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Amid a growing public outcry over the proliferation of hotel rooms downtown, Healdsburg’s city council has asked staff to draft a new ordinance banning any more hotels in the town’s central retail hub.

The council’s directive, issued Monday, follows a surge of complaints from residents over the past year and a recent community survey that showed support for slowing hotel growth.

In addition to barring hotel construction in the downtown core, the ordinance would create new affordable housing requirements and limit new lodging projects within the wider downtown district to five or fewer rooms, with no more than five total rooms on each side of downtown streets.

The affordable housing mandate, which received unanimous support, would require developers of hotel rooms to create one affordable housing unit for every five hotel rooms built, or pay a yet-to-be-determined fee that would go toward a fund aimed at creating such housing.

The decision, which still requires council endorsement at later public meetings, comes as a response to a recent spike in hotels, namely in the downtown core where visitor accommodations have increasingly displaced local businesses.

Healdsburg had 387 hotel rooms at the start of the year, including 142 downtown, according to figures furnished by the city. By year’s end the total number is expected to balloon to 548 across the city — a 42 percent increase — with a 130-room luxury guesthouse by Montage Hotels & Resorts having already received approval. It is set to open in 2020. Another 178 rooms between two projects are also in the pipeline, ultimately bumping the city’s total up to 856 rooms — what will be a 121 percent increase — in the coming years.

Council members talked at this week’s regular meeting of Healdsburg’s unique history and attributes treasured by locals and tourists alike. They said overemphasizing the desires of one group over the other risks losing what makes the small Wine Country destination special.

“That small-town charm is a very delicate thing,” Councilwoman Leah Gold said. “So why in our right minds are we talking about approving any hotels at all? We don’t need any more hotels right now. It’s time to be responsible and take a pause.”

The statement drew applause from members of the public who attended to show their opposition to further hotel development. The overtures were led by a group of homeowners who call themselves Residents for Balance Downtown.

“I believe in protecting the plaza,” said Gail Jones, one of the group’s founders. “It’s 150 years old, it’s our living room — it’s where we feel comfortable. We can do that by not allowing the possibility of ringing it with high-end hotels.”

Chris Herrod, a native of Healdsburg and fellow group co-founder, said the council’s plan didn’t go far enough. He instead desired blocking all additional hotels in the city for the interim.

“The council (should) acknowledge the current and forthcoming onslaught of hotels is coming with a strong possibility of negative impacts to our town’s livability,” he said. “It would be foolish to approve a brand-new hotel project in the near future.”

Only Mark Luzaich, owner with wife Marie of the small Duchamp Hotel downtown, spoke on behalf of lodging operators. He asked what the new limits would mean for existing hotels like theirs, which had long-term plans of adding to its six guestrooms. The envisioned ordinance would prevent Duchamp’s expansion.

A spokeswoman for the Sonoma County Lodging Association was initially unaware of the Healdsburg City Council’s decision, and said the hotel advocacy group would not be taking a position on the issue at this time.

Not all of the council voiced support for an outright ban on prospective plaza hotel growth, or for specific caps for the larger downtown corridor.

Vice Mayor David Hagele, who has a professional background in commercial real estate finance, questioned where the staff-generated room caps originated and wanted more data and study before making a firm decision. Councilman Joe Naujokas backed the idea, but the two lacked the consensus when Mayor Brigette Mansell and Councilman Shaun McCaffery joined Gold to force the issue and ask city staff to proceed with authoring an ordinance to restrict hotels downtown, thereby setting up a vote in the coming months.

“I’m not interested in more data right now,” Mansell said. “It’s a year-old issue. This council has to demonstrate some leadership in the area of hotel development. There is something to be said about, right now in Healdsburg’s history, making a decision about what we can do in this moment.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com.

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