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TMCNet:  Diablo Grande shows split personality: New owner talks to residents but hasn't contacted county

[January 03, 2009]

Diablo Grande shows split personality: New owner talks to residents but hasn't contacted county

Jan 03, 2009 (The Modesto Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
This is a tale of two new owners of a major development in Stanislaus County.
One is engaged and communicative, telling homeowners and golf club members what future plans are and what they can expect.

The other is strangely silent and has not contacted Stanislaus County since buying the development, even though the county has suspended building permits until water quality problems can be resolved.

The development is Diablo Grande in the hills west of Patterson, and those two owners are the same one, World International LLC, with an apparent split personality.

World International acquired Diablo Grande almost three months ago in a bankruptcy court sale. The 28,500-acre development includes about 400 homes and two championship-level golf courses.

Gary DiSantis, a Diablo Grande homeowner and president of the golf members association, said Wednesday that he has met with the new owners and has stayed in touch with them in phone calls and e-mails.

"They have been very open in their communication, with a lot of enthusiasm over what they hope to do," DiSantis said. "I haven't heard any negative comments from homeowners or members."

Among the plans the new owners have discussed are improving the water quality, developing the long-promised hotel in a new location, improving the entranceway to the development and signing a longer-term contract with Sierra Golf, the company that operates the golf courses, DiSantis said.


"They want to solve problems and start moving ahead," he said. "I think these people are going to be really good."

No word with county officials
Stanislaus County officials, however, say they have yet to hear from the new owners.
"We simply haven't had any contact," Planning Director Kirk Ford said. "I would think if they have future plans, they would want to talk to us."

County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, whose district includes Diablo Grande, said he hasn't heard anything, either.

"They've never talked to us, before or after the sale. It's very strange," DeMartini said. "I would think they would want to be filled in on Measure E (the county initiative to limit residential growth in unincorporated areas). They do have some vested rights, but that would be a concern if it were me."

The Bee was unable to get a response from Laurus Corp., which represents World International.
Water problems continue to plague the development. The water system exceeds the state's limit for trihalo- methanes, shown to cause cancer in lab animals at higher concentrations.

About three weeks ago, at the urging of the California Department of Health, Stanislaus County suspended new building permits at Diablo Grande until the water problem is resolved.

The state standard for tri- halomethanes in drinking water is 0.080 milligrams per liter. The most recent test results of the Diablo Grande system show 0.103 milligrams per liter, said Ken August, spokesman for the Department of Health. New test results should be available early this month.

The Western Hills Water District, which runs the Diablo Grande water system, has tried a couple of filtering systems that have not solved the problem, August said.

An ammonia and chlorine disinfectant system is the long-term solution, August said, and that system should be completed by the end of this year. The system will cost $250,000 to $300,000, he said. The new owners have verbally committed to subsidizing the water system, August said.

The risk to homeowners in the meantime is slight, August said. "The levels of trihalo- methanes are slightly above the state standard, and there is a measure of safety built into the standard," he said. "Over a short period of time, exposure at those levels carries only a very slight increase in risk to the consumer."

The suspension of building permits isn't likely to cause the new owners any problems soon, given the depressed housing market, DeMartini said.

Some of the other plans described by the Diablo Grande owners will require county approval, including moving the location of the hotel to atop a hill for better views, and the entranceway improvements.

The plan approved by the county almost 10 years ago includes 2,000 acres and 2,200 to 2,300 homes, along with the hotel, conference center and winery, Ford said.

If the new owners want to build beyond that, they will have to go through another costly California Environmental Quality Act review, Ford said.

In the meantime, county officials are waiting for some contact from the new owners.
"I look forward to hearing from them," Ford said.
Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.
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