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OPINION: Six major concerns as Healdsburg grows

Open letter from Healdsburg resident Bill Merkes to city leaders.

To Healdsburg City Council and Mayor Tom Chambers:

 Seems to me there are at least six primary concerns in the development of Healdsburg;  The Plaza, parking, pedestrians, SMART station, commerce diversification, and Healdsburg Avenue vehicle traffic. 

Regarding the Plaza, by default it becomes the main focus of not only the town but also of tourists.  Those businesses immediately adjacent to the Plaza experience great exposure.  Those located only steps down a side road will experience far less exposure.  Those one block away will always struggle for the Plaza audience. 

Regarding parking, in recent months, we have grown tired of trying to find a parking spot.  Not long ago we attended an art show at Barn Diva, and after several minutes driving through neighborhoods and downtown streets, we had to park behind the Bear Republic.  We've tried to go to the SpoonBar and the Bar & Grill to find we needed to park several blocks away.  This is a major challenge for people in reasonable weather; it is a no-show with questionable weather. New businesses are allowed to open with no requirements for parking spaces.

Regarding pedestrians, it's paramount to keep one eye always trained on the surprise vehicle of tourists or wine-tasters both of which are clueless.  At night many of the areas are very dark.  People and cars seem a chaotic mess at times. 

Regarding the SMART station, assuming it will ever come to fruition and/or successful use, it is hard to imagine people walking from the old train station to the Plaza...certainly not in questionable weather, through dark neighborhoods, wondering about their security.

Regarding commerce, do you actually believe you can sustain a wide scope of interest in Healdsburg with 30 wine tasting rooms?  Sometimes it feels like a large outdoor bar!   

Regarding Healdsburg Avenue traffic, this is a disaster!  You have too many vehicles, many times driving too fast, some vehicles too large to maneuver the tight corners and narrow roads, and major noise and exhaust.

Additional development will only exacerbate these and other issues.  Ideas to review should include; How can the Plaza be expanded into other corridors?  Additional large parking areas are necessary with close proximity and connection to the Plaza.  Close off roads around the Plaza to reduce the mix of cars and people.  Relocate the SMART station along Vine/Grove Street for more direct access to the downtown area.  Creating a better business environment will attract more diverse business.  If a large percentage of Healdsburg Avenue traffic is passing through, why encourage them to mix with people and other congestion...re-route the traffic around the Plaza area. 

If you continue to ignore these issues, you will definitely be 'developing Healdsburg' but the end result will be great aggravation over parking, dangerous pedestrian access and security, few using the train for access to Healdsburg, the frivolity of endless tasting rooms, along with the excessive noise, exhaust and danger of 100's/1000's of vehicles on Healdsburg Avenue. 

Healdsburg remains small enough to design great qualities into the business district around the Plaza.  But this will require some creative planning, strong convictions about the vision of Healdsburg, and timely and effective implementation.  People today and certainly more into the future have lots of great options available to them for business and entertainment outside of Healdsburg.  If you allow some of these issues to worsen, you will choke the city and force locals and tourists to other destinations...which is already happening.

This happens in nearly every city which was focused around a plaza or tight downtown area, in which these areas become choked and undesirable, then new development begins elsewhere (like Saggio Hills, Windsor, Geyserville, etc) and the downtown starts a slow death, with some eventually going through a Renaissance while others never revive themselves.

How will it turn out for downtown Healdsburg -- its businesses and its citizens?     Kind regards,   Bill Merkes

Keri Brenner (Editor) April 27, 2011 at 05:14 PM
@Bill Merkes: Hi Bill. Thanks for sharing your letter. Starting next week, Healdsburg Patch will begin featuring more opinions like yours -- and creative expression, reviews, sound-offs and information sharing -- from local bloggers. If you, Bill, or anyone else out there would add your blog to join the conversation, e-mail me at keri.brenner@patch.com.
Kurt Hahn April 28, 2011 at 06:46 PM
Bill Good start on your challenging thoughts. The time is rapidly approaching when the City and it's CRA, if it still exists, will have to consider building a couple parking garages to address the parking challenge. One likely would be off the Plaza behind the hotel and the other adjacent to the Hospital. The City may also have to consider restoring it's prior policy of having a jobs housing balance dropped in the late 1990's in favor of an almost exclusively tourism focus. Another thought is to focus some of the economic developments efforts on attracting and retaining businesses that serve local residents not just deep pocket tourists.
Bill Merkes May 01, 2011 at 06:31 PM
Kurt, Thank you for your comments. Parking garages or parking areas to handle the growth are certainly necessary. I suppose this can be achieved by the City or in the private sector. I would prefer not to select the areas in which additional parking is ultimately located, and instead provide some goals, for example, to create 500 more parking spaces within 500 feet of the Plaza. I am curious why you believe the City should fund a parking garage next to the hospital? Placing all the City eggs in one basket, like tourism, is risky. And this priority certainly should be reviewed to strike the best balance serving the local economy and the citizens of Healdsburg. If we discuss only the downtown Plaza and adjacent business areas, the concept of having businesses that serve both tourists and locals, considering all types of products and services, might not be practical. Most all of the business spaces in downtown Healdsburg are relatively small and they work great for restaurants and specialty boutiques. But these smaller and higher cost spaces simply do not work well for places that might sell white work socks, Fruit of the Loom underwear, toilet paper, and whatever else locals desire that's not already available. Tourism is an economy that works great for towns like Healdsburg, and mixed-use, as well as services for locals, must be kept in balance...but this is tricky...

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