Sonoma council orders study on proposal to limit hotel rooms

Sonoma City Council members decided Monday to request a $17,500 impact study on a proposed ordinance that would cap the number of hotel rooms in the city.

The council voted 3-2 to give City Manager Carol Gioivanatto the go-ahead to launch a study that will research the impacts of limiting new hotels and the expansion of new ones to 25 rooms.

Mayor Ken Brown cast the deciding vote after hearing passionate comment from opponents of the cap who wanted a report to explain the financial impact of a limit and supporters who said they wanted to preserve Sonoma's small-town feel.

"People have brought up the idea of an election based on emotion, but I don't find that to be all that valid," Brown said. "The more information we can provide to the citizens the better."

The ordinance would establish a cap that would stand unless the city's occupancy rate during the previous calendar year exceeded 80 percent, indicating the city needed more rooms.

The hotel occupancy rate in 2012 was just under 65 percent. City Manager Carol Giovanatto has said that the city has never had an occupancy rate of 80 percent.

The council on Monday had the option of ordering the report, adopting the ordinance as it is written or calling for a special election.

The push to limit development came amid community concern with the proposal of a luxury hotel a half-block south of the historic plaza on West Napa Street. The development struck some community members as too big to fit with Sonoma's small-town charm.

They launched the Preserving Sonoma campaign and handed more than enough signatures to put a hotel cap before voters.

Last week, the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters certified that 1,312 of the signatures. They needed to gather signatures from at least 1,017 people — 15 percent of the 6,782 registered voters in the city. A special election could cost $30,000.

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