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Healdsburg rethinks growth limits



Growth in Healdsburg has sputtered to the point where only a handful of residential building permits have been issued in the past few

Arlene Dawson of Independence, Colo., rests with her dog, Toby, after touring shops around the Healdsburg Square in 2006. (PD FILE, 2006


But that hasn’t prevented a vigorous debate on whether to relax a voter-approved ordinance that limits the number of new market-rate homes to 30 per year.

The catalyst for reviewing the growth control policy came from the recent Central Healdsburg Avenue special study, which crafted a vision for how to redevelop the gateway to town, now dominated by a lumber yard and the area around the train station.

City planners said the higher-density housing envisioned for the central downtown would be difficult to achieve without allowing more units, since only a limited number of building permits could be allocated in one time period.

Jim Winston, author of Measure M, the growth ordinance approved by voters a dozen years ago, worries that relaxing it too much will usher in “an explosion of growth” that will alter Healdsburg’s small-town character.

“This could be a crossroads with what’s really going to happen with Healdsburg in the long-term,” Winston said.

City Councilman Tom Chambers said it isn’t about opening the door to rampant growth, but making sure there is a diversity of housing along with hotels and tourist uses.

“I think everyone wants Healdsburg to retain the character it has and not become something we regret,” he said Thursday. “It’s not pro-development versus no-development. It’s ‘how do we encourage the right kind of development?’ ”

Chambers is the chairman of an eight-member committee that has been studying possible revisions to Measure M and is charged with making a recommendation to the City Council.

The expectation is that the committee will recommend a revised growth measure. But it is still uncertain whether it would go on the 2014 ballot, or be the subject of a special election next year.

Even Winston has been willing to tweak the ordinance and allow up to 35 residential building permits per year and up to twice that many multi-family units. But he said the number of units should not exceed 105 in a three-year period, or 210 in a six-year period.

Affordable-housing units would continue to be exempt.

On the other side of the spectrum is Jim Brush, a planning commissioner and accountant, who said there should be a 10-year rolling average that allows for the retroactive use of units that were allocated, but never built.

For example, since 2000, there have been 143 building permits issued under the growth management policy, but 217 unused allocations.

Winston said “Brush’s proposal to expand to a 10-year rolling average is not growth management,” which he defined as building “slowly and orderly over time.”

With Brush’s proposal, he said there might be 150 units built in one fell swoop.

Brush replied that developers tend to build out their projects over six to 12 years, not all at once.

“We’re dealing with a bogeyman that doesn’t exist,” he said.

The exchange came at last week’s meeting of the growth management ordinance committee.

Councilman Jim Wood said smart, or compact growth, can only be achieved by allowing a greater number of units and more flexibility. But he said there will be limits.

“I don’t think the politics of the community will allow a monster project to come to us,” Wood said. “I don’t think the public sentiment is ready for a 200-unit project.”

Committee member Jon Worden, an architect, said there are not many places in town that can accommodate that many units anyway.

He said the growth management ordinance has led to unintended consequences, making it difficult for developers to cover the costs of infrastructure.

In one case, he said developers proposing senior housing within walking distance of downtown were deterred by the growth cap and dropped their plans.

The concern, he said, is that Healdsburg is becoming too visitor-oriented. He said there needs to be more flexibility to enable housing diversity, such as for seniors and row housing for young families.

“We want to remain a real place for real people to live and not turn into Disneyland,” Worden said. “We’re not proposing to flood the town with a bunch of gargantuan projects.”

But Warren Watkins, a retired math teacher who brought a lawsuit against Saggio Hills, the luxury hotel and residential development approved but not yet constructed, said people are indeed worried about large projects.

“People feel Healdsburg is at a tipping point,” he said.

The committee meets next at 6 p.m. Sept. 5 at City Hall.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com

11 Responses to “Healdsburg rethinks growth limits”

  1. g7enn says:

    Citizens of Healdsburg, don’t let them trick you into Agenda 21. If you do, you will lose, not only your appealing little town, but your property rights. Check it out here:



    Behind the Green Mask: U.N. Agenda 21


    …how Agenda 21 is being used to transition the world into a global totalitarian state where one must pay to live. She’ll explain how this agenda is the biggest public relation scam in history. We’ll cover how this plan is designed to destroy the individual, create scarcity and make us vulnerable to control. Rosa talks about the ideology of Communitarianism, which is similar to Communist China, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Later, we’ll discuss the hypocrisy, the propaganda and how to fight back.

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  2. Jim Bennett says:

    Yeah, they WANT growth.
    Smart Growth, Affordable Housing, Transit Villages, Human Settlements (that’s a charming term), Transit Oriented Housing, Mixed Use, gulags.

    Now that Cloverdale isn’t going to be on the Train to Tyranny, those ‘public servants’ are trying to wipe the town off the map. They’re starving the Downtown by not allowing any signage on the Hwy. for those restaurants, shops, lodging or services. My friend that owns a local institution called the Owl Cafe said the City stole 6 signs he put up for motorists to find his restaurant.

    If you were fortunate enough to be able to buy land around there to build your dream home, THAT would be the fight of your life though.

    Do you hear alarm bells, or are my ears ringing?

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  3. Kay Tokerud says:

    The proposed One Bay Area Regional Plan calls for 80% of all new housing development to be in Priority Development Areas for the next 25 years! These small areas comprising only 4% of all land in the 9 county bay area are next to train stations or along transit routes. Basically, the plan is to only approve Smartgrowth projects, subsidized of course by the taxpayers. These types of projects invariably have more than 30 units, thus the problem Healdsburg faces. That’s why they want to change the rules.

    I was in Healdsburg last night and I can say I’ve never seen more alcoholic beverages being consumed in public in my life. The public square looked like something out of ancient Rome. Add stack and pack housing into the mix and who knows what may happen. The affluent Healdsburgians may not appreciate high-density housing bringing with it lots of low income folks occupying the town center but that’s what is being planned for their town. After witnessing last nights drinking festival is it any wonder why people are so disconnected to what is happening politically. When these people wake up from their stupor they will find that their paradise is being re-designed to conform to the smartgrowth high-density model as will be mandated by the One Bay Area Regional Plan. Yes, this is UN Agenda 21 Sustainable Development of course. Wake up Healdsburg!

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  4. Snarky says:


    How do you define “rich” ???

    My guess is that you consider “rich” to be anyone with more than you have in life.

    Nobody ever taught you that we all have entirely different lives, did they? We are not all the same nor are we all going to have the same material goods in life.

    Get used to it.

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  5. Snarky says:


    The only thing in life that does not change is change itself. Change in a town’s character is part of life.

    I’m sure you’ve heard that.

    Inviting any type of governmental intrusion into our lives is far, far less desirable than allowing growth to match local demands. Nothing worse than a few bureaucrats trying to out guess human activity by imposing their own version of reality.

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  6. Darrel says:

    While living in Healdsburg for the last 12 years I’ve seen the local small town charm evolve into a high priced tourist mecca. I am not against tourism, it is vital to our economy, we just need a balance of other businesses and industries as well. I think that controlled and planned growth is a much better option than setting a maximum limit, or even worse, no growth. I wan my children to be able to live here as well.

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  7. bill says:

    Healdsburg is ripe for the developers to exploit and this is the beginning of that discussion.

    The area in question should be zoned for anything but apartments.

    The natural boundaries of this town where I have lived for so long will prohibit much in the way of housing growth.

    The other side of the freeway might become a zoning issue because of the hunger by developers but hopefully the farmers will keep them in check.

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  8. Lee says:

    No growth, no jobs…

    Where are our kids going to find work locally?

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  9. Follower says:

    “vigorous debate”: Government officials trying to figure out how to get more money for bigger Government.

    “relax a voter-approved ordinance”: We know what’s best for them.

    “growth control policy”: Growing tax revenue to pay for bigger Government without pissing off the voters.

    “crafted a vision” Came up with a plan (vision) and a way to make it seem like something other than what it is (crafted).

    “higher-density housing” Slum seed.

    “small-town character” Sales pitch for the marketing team.

    “crossroads” We have a BIG problem here folks! No, REALLY …we do!!

    “diversity of housing” Single family homes mean single family taxes. That’s NO WAY to fund a growing bureaucracy!

    “the right kind of development”: See “relax a voter-approved ordinance”.

    “slowly and orderly over time.”: Not so much that they notice what we’re doing until it’s too late to stop it, till it becomes “too big to fail”.

    Keep voting these worms into office & kiss your beautiful little town goodbye!

    What a shame…

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  10. Skippy says:

    Healdsburg has been a fantasy town for a long time.
    What goes on there has little relation to the real world.

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  11. Citizen says:

    But if they start to allow growth, Healdsburg might lose its charming, all-white, rich, liberal enclave-status. REAL diversity–of thought–might start to encroach on that perfect little commune[ity].

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