Procedural blunder forces Healdsburg to reconsider 2018 ordinance; new hotel project’s legality
Five years after passing a milestone ordinance to control the number of hotel rooms in downtown Healdsburg, the City Council needs a do-over.
That unusual step will be taken today by the council during its 6 p.m. meeting at City Hall.
The emergency repair work was necessitated by a series of “really embarrassing screw-ups that were really impactful,” said Council member Chris Herrod.
The passage of Ordinance 1181 in December 2018, banned future hotels along the city’s central plaza, and also capped the number of rooms developers could build downtown.
But the ordinance has likely been rendered invalid following a recently discovered procedural gaffe by the city.
Once approved, new regulations must be announced, or “noticed,” by the city within 15 days. In what was, by all accounts, an honest mistake, it took Healdsburg 24 days to post notice of Ordinance 1181’s approval in 2018.
Today, the original ordinance will be presented to City Council for re-adoption and proper noticing.
“Staff will recommend that the policy be approved as an urgency ordinance that will be effective immediately on Sept. 18,” the city of Healdsburg announced in a Sept. 7 Facebook post alerting residents about the issue and the meeting.
How the five-member council votes will determine both the fate of the ordinance — its adoption again isn’t a sure thing — and the future of 400 Healdsburg Ave., the latest-proposed hotel project from Piazza Hospitality, which operates three other hotels in the city’s downtown core: Hotel Healdsburg, H2Hotel and Harmon Guest House.
Healdsburg’s failure to properly “notice” Ordinance 1181 was not its only blunder during that period.
As first reported by The Healdsburg Tribune, the city signed off on Piazza Hospitality’s H4 project along Healdsburg Avenue on Jan. 16, 2019 – the same day Ordinance 1181 took effect.
Though the measure was applicable at the time, city officials and Piazza Hospitality proceeded as if its newest ordinance did not apply to the project, and shepherded the proposed development through the city’s design review process.
That came to an abrupt halt, though, when the Tribune pointed out that Piazza had missed the approval date, and should be subject to Ordinance 1181, which limits new lodging projects to five or fewer rooms.
The 400 Healdsburg Ave. proposal, as described on Piazza Hospitality’s website, “will be a very small boutique hotel with a total of 16 rooms.”
Critics have noted that those 16 units are suites, and that the project really entails 37 bedrooms and 34 bathrooms.
Regardless, the proposed hotel, as presently constituted, would not be permitted under Ordinance 1181.
While investigating the Tribune’s claim that Piazza had missed its deadline, Healdsburg officials discovered the snafu — “that Ordinance No. 1181 was published later than required by the Government Code,” according to the agenda previewing council’s upcoming meeting.
“The more we tug on this thread, the more surprised I’ve been by what has unraveled,” said Healdsburg Mayor Ariel Kelley, who was first elected to City Council in 2020.
She noted that there’s been extensive turnover at City Hall since 2018.
“We have a new clerk, a new city manager, a new planning director,” she said. “So, a lot of the paper trail that we’re examining is a very interesting look into a world that many of us were not involved in.”
Of the five council members to vote in 2018 on Ordinance 1181, only Vice Mayor David Hagele remains. The ordinance passed 4-1, with Hagele casting the lone dissenting vote.
This time around, council will consider an “urgency ordinance” and a “back-up ordinance,” officials said.
Both patches are substantively identical to Ordinance 1181.
The “urgency” version, which would require a four-fifths vote, would take effect immediately upon the measure’s adoption.
The “back-up ordinance” could pass with a simple majority, but wouldn’t go into effect until Nov. 1.
High stakes for local developer
While Piazza executives didn’t respond Friday to requests for comment, it’s not hard to see which outcome they might prefer.
Adopting the urgency ordinance as written, according to the city agenda for today’s meeting, “will mean that all hotel projects for which an application has been deemed complete – including Piazza – by Sept. 18, 2023, will be exempt from the ordinance.”
But that four-fifths threshold is a high bar.
While council has considerable latitude to amend the ordinance, it’s also possible that Piazza’s H4 project will be forced to abide by the new rules.