The Healdsburg Planning Commission approved an ordinance Tuesday evening that will limit the amount of hotels built in the plaza and in the city’s Downtown Commercial district near Piper, Vine, East and Mill Streets. If approved by city council, the two-pronged motion will put a strict limit on hotel development by prohibiting new hotel rooms from being built in the four-block radius of the Plaza retail zoning district and by limiting new hotels in the downtown commercial district to those that include no more than five rooms.
The four commissioners present at the meeting voted in favor of the motion citing the desire to preserve the plaza and the ordinance’s balance of catering to the diverse needs of both residents and visitors as the main reason for their “yes” vote.
Commissioner Chair, Jeff Civian, said of the decision, “Initially we needed more (hotels) but I think now we are maxed out (current hotel projects in town amount to 291 rooms and two proposed projects will add another 173 rooms for tourists if approved). This preserves the plaza (and I support the limit).”
Several residents also voiced support for the limits during public comment.
Healdsburg resident, Bruce Abramson thanked the commission for bringing the discussion to the table and said that the move will help preserve downtown Healdsburg.
“We want to preserve our downtown community… and this wasn’t just a few residents trying to make this their issue,” Abramson noted.
Indeed, community survey results gathered in February and March cited that 47 percent of residents said there are “far too many” hotels and 71 percent said that hotel development in the city was way too fast.
While the decision may fall in line with many council members and residents wishes, (during the Feb. 20 city council meeting several council members and locals voiced their support for the limitations) it may have implications for the local hotel and tourism industry as opined by a few speakers.
Hotel Healdsburg has 55 rooms and Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza has 12, meaning only those 67 rooms will be allowed for the downtown plaza area.
One speaker, Richard B., said he was concerned the limits would create a proliferation of vacation rentals as hotel rooms would be limited and may be difficult to book. Despite Civian’s support of the limitations, he did say he is weary of the effects the restrictions may have on local hotels.
“I am concerned about the unknown consequences this could have,” Civian said. “It may take away opportunities that may come down the road.”
Brian Sommer, manager for Hotel Les Mars and a Healdsburg resident, expressed fears of the restrictions decreasing the amount of tourism jobs for youth, seniors and the Latino demographic. He also expressed concern that the limits like the “no more than five room” rule for commercial district zoned hotels were too arbitrary.
“You (Civian) mentioned that we don’t know if this five room limit is feasible for a development… it is happening too fast... We shouldn’t be asking ourselves the appropriate limits of the size of hotels or the placement of hotels without having all the proper knowledge that goes into it,” Sommer said.
Civian also voiced concerns on how these limits, such as the five room limit for the CD Zone which also sets a five room limit for block facing rooms, might not be economically viable and might affect larger hotel projects in the works.
To address this concern, city staff said they would add a trigger for the amendment so that the five-room restraint would not be applicable to current hotel projects in the works that are deemed “Complete” in the application process.
Circe Sher, co-founder of Piazza Hospitality and owner of Hotel Healdsburg said of the hotel limits debate, “I’m not opposed to taking a pause and seeing how the effects of the new hotels coming on-line play out. I do believe it’s a matter of quality versus quantity and ensuring that hotels bring a balance of charm and sustainability in scale and fitting for the community.”
In the end, Commissioners Phil Luks, Richard Tracy and Vesna Breznikar gave their formal support for the moratorium after the concerns were addressed and some general verbage of the ordinance was changed.
Commissioner Tracy said of the change, “This approach seems balanced in terms of diverse needs for both our residents and our visitors.”
Luks agreed. “Despite the limits I think Healdsburg will always be a tourist destination.”
The motion will now go to city council where the recommendation will be voted on at a future meeting.