A prominent piece of property just south of the Healdsburg Plaza is again being eyed for a hotel, certain to stir the ongoing debate over how far Healdsburg can go to accommodate tourists without losing its small-town identity.
David Wilhelm, a high-end real estate developer who has created exclusive golf course and resort properties, including the Mayacama Golf Club and its 31 home sites and casitas in the hills east of Windsor, is buying a parking lot on Healdsburg Avenue, along with a building fronting the historic plaza.
He has told several merchants he plans to build a hotel.
Both Wilhelm and those involved in the sale of the property declined comment this week other than to confirm the parking lot at 230 and 244 Healdsburg Ave. is in escrow, along with the building on Matheson Street across from the plaza that contains Copperfield Books and three other businesses. The two parcels are contiguous.
“I haven’t purchased it yet. When I do, I will make a statement,” Wilhelm said when reached by telephone.
But merchants in the Matheson Street building said he came around in early July and introduced himself as the new landlord.
“He said he owned Mayacama (Golf Club),” said Annette Ballestero, owner of the One World Fair Trade Store inside the Matheson Street building. “He said he would make the parking lot a hotel. He said it would take awhile.”
Details of the size and scope of the hotel have not been disclosed, but Wilhelm’s ex-wife said “he wants to create a pretty hotel with an interior courtyard and balconies.”
“Lots of times people come to Mayacama and don’t want to play golf. They want to be in Healdsburg where the action is,” Mary Linda Wilhelm said of the market a hotel could serve.
But building a hotel on the property is fraught with potential obstacles. A previous boutique hotel group, the Kessler Collection, withdrew its proposal for a 75-room, five-story hotel on the parking lot site in the face of a community outcry over its height and scale.
The company looked at reducing the size before deciding in late 2013 that a smaller project would not be financially feasible.
City officials note that the hotel would need to have parking for guests and employees, a challenge if it is built on top of an existing parking lot. There is the possibility of underground parking, but that would be expensive.
Regardless of the details, the project is likely to engender intense scrutiny if not opposition from residents who don’t want to see more hotels downtown and worry about an overconcentration of visitor-serving businesses at the expense of locals’ needs.
There have been calls for “sustainable tourism,” a phrase gaining traction among residents concerned about too many wine tasting rooms, traffic congestion, lack of parking and rising housing costs linked to second-home buyers who make it even tougher for families to afford to live in Healdsburg.
Some have called for a moratorium on approving new hotels until a study can be conducted on the positive and negative impacts of tourism.
City Council members have not shown any inclination to impose a moratorium but have agreed to commission a study and survey of tourism’s effects.