Healdsburg group wants hotel crackdown

Healdsburg residents are girding for another growth fight, this time over a potential hotel development that some say could spoil the small-town character of the popular wine tourism destination.

As plans emerged that Healdsburg is considering adding a new downtown hotel, a group of residents with a history of fighting development announced in an email its intention to "slow this runaway tourism train."

The group, Healdsburg Citizens for Sustainable Solutions, may propose a ballot measure to limit hotel development, said co-founder Warren Watkins.

The group takes inspiration from Larry Barnett, the former mayor of Sonoma and bed-and-breakfast owner who gathered enough signatures to put the question of hotel development to Sonoma voters in November.

Sonoma's hotel-limitation measure would put a cap on new hotels or expansions involving more than 25 rooms, as long as the hotel occupancy rate remains under 80 percent.

"We support what Sonoma is doing," Watkins said in an interview. "We think their hotel measure may be a good measure to follow. This is a tipping point. It's about representing the quality of life for locals."

A limit on hotels didn't sit well with some council members, who warned of economic consequences.

Watkins' group fought the Saggio Hills housing and luxury hotel development at the north edge of Healdsburg. In 2011, the group lost a long legal battle to block the project on environmental grounds, but the project has yet to break ground.

The latest fight centers around plans for a hotel just south of Healdsburg Plaza. The Kessler Collection, a Florida-based hotel company, reportedly has had closed-session meetings with the City Council about building what has been described as a 60- to 70-room, four- to five-story hotel.

The company also has had meetings with Sonoma officials to explore a potential hotel project there, but plans are on hold pending the city's referendum on hotel development.

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