Northern California could soon be home to a new casino after Federal officials approved a controversial plan to take into trust 62 acres of land in Sonoma County for the 540-member Cloverdale Rancheria Of Pomo Indians.

The tribe, which had its Federal recognition restored in 1983, wants to use the site to build a 575,600 sq ft casino and resort complex costing up to $320 million. The development just south of the town of Cloverdale and adjacent to Highway 101, could also include a five-story and 244-room hotel alongside a convention and entertainment center.

The tribe’s initial application to the Department Of The Interior to have the land taken into trust listed several development options for the site including one with a 150,000 sq ft casino, but no hotel or convention center, while a third offered only industrial, office and retail units.

Rob Muelrath from the Cloverdale Rancheria Of Pomo Indians told The Press Democrat newspaper that the news represented a “massive step forward” in the tribe’s plans for economic development while revealing that the final size of the new casino resort would be determined following “ongoing dialogue” between the band and local government.

“They want to be part of the community; they want to be good neighbors,” said Muelrath.

However, the planned development has brought protests from many that feel the area is oversaturated with casinos as Sonoma County is already home to the 14-year-old River Rock Casino near Geyserville as well as the $800 million Graton Resort And Casino, which is currently adding a hotel and convention center. There are also four smaller casinos in neighboring Lake County alongside seven more to the north in Mendocino County.

As such, the Cloverdale Rancheria Of Pomo Indians may find it hard to finance the new project, which has been in development for nine years. In 2007, the group revealed that it wanted to partner with Sealaska, a Juneau-based Native American corporation, to buy the land, finance the project and manage the business.

Efren Carrillo, Chairman for the Sonoma County Board Of Supervisors, told the local newspaper that his group had “consistently opposed taking the land into trust for gaming purposes” and would be “reviewing our legal options to determine the best course of action to ensure the community does not bear the cost of the casino project impacts”.

He added that county officials had been surprised by the announcement from the Department Of The Interior after attorneys for Cloverdale earlier described the project as “behemoth” and “gargantuan”.

County Supervisor James Gore, whose district includes the land, stated that he was disappointed by the decision as his concerns had been “largely ignored” and that he had been “kept in the dark and informed only after the decision was made”. He asserted that the lack of consultation “creates a situation in which local governments and tribal governments are unnecessarily pitted against each other.”