At a special council work session on Jan. 21 at a packed city hall, Healdsburg City Council expressed mixed feelings on what proposal to consider for the development of the Cerri site at 3 North Street. Among the options is one from the Foley family, which has pledged $7 million for the creation of a community event and farmers market space, an idea that has received overwhelming support from Healdsburg residents.
Other possible uses for the site include a plan for 55 affordable housing rental units, a mixed-use approach that includes 45 units and a new space for the Healdsburg Regional Library, or a site for a SMART (Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit) train platform or a platform with farmers market space.
Several council members, including Shaun McCaffery and Evelyn Mitchell, favored the idea of using the site for affordable housing rather than an event center. McCaffery did make his opinion clear that he preferred housing for the site. McCaffery said it would be a good opportunity for affordable housing, however, he also said, “I think I’ve ended up at the point where I am not ready to make a decision on this at this point.”
To try to come to a consensus after much back and forth conversation, the council suggested that they work with the Foley family to further explore the event and farmers market idea and to get more information about the pledge before they make a final decision. They also said it would be good to discuss if the family would be willing to look at other development options.
Mayor Leah Gold and Councilmember David Hagele seemed to have the most support for the site being used as a community event space, however, they both agreed that the council and city staff need to work more with the donor to iron out the details.
Councilmember Joe Naujokas had similar thoughts, but loved the idea of incorporating a SMART train station. Naujokas is on the SMART Board of Directors.
“I feel like going ahead and working on developing some version of the plan that was proposed and approved and using the funds that have been offered to realize it as soon as possible,” Gold said. “I am really thrilled to receive this offer, this gift and have the ability to realize a very beautiful plan that has a lot of public support. That is certainly so far the weight of the input that we got in the letters that we received.”
While not everyone got a chance to speak during public comment, Gold asked those in the audience to raise their hand if they preferred the market idea and nearly every single hand in the room shot into the air.
Most proponents of the market idea said the plan for the event space would help preserve the historic Purity Building and honor Healdsburg’s agriculture heritage, as well as provide a central location for events like the annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival and Día de los Muertos.
Resident Tim Unger said of the Foley pledge and plan, “This is a fantastic gift, a wonderfully significant item to benefit the entire community. Is the most centrally located and therefore its use should benefit the entire community.”
Gayle Okumura Sullivan, co-owner of Dry Creek Peach & Produce, director of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival and a food columnist for Sonoma West Publishers, echoed Unger’s thoughts.
“For 20 years we had been a part of the market and ever since we’ve been there the market has been looking for a permanent home and I cannot imagine turning that down,” Okumura said.
Campo Fina owner Ari Rosen said while he would like to see a permanent home for the farmers market, affordable housing needs to be addressed too.
There is a “housing crisis that is not being addressed, farmers, hospitality and wineries are struggling to employ people and housing seems to be one of the obstacles,” he said. Rosen suggested the old SHED building on North Street as a site for the farmers market.
Resident Beth Sawatzky said if the council does not accept the $7 million pledge then there are going to be a lot of upset people.
In that regard, Vice Mayor Evelyn Mitchell seemed to be in a rock and a hard place in trying to determine which use for the site, either housing or an event center, would be the best.
“Ever since I have been on the council and started to run for office, everything was all about affordable housing, all the time, so to me it is a little surprising that people can so easily say, ‘Well no we want to use that for now, you can buy some land somewhere else and do some affordable there,’ when the housing administrator is saying that this is the most readied property that we have,” Mitchell said.
She said on the other hand, the event space proposal comes with a $7 million gift.
“Hopefully the benefactor would consider continuing to commit to Healdsburg and use it in another way over at another property, so I would certainly want more information about all of that and some opportunities to look at that with the parking and the 3 North Site.”
A member of the Foley Family, Courtney Foley, who had written a letter of interest to the city of Healdsburg last week about the pledge, said she understands that the council wants to take a deliberate approach.
“I think it is very smart to be deliberate with that space. It is obviously a historical space, it is right in the center of town and I think being deliberate with all of the decisions is probably a smart way to go,” Foley said. “I have entered into this maybe a little bit later than everyone else who has done all the hard work of planning and putting everything together.
She said she thought the city was perhaps past the early consideration and discussion part since a concept design and and schematic of the proposed space was completed in 2017.
“There were a lot of thoughtful comments and with all of the fires that have gone on, all the things that have shaped our community over the past three years I don’t think it is a bad decision to ask for more details, we’re completely obliging to that and we’ll be ready to work towards creating the best possible option for the community,” Foley said.
The concept design and environmental testing for the event center and market was completed in 2015-16 and a schematic design based on a community input process was created in 2017.
The vision for the center includes 5,200 square feet of covered space, 6,100 square feet of multipurpose parking and open air event space, a catering kitchen and public restrooms.
Other properties around town
The Cerri property wasn’t the only topic of discussion at Tuesday’s meeting. Councilmembers also mulled over options for three other sites, 155 Dry Creek; Saggio Hills, also known as Montage; and the Healdsburg Community Center.
There were two options to consider for the Dry Creek site: Mixed-use development with 45 low-income rentals for folks with 60% average median income or lower, or all residential with 55 low-income rentals.
The site was originally purchased by the city’s redevelopment agency for the purpose of serving as affordable housing.
Healdsburg Housing Administrator Stephen Sotomayor said the mixed-use option would be the best way to go since the second option would not pencil out financially.
According to Sotomayor, the residential option would leave an approximate $4,000,000 gap, or a $80,000 gap per door. He said the mixed-use approach would help the project be more financially viable.
The site would also require the undergrounding of utilities — a cost of around $800,000 according to city staff, as well as road widening. Costs for the development would be covered by the 9% low income housing tax credit.
“I like option one, mainly for the fact that it doesn’t cost the city money,” McCaffery said. He said it would also be good to look at mixed-income housing for the site based on the city’s housing needs assessment.
The council members unanimously supported option one and directed staff to pursue the plan.
The current development plan for Saggio Hills, also known as Montage, includes an estimated 130 hotel rooms, 113.23 acres for around 70 single-family homes and approximately 150 affordable housing units.
Option one for the Montage site is to convert it to an open space conservation area. In exchange, the developer would find an alternative site for 150 multifamily affordable housing units.
Option two focuses on townhome or cottage court-style housing and would offer 70 for-sale, price restricted units. Option three would be to construct a multifamily building complex with 150 affordable housing rental units targeting low and moderate-income families.
“To me the choice is clear,” Naujokas said. “I think it is a poor site for the type of housing that we need. We need to focus on city center, walkable, transit-oriented housing. I have very little interest to pursue housing (there).”
Since the site has several grading issues and is farther away from the city center, council voiced their support for option one and directed staff to pursue option one.
Still a nebulous concept, Sotomayor floated the idea of using the Healdsburg Community Center grounds as a site for 120 affordable housing units.
Council agreed to return to the idea at a later point in time when there are more concrete details to the plan.
Resident Bruce Abramson said he thought the center would be a great place for 120 units, however, other residents said they would not want to lose the community center.
All of the site discussions will most likely return to council at a later date.