (the owners) don't feel like they've done anything wrong, so they don't feel like there should be a punishment."

Neighbors, however, argued that renovations vastly exceeded the limits.

"The developer should not be looking a gift horse in the mouth here," Adobe Canyon Road resident George Forrester said. "Certainly, a penalty should be made."

Forrester and his neighbors asked for a two-month continuance, saying the county should use an appraisal based on the lodge's value when purchased, not a more recent appraisal. He said the neighbors would likely appeal Thursday's decision to the Board of Supervisors.

In a related matter, lodge developers Jon Early and Rick Deringer are charged with misdemeanor violations of the state Fish and Game Code. They allegedly took thousands of rocks from Sonoma Creek in 1999 to build a 250-foot-long wall around the lodge.

A trial date has not been set, though an unlicensed contractor hired for the work pleaded no contest in July and paid a $100 fine.