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Healdsburg studying changes to growth plan

Growth in Healdsburg has sputtered to the point where only a handful of residential building permits have been issued in the past few years.

But that hasn't prevented a vigorous debate on whether to relax a voter-approved ordinance that limits the number of new market-rate homes to 30 per year.

The catalyst for reviewing the growth control policy came from the recent Central Healdsburg Avenue special study, which crafted a vision for how to redevelop the gateway to town, now dominated by a lumber yard and the area around the train station.

City planners said the higher-density housing envisioned for the central downtown would be difficult to achieve without allowing more units, since only a limited number of building permits could be allocated in one time period.

Jim Winston, author of Measure M, the growth ordinance approved by voters a dozen years ago, worries that relaxing it too much will usher in "an explosion of growth" that will alter Healdsburg's small-town character.

"This could be a crossroads with what's really going to happen with Healdsburg in the long-term," Winston said.

City Councilman Tom Chambers said it isn't about opening the door to rampant growth, but making sure there is a diversity of housing along with hotels and tourist uses.

"I think everyone wants Healdsburg to retain the character it has and not become something we regret," he said Thursday. "It's not pro-development versus no-development. It's 'how do we encourage the right kind of development?' "

Chambers is the chairman of an eight-member committee that has been studying possible revisions to Measure M and is charged with making a recommendation to the City Council.

The expectation is that the committee will recommend a revised growth measure. But it is still uncertain whether it would go on the 2014 ballot, or be the subject of a special election next year.

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