Healdsburg group challenges growth issues in flyer

A citizens' group that's battled hotel development in Healdsburg in the name of protecting small town charm is mailing out flyers this week to all registered voters in the city to "create public awareness" on growth issues and enlist support for its goals.

The brochure from Healdsburg Citizens for Sustainable Solutions warns "our future is at stake" and details development that is already approved, or under consideration.

The flyer is scheduled to be mailed out Wednesday to approximately 3,400 households with 6,000 voters in a move that could help gauge support for a potential ballot measure, such as a limit on the number of rooms for new hotels.

The mailer includes a postcard asking residents to complete an eight-question survey asking what the maximum number of rooms a new hotel should be allowed — ranging from 20 to 40 to 60 to unlimited — as well as questions on whether more parking is needed in Healdsburg, and whether there should be a one-year moratorium on new construction because of water shortages.

It also mentions "tipping point tourism," a reference to the group's concern that Healdsburg is being flooded with visitors at the expense of local residents.

The intent is "to create some public awareness on issues important to Healdsburg and try to get more feedback from voters, to see if we're on the right track," said Jim Winston, a retired Healdsburg area resident who spearheaded the flyer along with former math teacher Warren Watkins.

"The issues have blossomed beyond the hotel issue, because of the prospective development and small-town character at risk here," Watkins said Monday.

Even before the flyer is mailed out there was skepticism expressed Monday about its content and some of the claims the group makes about its successes, such as "Big Box Kessler came to town; we sent them packing!"

"Kessler didn't get run out of town from them," said City Councilman Gary Plass. "Kessler realized their project was too big for the site," he said of the 75-room, five-story hotel the company proposed last year south of the Healdsburg Plaza before withdrawing the application.

There was also a differing opinion about another claim in the flyer that Healdsburg Citizens "negotiated H3 hotel down to under 40 rooms!"

Circe Sher, a principal in the group proposing the hotel, said Monday they listened to Healdsburg Citizens request that the number of rooms be cut from 43 to 36.

Ultimately, the company settled on 39 rooms for its proposed project.

"We did have conversations with them. I don't think it's because of them we changed it," she said, adding that the city's parking requirements also were pivotal in reducing the number of rooms.

"It was not only them, but knowing what the city's requirement would be down the line," she said of the downscaling of the hotel.

But Winston said Healdsburg Citizens has successfully sent a message to the development community.

"This message is out there: Bring a good project to Healdsburg and it will be embraced. If you want to rape and pillage go somewhere else," he said.

Healdsburg Citizens for Sustainable Solutions came to the forefront six years ago when it challenged the environmental impact report for Saggio Hills, the 130-room hotel and 70 luxury home project on the northern edge of Healdsburg.

The citizens' group was unsuccessful in its attempt to reduce the number of homes for the project, which was approved, but has yet to break ground.

The group, which claims about 100 supporters on its e-mail list, said it believes in adhering to the city's general plan and avoiding over-concentration of a single type use, such as wine-tasting rooms.

In addition to drawing attention to Saggio Hills and pinpointing it on a map, the flyer going to voters also mentions 32 acres of vacant land near Saggio, between Healdsburg Avenue and Highway 101 that has "ideas for housing, hotels and businesses."

And it references the recently approved Central Healdsburg Plan on 80 acres at the south entrance to town that replaces much of the industrial zoning with almost 400,000 square feet of office, institutional and tourist-based uses, and adds 317 homes over about a 20-year horizon.

Even though the plan emerged from a lengthy series of public meetings with stakeholders, citizens and city officials, Watkins said there is a lot of land in Healdsburg being eyed for development.

City officials, he said, don't always consider the impacts of the cumulative development. Saggio Hills and the Central Healdsburg area will take up 10 percent of the city's water supply, he said, yet "at the same time they're asking us to take mandatory cuts. We're told to cut back water."

But City Councilman Plass said overall the city has handled growth with well thought-out policies over the past several decades.

"I think the 12,000 people who sleep here every night are pretty satisfied," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com