After more than two years of trying to chart a course for Crow Canyon Gardens, the San Ramon City Council decided Tuesday to demolish the old Mudd's restaurant and reject a nonprofit's proposal to transform the site into a hub for classes and events.
The council debated whether Mudd's -- which closed in 2008 -- was practical for renovation or had enough historical value to keep. Members voted 4-1 to accept recommendations from the city's Parks and Community Services Commission to "adopt a vision for Crow Canyon Gardens that retains the peaceful atmosphere, serene environment, and emphasis on nature."
Mayor Dave Hudson was the lone dissenting voice, after Councilwoman Sabina Zafar wondered whether the buildings' historical value made them worth saving, but ended up supporting the original recommendations. Mudd's opened in 1981 and was a popular restaurant and destination for weddings and other events.
Hudson wanted the city to further explore using the existing buildings, since part of the commission's recommendations involved constructing a new "pavilion shade structure" and a permanent restroom and a maintenance area.
"If you just tear it down, it's gone," Hudson said during the virtual meeting. "For what? So you can just build it back up?"
Crow Canyon Gardens includes community gardens, as well as the former Mudd's site, on nearly 10 acres of land near San Catanio Creek on the south side of Crow Canyon Road, west of San Ramon Valley Boulevard.
The nonprofit group San Ramon Nature Park Foundation approached the city in April 2018 to enter into a partnership to construct a preschool focused on gardening and nature at the site. It later amended its proposal to create a "San Ramon Nature Park," for which it would raise money to renovate the Mudd's buildings, parking lot and some adjacent park attributes in exchange for the right to offer classes, events, and other programs, as well as office space for the foundation. It determined it needed about $4 million for the project.
The parks commission held meetings and surveyed the community over the area, which the city determined in its 2020 parks master plan to require major renovations due to its poor condition.
Since December 2019, city officials and the Nature Park Foundation tried reaching a memorandum of understanding over how to proceed, meeting 14 times in 2020, according to a city staff report. Discussions included using the building for yoga or cooking classes, or renting it out for events, all of which council members noted are offered elsewhere in the city.
"I think it's time to move on," Councilman Mark Armstrong said.
The report also said the foundation "would not necessarily be interested in fundraising for the renovation if the conceptual plan and programming levels and plans are not conducive to their vision." No one from the foundation spoke at Tuesday's meeting.
Parks commission chairwoman Carol Lopez-Lucey told the council, "There is no other park like this in the city of San Ramon," adding that using the current building "does not lend itself to a peaceful, serene nature park."
In addition to adding a shade structure and restrooms and tearing down the buildings, the council adopted recommendations that future classes, events, and programs at the site "should be focused on nature and the natural world and be kept at low levels as determined by the Parks and Community Services Department."