Healdsburg’s downtown southern gateway, long dominated by a big lumber-yard and mill, is getting closer to being redeveloped as the site for a hotel, housing and commercial space, a reflection of the wholesale transformation of this one-time farm town turned tourist hot spot.
Plans for a 58-room hotel, along with 182 apartments and townhomes, have been submitted to the city by Vancouver, British Columbia-based Replay Resorts, which last year bought the Nu Forest wood mill site and adjoining property totaling 10 acres.
Developers say the project is consistent with city-centered growth guidelines and a vision derived from an extensive public process for the central Healdsburg area, embracing a transit-oriented approach with an affordable housing component.
It also would include 1 acre of green space along Healdsburg Avenue, comparable in size to the venerable Healdsburg Plaza a few blocks away.
“They are bringing in a world-class architect and it’s going to look really nice,” Mayor Shaun McCaffery said Friday. “It’s an old industrial site. To go to a mixed-use facility is a pretty healthy transition.”
But the proposal comes amid an ongoing debate over allowing construction of more hotels and continuing tension in Healdsburg over the impact of tourism. That friction was evident in grumbling over winemaker Pete Seghesio’s 2015 conversion of the town’s former post office, now the site of the exclusive Single Thread Farms restaurant and its luxurious hotel suites.
In the standoff over Healdsburg’s identity, the central question remains: How to strike a balance between the economic boost such developments bring and the needs of local residents?
Some community activists recently began calling for a moratorium on approval of new hotels and tasting rooms until the city can conduct a study on the benefits and costs associated with tourism.
There does not appear to be support on the City Council for a moratorium, but a study to achieve what some are calling “sustainable tourism” could be a possibility.
“It’s our economic engine,” McCaffery said of the industry that has transformed Healdsburg from a one-time hub for prune and hops growers into a trendy destination for foodies and wine enthusiasts.
“Do you want to continue with it, or throttle it back? It’s a larger discussion that has to take place,” McCaffery said.
City Councilwoman Brigette Mansell said the city needs to get a better understanding of how tourism “affects livability.”
“People are moving out because they don’t like sharing their downtown with people who don’t live here,” she said. “They don’t feel the town has a sense of community downtown.”
Mansell said Healdsburg’s success as a visitor destination has come at a cost, driving up real estate prices, making it hard for families to afford to live there, hurting school enrollments, and increasing traffic and parking problems.
Warren Watkins, head of Healdsburg Citizens for Sustainable Solutions, expressed concern that Replay’s project comes at the same time as the long-stalled Saggio Hills luxury hotel and residential development at the north end of town appears closer to securing financing and commencing construction.
“Two resorts coming online at the same time is disturbing to me,” he said.
In 2009, Watkins brought a lawsuit against Saggio Hills, composed of a 130-room hotel and 70 homes, in an unsuccessful effort to reduce its size.