Healdsburg voters likely will be asked to ease a growth cap on home construction to provide flexibility for new types of development.

The City Council on Monday night voted 4-0 to prepare a ballot measure for next year or 2014, asking voters to allow construction of slightly more homes in a 15-year period and to provide flexibility to build more homes in a given year.

"The changes are not significant from the Growth Management Ordinance," Councilman Tom Chambers said, referring to restrictions imposed by voters in 2000 as a result of concerns over rapid residential growth.

The current growth management ordinance, Measure M, limits the number of building permits the city can issue to an average of 30 a year over three years, not to exceed a total of 90.

The city's growth has slowed dramatically, and building has not even come close in recent years to exceeding the cap. But city planners say developers will need to have the ability as the economy improves to build more units at once for higher density projects that are part of a vibrant downtown.

"The goal is not to open up rampant development in south Healdsburg," Chambers said of the area that is being eyed for a makeover.

He said it will provide flexibility to developers and "allow for larger chunks of development to go on at certain times."

"It's something very workable for the community," said Councilman Steve Babb.

Chambers said a committee that studied the issue wanted to maintain the city's character but provide a variety of housing for people who work and live in town and not just have the downtown dominated by hotels and tourists uses.

Under the committee's recommendation, the total number of new dwelling units citywide would be a maximum of 510 over 15 years. That compares to 450 allowed in that same period under Measure M.

Jim Winston, author of Measure M, said there were some disagreements about how much growth should be allowed, but in the end "we were all happy and left smiling. They got a little, I got a little and we kind of came up with a compromise."

"We ended up with something that made sense for the community," he said.

The impetus for revisiting the growth control policy came from the recent central Healdsburg Avenue special study, which details a vision for how to redevelop the gateway to the town, now dominated by a lumberyard and the area around the train depot.

The study established guidelines and a framework for developing public infrastructure and private investment. But the ability to develop higher density housing envisioned in the plan would be more difficult with only a limited number of building permits in one time period, city planners said.

The eight-member committee, appointed by the council and headed by Chambers, recommended tweaking the growth ordinance to allow more dwellings be built initially.

The amended growth management ordinance would start with a "bank" of 60 permits. Thirty additional permits would be added to the bank each year. But no more than 70 units would be allowed to be issued each year.

There would be a total cap of 226 units in the central Healdsburg Avenue plan area.

After 15 years, the amendment would expire and the growth management system would revert to the original Measure M.