Sonoma citizens' group seeks ballot initiative limiting hotel development

  • Larry Barnett of Sonoma where he was elected to three terms on the city council and was twice Mayor stands in the Sonoma Plaza in Sonoma with Sonoma City Hall in the background on Wednesday, March, 20, 2013.

    (Scott Manchester/The Press Democrat)

A Sonoma group that includes a former mayor of the city is seeking a ballot initiative to limit hotel development, including the controversial Chateau Sonoma & Spa proposed near the Plaza.

The Preserving Sonoma Committee announced it has launched a petition drive to gather enough signatures to qualify the ballot measure for a special election, possibly this fall.

The group is seeking to prevent construction of hotels with more than 25 rooms; it would also bar expanding existing hotels past that same threshold. The limits would stay in place until Sonoma's hotel occupancy rate exceeds 80 percent. In 2012, the rate was just under 65 percent.

Larry Barnett, a former city mayor who served 12 years on the City Council, is leading the effort. He said the city's small-town character is "at risk" because of proposed development.

"In Sonoma, the character and quality of life for residents matters more than the promise of big money. We seem to have to prove that over and over again," he said.

Barnett and other members of the committee, who include Sonoma attorney Bob Edwards and political activist Will Shonbrun, have expressed vocal opposition to developer Darius Anderson's proposal to build a luxury hotel and spa on West Napa Street a half-block from the Plaza.

But Barnett, a former bed-and-breakfast owner, insisted that the committee's efforts do not target a single project. However, Anderson's project is the only one currently in the city's planning process.

"This approach goes well beyond that particular project and envisions a more comprehensive issue, which is the rate of large hotel development in the city," Barnett said.

Mayor Pro-Tem Tom Rouse said Wednesday the motives of the group are obvious to him. "The timing of this petition appears to me to be a shot across the bow to Darius Anderson and his proposed hotel."

Anderson's initial plan for the $27 million project called for a three-story, 59-room hotel, with two restaurants, a health club and spa, event center and 2,800 square feet of retail space.

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