.Luxury B&B seeks docs, correspondence in Superior Court

Ruse Sues

Healdsburg is involved in more than one lawsuit at the moment.

Mercy Wellness’ suit against the city of Healdsburg over the dispensary selection process was the most recent, but it was preceded by a filing in Superior Court more than four months earlier, on Oct. 27, 2023, by the owners of 891 Grove Street LLC—better known as The Ruse.

In the fall of 2022, The Ruse applied to expand its business to include not only the legacy right to operate a 13-room bed-and-breakfast, known to that point as the Honor Mansion, but to include club-like recreation and social facilities.

But the permit was denied by planning director Scott Duiven, who said the proposal most accurately met the Healdsburg Land Use Code as a “private club, fraternal lodge and meeting hall.” That more intensive use is not permitted in the residential zone R-1-6,000, so Duiven ruled that the LLC had applied for operations that were not permitted by zoning.

Most of the recreation facilities that The Ruse built during the three years of renovation fall in the residential zone, including pickleball courts, a badminton and yoga lawn, an extensive putting green, a redesigned swimming pool and other features of a luxury resort.

In a way, the decision hung on a technicality: The property at issue spans two city zones, the Grove Mixed Use zone that does allow such recreational uses, and the more limiting Residential zone, toward the west end of the three-acre lot.

The LLC appealed to the Planning Commission, but in October 2022, the commission backed Duiven and again denied the permit. Ten days after that denial, the LLC appealed to the city council, which was scheduled to hear its appeal on Feb. 21, 2023.

But a week before that hearing, the LLC mysteriously withdrew its appeal, for reasons that weren’t clear at the time. And for the next six months, the issue quieted down—until on Oct. 4, 2023, a citation or Notice of Violation (NOV) was issued by the Healdsburg Police.

It asserted that The Ruse was in violation of Healdsburg Municipal Code section 1.12.030 (Public Nuisance) and Healdsburg Land Use Code (HLUC) section 20.28.190 (Existing Conditional Uses).

The citation was signed by the city’s police chief, Matt Jenkins. When asked why the code enforcement NOV was filed, Jenkins told Weeklys, “The Notice of Violation was prompted by multiple factors, including anonymous complaints and social media posts by The Ruse promoting selling memberships for a club component for non-registered guests.”

Among the offenses: hosting lunch and dinner events at the Pavilion, an area only permitted for breakfast and afternoon snacks to registered guests only. Other violations enumerated in the NOV included hosting pickleball tournaments with non-registered guests; hosting loud parties that lasted past 11pm, again with non-registered guests; and serving alcoholic beverages without the required ABC permit.

In addition, the NOV says that “The Ruse is actively marketing memberships for a club component to be added to The Ruse for non-registered guests,” harkening back to the reason Duiven, and the Planning Commission, had rejected the use permit.

A Ruse by Another Name

The ownership of The Ruse is held by 891 Grove Street LLC, whose registered address is 1240 Mayacama Club Dr., the headquarters of the privately owned luxury golf resort near Mark West Springs. Owners include Jonathan Wilhem, Patrick Wilhelm and Craig Ramsey, who is also affiliated with the restaurant on the Plaza, The Matheson.

Following the NOV, The Ruse LLC went to court. It filed a Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate, which holds that the city failed to fully comply with several requests for documents under the Public Records Act (PRA), and should be ordered to conduct a thorough search and turn over all records to the LLC.

The suit holds that the LLC first requested the PRA documents in December 2022—a date that follows the Planning Commission’s denial of the use permit, but precedes the scheduled date of the city council review, Feb. 21.

The city began fulfilling that request with the first delivery of records on Feb. 3, 2023, after which (on Feb. 14) The Ruse dropped its appeal to the city council. Subsequent records were turned over in February, March and April.

The fact that the lawsuit requests a prompt search and delivery of all non-exempt documents—and that the city pays for the court fees and costs associated with the lawsuit—does not necessarily suggest the LLC is attempting to overturn the Planning Department’s denial of the permit.

Instead, the suit appears to be looking for something—something not found in the initial delivery of documents between February and April of 2023, and which will shed light on why the use permits were denied.

After outlining the steps the property owners took to work with the city, and their investment of “many millions of dollars to convert a historical building located on the Property into a boutique hotel and establish a separate swim and recreational club,” the process evidently took a sudden turn.

“But then something changed,” it reads. “For more than a year Respondent—or certain local officials—have taken steps to frustrate operations at the Property.”

It’s unclear who these “certain local officials” are, which may be the needle in the haystack of documents that The Ruse is looking for. “Respondent cannot hide records from the public,” the suit avers. It is unclear what records are suspected of being “hidden.”

The suit could be resolved only when the court decides that there are no more documents that can or should be turned over—or when the documents are produced, and The Ruse either discovers that smoking gun, whatever it is, or fails to do so.

The court filing continues through the civil judicial system with a Case Management Conference scheduled for early April, at which time the trial judge will likely set a discovery schedule and a tentative trial date.

Lawyers for the 891 Grove St. LLC have not yet responded to questions from Weeklys staff.

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