Healdsburg group says hotel limits have support

A citizens' group looking to limit the size of new hotels in Healdsburg said their voter survey shows strong support for a potential ballot measure.

Not only did 78 percent of registered voters who responded to their mail survey say they wanted size restrictions, but half said new hotels should have 20 rooms or less.

"We feel the city needs to put this issue on the November ballot," Warren Watkins, founder of Healdsburg Citizens for Sustainable Solutions, told the City Council last week.

But council members, who questioned the reliability of the survey, are not inclined to do so.

"Mr. Watkins demanding we should put it on the ballot doesn't make sense with the unscientific data," Councilman Gary Plass said Thursday.

"It's very hard to say what the majority of citizens really feel," said Councilman Tom Chambers, who said the questions in the postcard poll "wanted to lead you to a certain answer" and he doesn't consider the results conclusive.

The citizens' group contends that Healdsburg is close to a tipping point, becoming too tourist-centric at the expense of local residents who fear the small-town character is being lost.

The city had 11,509 residents in 2013, and increase of 594 people over the past 13 years, according to state Department of Finance demographic reports.

Watkins' group and his wife Janis, an attorney, six years ago sued the city and the developers of Saggio Hills, a proposed luxury hotel and housing development, in an unsuccessful attempt to scale back the project, which has yet to be built.

Last year, the debate over whether Healdsburg is being overrun by visitors flocking to the heart of Wine Country was stirred up by a proposed 75-room, five-story hotel just south of the town plaza.

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