Developer Threatens to Sue City of Martinez Over Delayed Residential Project

DeNova Homes, Martinez, Friend of Pine Meadow, Pine Meadow Golf Course, Traditions at the Meadows

By Meghan Hall 

Multiple lawsuits over the potential of a closed Martinez golf course have come to a head once again, just over a year after a 2019 settlement seemed to smooth things over. In a recent statement, DeNova Homes released a warning that it intended to sue the City of Martinez, claiming the jurisdiction failed to uphold the agreed upon terms of the previous agreement that would allow the developer to proceed with its plans to build homes on the Pine Meadow Golf Course. 

“We want the City to live up to a legal settlement, and that includes allowing the housing project to start,” said Dave Sansom, founder and CEO of DeNova Homes in a statement. “We don’t want to force the City into bankruptcy, but they leave us with no choice by refusing to honor a legally binding agreement that they themselves approved and signed.”

If pursued, the lawsuit could bankrupt the City and leave taxpayers responsible for the price tag. DeNova is seeking $35 million in damages, which DeNova says is the cost of the delays. The cost of the damages could send the City into bankruptcy.

DeNova purchased the 25.9-acre golf course on Vine Hill Way back in 2015, and disputes regarding the future of the property began almost immediately. Shortly after DeNova’s acquisition, the Martinez City Council rezoned the property to allow for residential uses. In response, Friends of Pine Meadow, a local citizens group, sued in an effort to maintain the property as public space. The organization collected enough petition signatures to force a public vote on the matter. DeNova subsequently filed a lawsuit in April of 2016, which asserted Friends of Pine Meadow was disseminating false information about the project. The suit was dismissed under California’s “anti-SLAPP” statutes.

Friends of Pine Meadow would go on to file a lawsuit against the City in April of 2017, challenging the City’s initial rezone. The suit contended that the City Council did not proceed with the rezone in a manner required by law—with the Contra Costa Superior Court agreeing and subsequently finding the proposed development impermissible as a result of improper land use designation.

The resulting agreement between DeNova, Friends of Pine Meadow and the Martinez officials would require DeNova to transfer 9.3 acres of the property to the City and incorporate open space into its designs. DeNova would then be allowed to construct 65 homes on the remaining land, a development which it called “Traditions at the Meadows.”

DeNova also agreed to $1 million in improvements dedicated to the park area and open spaces, as well as an additional $500,000 towards the future acquisition or improvement of parkland or public open space in or near Martinez. The City agreed to conduct a public process to determine park uses and public improvements.

The Settlement—which the Martinez City Council voted to approve in July of 2019—intended to allow the permit approval process to move forward.

Following the suit, the City Council approved the final map for the subdivision, and a public design meeting was held in August to gather community input for the park’s design. In September, the City adopted proposed parking improvements via resolution and a General Plan Amendment was passed to incorporate clarifications regarding Measure I.

DeNova claims the City has violated the Settlement Agreement by stalling approvals and failing to disclose information from the Contra Costa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District regarding drainage issues resulting from the project. DeNova stated that the City is using claims about the site’s drainage to stall approvals—a point the City refutes.

“The City is puzzled that DeNova wishes to argue this dispute in the media. DeNova accepted the City’s proposal—encouraged by the Court—to mediate this dispute with the help of a professional neutral,” stated Michael Colantuono, counsel to the City of Martinez in DeNova’s lawsuit against the City. “We look forward to continuing constructive dialog to resolve these issues.”

According to Colantuono, the City supports the project but has several concerns, stating that The County Flood Control District confirmed the project will flood Vine Hill Way for more than an hour at a time during major storms. The City also stated that drainage improvements will be expensive to keep up and as the project stands, costs of maintenance would be passed on to taxpayers. 

Additionally, the Police Department has expressed concern about the proposed park design. Officials are worried that a large, artificial hill that is currently part of the plans will obstruct monitoring of the site and invite those on bikes and skateboard to take “flying leaps.” 

The City claims that the 2019 Settlement Agreement only required the Martinez officials to “consider” the project and does not create an obligation to approve the current proposal. Colantuono emphasized that the City would like to see housing on the site—as long as it is well planned and benefits the community at large.

Colantuono added, “Again, the City supports the project, but has no intention of imposing a badly designed project on the community it serves or those who buy homes from DeNova.”

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