Jim Winston lives about a mile outside Healdsburg city limits, but he's had outsized effect on determining how the town grows.
He wrote and helped pass a voter-approved measure in 2000 that restricted the number of new homes in Healdsburg to 30 per year.
Now he wants to serve on a city committee that will consider whether to relax the growth limit, thus provoking a controversy over whether a non-resident should be determining how many homes are built in Healdsburg.
"I do live just outside city limits," he said of his hilltop home on 46 acres off Limerick Lane. "It would seem to me under the circumstance an exception could be made, based on expertise and involvement."
Healdsburg City Council members debated the question this week and eventually decided that one member from outside the city — but within Healdsburg school district boundaries — will be eligible to sit on the eight-member committee that will weigh whether to loosen the growth cap. Winston lives in the school district, but there is no guarantee he will be selected.
"Will he look at it objectively?" Mayor Gary Plass asked of Winston's views on how many homes should be built.
Healdsburg voters a dozen years ago overwhelmingly approved the measure that restricts the number of new market-rate homes to 30 annually, or 90 in a three-year period.
But city planners say higher density housing envisioned for the central downtown will be difficult to develop without lifting the cap, since only a certain number of building permits can be allocated.
Winston told The Press Democrat he fears the committee scrutinizing the housing cap is stacked with people who are "part of the growth machine" and will come up with a recommendation that will double, or triple the growth rate.
"It's not broken," he said of the growth ordinance. "The only reason they want to change it is so we can have an explosion of growth in the gateway to the community that will affect our small-town character."
He said he is flexible to some change, but wants to avoid the type of rapid growth that Windsor and Rohnert Park went through.
Mayor Plass said review of the ordinance is warranted. "It's time to take a look at it: what worked and what didn't and what we can tweak to make it better. Does it still meet the present day needs?"
He said the reality is that since so-called Measure M passed, "there's been little, or no growth. So it did its job. Or maybe it's the economy."
Plass said Healdsburg has natural constraints to growth including the Russian River and peripheral agricultural zones, and there is no intent to expand the current urban boundary.
"We're doing what the voters want us to do — build infill," he said.
Winston previously hired a consultant as part of an ultimately unsuccessful effort to challenge geological studies for Saggio Hills, the proposed luxury resort and housing project approved for the north end of town.
He is a former floor covering company owner and amateur race car driver who also helped develop small, single-family subdivisions in Southern California
"For me, the issue is balance and process," Winston told the City Council this week. He said that none of the five committee members who studied the future development of the downtown area were involved in supporting the growth management ordinance.
Read this in Spanish at La Prensa Sonoma.