Healdsburg Parks and Recreation commissioners unanimously affirmed their support for the farmers market pavilion and event space proposal for the Cerri Building and site at 3 North St. during a Feb. 12 Healdsburg Parks and Recreation Commission meeting.
They also made a motion that the commission enthusiastically supports and accepts the $7 million Foley Family Foundation donation for the site and construction of the project.
Since both commissioners and residents voiced frustration in regard to the project taking so long to consider and move forward, they included in their motion direction that they would like to see the space constructed as soon as possible.
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, however, the city of Healdsburg has also proposed that the site be used for 55 affordable housing units.
The site has generated a lot of impassioned discussion as community members have voiced overwhelming support for the project, yet Healdsburg city councilmembers have mixed feelings on whether or not it should be used for the farmers market or for housing.
Parks and Recreation Commission chair Ron Dobley called the farmers market pavilion project a “Slam dunk,” and Commissioner Jay Tripathi also spoke passionately about the project.
“It is no secret that I have supported this project for a long time… With the one stumbling block being funding it seems almost insane to me that we would go backward five, six, seven years, now that we have the funding identified and say, ‘You know what, let’s change our minds.’ It is not right,” Tripathi said. “I think there has been a lot of money spent in this city over the last several years, city hall remodeled, the roundabout cost millions of millions of dollars that some of that money could have been used to identify affordable housing sites that we don’t currently own and we could have identified and started to build affordable housing.”
Tripathi said it would be foolish for the city not to do the project and that it should have happened sooner.
“So I think this is a red herring and it shows a severe lack of leadership and management skill and I think it would be super foolish for us to not do this, and I know I am being critical but I am sick of this, I truly am. I am sick of doing things time and time again and jumping through hoops. We have a beautiful project that the community has embraced... It is insensitive and infuriating to be doing this again, we should be putting a shovel in the ground right now and building it,” he said.
Resident and former Parks and Recreation commissioner Ariel Kelley recalled being on the dais three years ago and considering the project then and completing several focus groups with the community and approving the project and passing it forward to the council. The council unanimously approved the project plan in 2017.
“I know we have a lot of work to do to get this project to fruition and I really want to see it happen for my kids and for my community. It has taken way too long to get to this Kelley said.
She added that pitting housing against the farmers market project is not necessary.
“We do need housing, I don’t think we need it at this site and I don’t think we’ve explored policies or other options to create the housing that we need in other places downtown,” she said.
How did the city get to this point?
Healdsburg Community Services Director Mark Themig gave a presentation to the commissioners on all the work that has gone into researching and designing the project.
“It is quite long trying to tell the story of the last 10 years,” Themig said.
The Cerri family reportedly constructed the current warehouse building in the 1920s for grape distribution, and later the building was used for fruit packaging and processing by companies like Del Monte.
In the mid-1970s the Purity Chemical Products Company purchased the warehouse for the use, distribution and storage of agricultural products such as fertilizer and pesticides and pool chemicals.
The city purchased the property in 2004 through the former redevelopment agency with the intent of using it for parking.
In 2007 the former development agency directed staff to start an environmental and design review for potential removal of the building and preservation of the front facade with the addition of a shade structure and parking, but community members did not like the idea and pushed for a farmers market and event center.
The plans faced uncertainty in 2011 when the redevelopment agency was dissolved, however, the city was able to purchase the property in 2013, mostly due to the fact that the property is designated as a park due to the Wetzel Native Plant Garden.
Planning efforts for the farmers market pavilion rekindled in 2015 when the city council included funding in the fiscal year 2015-16 Capital Improvement Program for initial concept design work.
The city also entered into an environmental analysis stage, which Themig said was a concern knowing the history of the site.
Through environmental analysis Themig said there was an underground storage tank with some type of gasoline or fuel that partially leaked.
“There was clean up that happened but the clean up was limited to the areas that they could access, in other words, they did not excavate under the building to clean that up, they excavated in the areas where the leak took place where they could get access to,” he said.
They also found evidence of a second underground storage tank leak with contaminated soil.
Inside the building, he said there are low levels of copper and lead in the concrete slabs. Themig said they also found evidence of perk in the soil, a dry cleaning material solvent used in motor repair. He said that it likely didn’t come from the site.
“It is not uncommon in the downtown area that this perk would get into the ground when it rained and would travel through existing utility pipes and move around,” Themig said. “If the building stays in place there is really no initial cleanup that needs to happen related to this fuel tank. If the building is removed then there would be some cleanup, but it is not major.”
Themig explained that cleanup work would require some excavation of material. He said the copper and lead could be handled through engineering and design by putting a new concrete layer on top of the existing layer.
He said through testing there was no evidence of groundwater contamination.
The design process came up with three different concept plans: Repurpose and renovate the Cerri building with similar materials; remove the entire building and put in a modern structure that maximizes parking; or remove the building and reconstruct a similar building.
Since there was strong support to save and preserve the building, a schematic design process was completed with the help of community input from several workshops and focus groups and the current design for the space we know today was born.
On Feb. 10, community services did a fit analysis with market manager Janet Ciel to test out if the market would fit with the current plans. After setting up market booths and going through the motions of getting ready for a market, they determined that the market would indeed fit in the space.
“Mark and Andrea took us through an incredible presentation on Monday and we definitely saw that we could fit, which was a huge concern as a market manager, but in fact it looks great and the potential is just fantastic in this space, not just for us, but for the community. The market is fully on board,” Ciel said.
There were around nine residents who spoke in favor of the market plan during the meeting. Nobody spoke in opposition of the plans.
Lou Preston, who has a farm in Dry Creek Valley and participates in the market, said the market space would be a great way to bring Healdsburg’s diverse agriculture together.
“In the time that I have been here I have seen agricultural endeavors come and go. My family was in the dairy business and we grew prunes, which we all know has come and gone and now we are blessed with a very creative wine industry, but it has its ups and downs too and the point that I would make here is that the farmers market brings together for the city a diversity of endeavors,” Preston said.
Themig will bring a similar presentation to the Healdsburg City Council meeting on March 2 for council consideration.