By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Healdsburg officials Tuesday decided not to change a policy of approving wine-tasting rooms on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s always been my position to a large extent that retail takes care of itself,” said Mayor Gary Plass.
“We do have a lot of tasting rooms around the Plaza,” he said, adding that without them there would probably have been some empty storefronts. “I think we have some good guidelines in place.”
Nevertheless, Plass asked that the topic of regulating alcohol-serving establishments be placed on the agenda of Tuesday’s annual joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission, because of some lingering confusion among commissioners over the city’s policy.
There are about 20 wine-tasting rooms downtown. There are 10 other existing full-service bars in the downtown in addition to a couple of dozen restaurants, most of which serve alcohol.
The question of how many alcohol-serving outlets are too many surfaces periodically in Healdsburg, a beacon for tourists in the heart of Wine Country.
But the debate is typified by concerns over General Plan guidelines that call for diversifying retail businesses that serve both residents and visitors and avoiding an overconcentration of a single type of use.
Police Chief Kevin Burke said Tuesday alcohol-related crime is the city’s No. 1 crime problem, whether for drunken driving, public intoxication or domestic violence.
But, he said, “the issue is very clearly not wine-tasting rooms.”
Based on probation reports, he said offenders tend to get arrested after consuming alcohol at bars, restaurants and even private residences.
Burke noted there have been problems associated with the annual Wine Road Barrel Tasting, where there have been well-publicized complaints of rowdiness and drunken excess.
While there are ongoing efforts to rein in those problems, several tasting-room operators on Tuesday urged the city not to change its policies on wine outlets.
“I do believe it’s working. I don’t see any problems, other than large events,” said Alan Baker, winemaker for Cartograph Wines, which has a tasting room on Healdsburg Avenue.
He expressed surprise that the issue had even resurfaced.
Tony Stephen, owner of Trust Wine tasting room said there seemed to be a “prohibitionist attitude” on the part of some Planning Commission members.
He said he trains his employees not to serve customers too much and even turn them away if they’ve overindulged.
The Planning Commission last year deadlocked 3-3 on an application for a 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.
Last year, the council decided the informal guideline of allowing one tasting room per side of each block is working.
Since then, several more tasting venues planning to open have been approved, but they also combine a food or culinary emphasis.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.