By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
There may be more wine tasting rooms in downtown Healdsburg than some people want, but the City Council decided Tuesday not to impose new restrictions on them.
“I think there’s an over-concentration of wine tasting rooms in the community. Does it mean I want to change it? No,” said Councilman Jim Wood. “The market ebb and flow will take care of it.”
Like the majority of his fellow council members, Wood decided that the informal guideline of allowing one tasting room or bar per block is working and the city should not regulate such establishments in the name of retail diversity.
On a 4-1 vote, Councilman Steve Babb dissenting, the council agreed to leave things as they are.
“I’d rather see tasting rooms than an empty storefront,” said Councilwoman Susan Jones, who said the market should dictate the types of business that go in downtown.
As the former police chief, she noted there were few if any problems associated with the tasting rooms. Tourists would tell her they appreciated the ability to walk from one to the other and not have to worry about driving under the influence.
There currently are 20 wine tasting rooms downtown and continuing interest in establishing more. There are also 10 existing and approved wine and full-service bars in the downtown in addition to a couple dozen restaurants, most of which serve alcohol.
The Planning Commission last month deadlocked 3-3 on an application for the “Bergamot Alley” wine bar, fearing an oversaturation on one block of Healdsburg Avenue. But the City Council approved it after the applicant argued it would serve unusual wines and be the only such place open late to cater to restaurant employees after they get off work.
Tuesday’s joint meeting with the planning commission was intended to determine whether the city’s policy needs to be changed or if tasting rooms should be restricted or be required to be a minimum distance apart.
Some planning commissioners said they have heard from residents concerned that Healdsburg has gone overboard.
“We are at a tipping point,” said Commissioner Jil Hales, who noted that as the owner of Barn Diva, “I sell and drink alcohol.”
But she said people are “fairly inebriated after two to three tasting rooms.”
But Planning Chairman Jerry Eddinger said “Healdsburg is successful because we are in the wine business.” He said he doesn’t know if there is an overconcentration or too few, “but there are empty spaces and no one knocking on the door to go into those spaces.”
The issue of the proliferation of booze serving outlets is not new in Healdsburg. The general guideline was established that there should be no more than one alcoholic beverage outlet per block face, other than restaurants. Three applications for tasting rooms were rejected in the past few years as a result.
“We’ve almost decided by default we will do it case by case,” Mayor Tom Chambers said Tuesday.