At a work session on Jan. 21, the council decided to look closer at the options for affordable housing on city-owned sites. This included 3 North St., also known as the Cerri building or the Purity building. 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. 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 SDAT team’s recommendation and embark on a thoughtful, inclusive community master-planning effort for the West Plaza area as a whole.
Formed in 1978, the farmers market has become much more than its cherry-tomato selling beginnings. It is now a cultural landmark deeply woven into the fabric of Healdsburg — a place for people to gather and chat on level terms. Over the last 40 years they have been bounced around downtown, but have remained at West Plaza Park for the last 15 or 20 years. It has worked. The market’s greatest desire, however, is for a permanent home and to keep the ability to sell on the plaza during the week. They also desire amenities including easy and safe access for farm vehicles and pedestrians, access to electricity and water, shaded parking similar to the Davis Farmers Market, some storage, and bathrooms. A certified kitchen would be nice, too. After the city purchased 3 North in 2004, a working group was formed to vision a parking lot that also serves as the permanent home of the farmers market.
During the process, options were explored and some participants sought to preserve the Cerri building at 3 North as a covered space for events. In August 2016, a vote was taken and this group largely voted for preserving the entire building, while the farmers voted for the ground-level, solar-panel shaded “Agrarian Reuse” concept. The council subsequently chose none of the above — creating what is known as the “compromise.” Split the difference and preserve a small portion of the building for storage, a kitchen, a stage, bathrooms and a small meeting space. At this point the project no longer had parking and the home of the farmers market as its primary use — it had morphed into an outdoor events center with a support building. Due to size constraints, market days that include the Zucchini and Pumpkin festivals would require North Street to be closed to traffic, while wintertime events would be limited to the small allocation of indoor space.
The process that led up to the “compromise” never considered a master plan. One obvious option never considered: Could the agrarian reuse concept overwhelmingly favored by the farmers be realized on West Plaza independently of 3 North? Taking this a little deeper, could the costs of such a project be shared between enterprise funds to make it happen in the near future? Could the solar shade structure be paid for with the electric fund, helping us meet state climate mandates? Could parking lot surface upgrades, water and power be paid for by Measure V intended for streets and economic development? Could bathrooms and ongoing maintenance be absorbed into the bed-tax funded community services budget? Importantly, this would free-up the Cerri building on 3 North to be preserved in its entirety as covered space available for off-season events.
Could that also be absorbed into the same community services budget currently not meeting its reserve policy? Would we need to raise revenue with weddings, wine events and high-dollar rentals? If we could go back to August 15, 2016 with this information, what would the outcome of the vote be?
In December 2017, the Healdsburg SDAT Steering Committee submitted an application to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for a Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT). On Aug. 15, 2018, exactly two years after the council vote on 3 North, the team presented their recommendations and discussed the need to make better connections in the community through art and culture. They discussed Healdsburg having to make critical decisions to increase housing affordability and density. They also spoke of the numerous people who grew up here or currently work here, but can’t afford to live here. One startling concept they outlined was known as the “Demographic Bomb”:
“Keeping housing affordable to Healdsburg’s workforce is part of any economic development strategy … also critical to provide for the needs of residents and their children, rather than only the needs of new affluent and seasonal residents.” Page 25 SDAT Final Report
This need for cultural connection referenced by SDAT refers to the separation of the Anglo and Latinx communities. Both communities have deep roots and history in Healdsburg, yet at times we struggle to come together and have significantly different opportunities going forward as the area becomes more affluent. Arts and culture are areas where SDAT saw a possibility to come together. Perhaps speaking directly to the 3 North site, SDAT had this recommendation:
“Write an action plan to create an indoor performing arts venue in Healdsburg. This venue could be combined with housing, maker space, or other needed community assets. Implement the plan.” Page 19 SDAT Final Report
Other SDAT recommendations spoke about how zoning and planning should encourage needed housing:
“Improve opportunities for upper floor housing downtown.” Page 28 SDAT Final Report
“Undertake thoughtful, inclusive community master planning of each of the three sites that the City currently has under control that could be developed to include affordable housing units.” Page 44 SDAT Final Report
I am not positive, but the three sites referred to in the SDAT are likely the three underutilized pieces of land owned by the city in 2018: 14 acres at Montage, 155 Dry Creek and 3 North. Healdsburg Glen at 1201 Grove was under construction at the time, opening December 2018. How would the options considered on Aug. 15, 2016 differ given knowledge gained by the community thru the SDAT process? A process of community participation unmatched in scale and diversity.
SDAT’s recommendations highlighted next steps for Healdsburg: Master Plan/General Plan, Housing, Connection -River/Parks/Plaza, Social Fabric – Community as a Developer, Arts and Culture. Both the city and groups formed from the SDAT process are all currently working tirelessly on these topics. The city also has master plans underway for Dry Creek North and south of the bridge.
While I am reluctant to carve out a significant portion of the general fund to pay for a General Plan update in a city with a growth boundary and significant residential growth restrictions, I am certainly open to a thoughtful, inclusive community master-planning effort for West Plaza. I believe that a master plan is a bite-sized chunk that our diverse, participation-loving community as well as our city budget could handle. I also think Healdsburg could use a win for the whole community in this instance, something to forever serve as the mark left on the city by SDAT.
-Shaun McCaffery, councilmember