Healdsburg voters will get a chance to decide whether to ease growth restrictions put in place more than a dozen years ago, but it likely won't be until 2014.

The City Council on Monday unanimously approved a draft ordinance that proposes to loosen growth limits approved in 2000 by voters under so-called Measure M.

City officials say the changes recommended would provide more flexibility for developers, without making radical changes in the number of new homes that can be built.

"There isn't an extreme deviation from what we have in place," City Manager Marjie Pettus said Tuesday.

Measure M, which was intended to preserve Healdsburg's small-town character, restricts the number of building permits to an average of 30 per year over three years, not to exceed a total of 90.

Even though construction has been far less than the maximum allowed, an eight-member committee appointed by the City Council said developers need to have the ability to build more units at once, especially in mixed residential-commercial projects envisioned for a swath of Central Healdsburg.

Developers would be allowed to build up to 510 new dwelling units over 15 years, as opposed to the 450 now allowed over the same period under Measure M.

The new system would start with a "bank" of 60 building permits for new homes. Thirty additional permits would be added to the bank each year. No more than 70 permits could be issued each year.

The city's planning director will conduct an environmental review to assess the impacts of the proposed changes.

"We don't know how long the environmental review will take," Pettus said. "We want to make sure everyone is comfortable with the way the ordinance is written and we have done the appropriate environmental review."

The changes will be subject to approval by voters, but will likely not be put on the ballot until 2014, according to City Clerk Maria Curiel.

"I don't anticipate anything happening this year," she said.

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