By JULIE JOHNSON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The council voted 3-2 to give City Manager Carol Gioivanatto the go-ahead to launch a study that will research the impacts of limiting new hotels and the expansion of new ones to 25 rooms.
Mayor Ken Brown cast the deciding vote after hearing passionate comment from opponents of the cap who wanted a report to explain the financial impact of a limit and supporters who said they wanted to preserve Sonoma’s small-town feel.
“People have brought up the idea of an election based on emotion, but I don’t find that to be all that valid,” Brown said. “The more information we can provide to the citizens the better.”
The ordinance would establish a cap that would stand unless the city’s occupancy rate during the previous calendar year exceeded 80 percent, indicating the city needed more rooms.
The hotel occupancy rate in 2012 was just under 65 percent. City Manager Carol Giovanatto has said that the city has never had an occupancy rate of 80 percent.
The council on Monday had the option of ordering the report, adopting the ordinance as it is written or calling for a special election.
The push to limit development came amid community concern with the proposal of a luxury hotel a half-block south of the historic plaza on West Napa Street. The development struck some community members as too big to fit with Sonoma’s small-town charm.
They launched the Preserving Sonoma campaign and handed more than enough signatures to put a hotel cap before voters.
Last week, the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters certified that 1,312 of the signatures. They needed to gather signatures from at least 1,017 people — 15 percent of the 6,782 registered voters in the city. A special election could cost $30,000.
The council will meet Aug. 12 to accept the report. An election could be held Nov. 19.
Joanne Sanders, a former mayor, was among those who asked the council to request a study.
“If this were to go to voters and pass, it would not just effect one property it would effect the whole town,” Sanders said.
Sanders said she’s normally cautions about spending city money but that in this case its worth it.
But others disagreed.
The cost — $17,500 — didn’t sit well with people including Bob Edwards, 73.
“I think $17,000 would be better spent on a good dog park,” Edwards said.
People also spoke passionately about Sonoma’s character as a small town and their concerns that growth was already causing traffic and noise concerns.
“The things that are special about this town is not something that can be quantified, it’s a matter of the heart,” resident Ed Clay said.
The hotel proposal at the center of the debate was proposed by developer Darius Anderson, who has since withdrawn the plan and said a new design would have a smaller physical footprint.
Anderson is the principal of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Press Democrat.
Bill Hooper is president of Anderson’s development company, Kenwood Investments, also spoke Monday, urging the council to commission a report amid a stream of conflicting information from both sides of the issue.
“Our company has been listening to the community and will continue to listen to community, but it’s very important to us that they have the facts,” Hooper said.
Council members Stephen Barbose and Laurie Gallian cast votes against moving forward with a study.
Barbose said he didn’t want the city to cover the staff time for a matter that may not come back to the council for a decision.
“Better off leaving both sides to bring out the facts they think should be heard,” Barbose said.
“This is an issue brought by the public and one that will be decided at the voter box,” she said.
The report will be presented to the council Aug. 12.