Healdsburg community members are affirming their support for possible event center/farmers market plan for 3 North St.
Healdsburg residents who are proponents of the Cerri site event center and farmers market plan for 3 North St. have started a petition to get signatures in a show of support for the center plan.
The Tribune recently sat down with a group of Healdsburg residents who support the farmers market/event space plan and the Foley family’s pledge: Tim Unger; Mark Luzaich; Walter Niederberger; Denny Drowty; Jim Heid; Cerce Sher; Eric Ziedrich; and Josie Carrol
The group, which is behind no organized group or name, has been taking the petition to people on the streets, coffee shops and online. The groups hopes to garner 2,500 signatures.
A petition was started following a special Jan. 21 Healdsburg City Council meeting where the city council mulled over plans for the Cerri site and considered a proposal for an indoor/outdoor event center space and a permanent home for the Healdsburg Farmers Market, which the Foley family has pledged $7 million for.
While community members expressed overwhelming support for the plan, councilmembers expressed mixed feelings on whether the 3 North St. site should be used for the proposed plan or for a 55-unit affordable housing project.
Other proposed options for the site included a mixed-use approach with 45 affordable housing 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 a farmers market space.
Several councilmembers, including Shaun McCaffery and Evelyn Mitchell, favored the idea of using the site for affordable housing rather than an event center. Mayor Leah Gold and Councilmember David Hagele seemed to favor the event center purpose.
Luzaich said, “We want to solidify what we all experienced at the meeting that night,” which was a large amount of community support for the event center/farmers market project. “It is amazing to see everybody on the same side of one issue so we wanted to quantify it.”
During the 30-minute interview with the group of residents, the petition gained 24 more signatures, jumping from 261 to 285. By the end of Friday afternoon, Jan. 31, the petition had 352 signatures.
As of press time the petition had 815 signatures.
“This (the proposed center) would be for a permanent home for the farmers market, it solidifies and preserves the historic nature of the agricultural roots of the city … and this collective of like-minded folks who don’t represent any one single group are unified in working to see that happen,” said Unger.
The group said that the petition also serves as a way to send a clear message to the Foley family that a large number of community members appreciate their pledge and commitment to the event center/farmers market project.
So why do folks think the Cerri site is the best place for the event center/farmers market?
Heid, who is a sustainable development advisor and land planner, said there are several reasons from a real estate perspective and from the fact that concept designs and environmental studies for the event space have already been completed and approved.
“There are two things. There is a legacy to that site which speaks to the agricultural roots of the community, it is an iconic building, and it speaks to the roots and the genesis of the community,” Heid said. “The second thing is from just a place making and civic building component, it is a key location.”
The Cerri site sits across from city hall and is near the Plaza.
“It helps expand that energy of the Plaza into a bigger and bigger ring, so it has a key, landmark real estate position,” Heid said.
According to Heid, 3 North St. is also a good site for the project because of the fact that the community and city have already spent time considering the site — conducting studies and concept designs, and garnering community and council approval.
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.
As told in a press release by Healdsburg Community Services Director Mark Themig that was published in the Tribune on March 22, 2017, "On Aug. 15, 2016, Healdsburg City Council directed its staff to develop a schematic design plan that: maximizes parking; preserves the façade and a portion of the building; includes bathrooms and a kitchen; can be implemented in phases; and uses an ecologically friendly surface for the parking lot surface. In addition, the council directed that the site needs to function as the permanent home of the Healdsburg Farmers’ Market.”
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.
Later that year in May, the Healdsburg City Council approved the conceptual design for the event center plan, according to a May 17 Tribune article.
McCaffery said since it has been a while since being presented with the initial design, it may be good to embark on a master planning effort for the West Plaza area as a whole.
“While the meeting agenda and staff report were focused on affordable housing, the council was being asked to consider a project last approved in 2017. The last time council was presented with options for this site was August 15, 2016,” McCaffery said in an email. “I am the only member still serving on the council when that vote was taken. Lots of things have happened in Healdsburg since 2016 including fires, floods, housing shortages and the SDAT process. After hearing about the potential for other uses for the site, including affordable housing, I am now open to follow the recommendation of the SDAT team and embark on a thoughtful, inclusive community master-planning effort for the West Plaza area as a whole.”
What about affordable housing?
There is an argument that it would be a better site for affordable housing rather than an event center, since it is close to town and is the most readied, city-owned site for housing. It would also give the city a 9% low income housing tax credit.
“I know the city is making an argument that it is a prime site for housing and it is through the lens if they are looking through, which is it has access to tax credits. It has the highest level of tax credit ability that it is kind of the tail wagging the dog. It is like, ‘We can get tax credits, so let’s build here,’ versus where is the best place to build housing and how do we get tax credits for that particular site?,” Heid said.
Heid said there are plenty of other sites in downtown that the city owns that could also have the same attributes to get tax credits.
He reeled off a few examples, “The parking lot across from Costeaux, the new parking lot that the city just built that no one ever uses across from city hall. Both of those would meet the 9% tax credit thresholds.”
Heid made it clear that nobody is opposed to affordable housing, however, they don’t think that would be the best use of the 3 North St. space.
“There are other sites where they can get 9% tax credits, are not other sites where you can build a building with this kind of legacy value,” Heid said.
Mitchell said while she appreciates the enthusiasm around the Foley gift it is important to take a step back and perhaps rethink the project.
“While I appreciate the enthusiasm surrounding the gift and project at 3 North, I also feel it is critically important to take a step back and rethink this project. We need to be sure our decision about how to utilize this premium property owned by the city is the right one. A lot has changed in our community since the original approval was given to this project,” Mitchell said in an email. “We have had floods and fires and many of our citizens are more at risk of losing their homes as a result. There has been overwhelming agreement within our community that affordable housing is the top issue facing our town. In light of this, I am simply asking we take the time to consider all the variables and make sure the project we choose is the best possible use of this asset and it meets the needs of the entire community.”
Sher said if created, an event and farmers market space would be beneficial to the local economy and business community.
“As an economic generator it is very powerful because that site is, in its concept, being designed to draw people and bringing people downtown to visit the farmers market or, to go to a community event, then they will continue to spread out and patronize restaurants, local shops,” she said.
Sher, who’s historically worked with farmers markets, said she would bring markets to places where they wanted to activate the economy.
“So fortifying this with an event center I think can really add to the economic viability of the downtown,” she said.
Carrol emphasized that it would also be a great gathering place for all kinds of community organizations like the Kiwanis Club, Soroptimists, Rotary and other nonprofits like Farm to Table.
“I think it provides a real opportunity to bring our community together in a way that we’ve frankly never had an opportunity for,” Carrol said.
They say there would also be ample parking for an event space/farmers market at the new lot next to city hall on Grove Street.
The group said while they don’t have any formalized plans on what to do next with carrying out the petition, they did say they hope that it shows city council that a vast majority of residents support the plan for the event space/farmers market.
In terms of the city, the next round of Cerri site considerations will take place at a Healdsburg Parks and Recreation Commission meeting on Feb. 12 at 6 p.m. at city hall.