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Healdsburg Decides Not To Change Policy on Wine Tasting Rooms

City leaders keep approval process on a case-by-case basis.

Approvals for wine tasting rooms will continue to be judged on a case-by-case basis, city leaders decided this week.

Healdsburg Planning Commission and City Council members, meeting jointly on Tuesday, decided the current system worked well enough -- despite some questions last year that arose during the approval of wine bar Bergamot Alley.

"I don't think we have a problem at this time," said Planning Commissioner Jerry Eddinger. "Personally, I'd prefer a wine tasting establishment over an empty storefront."

Last year, a split Healdsburg Planning Commission denied Bergamot Alley's conditional use permit after some commissioners and members of the public said there needed to be a tighter cap on alcoholic-beverage-serving establishments.

But Healdsburg City Council reversed the Planning Commission decision on appeal and granted Bergamot Alley the permit to open. At the time, city staff and Planning Commissioners said they needed a stronger direction from City Council as to what the city's policies or quotas on alcoholic-beverage-serving establishments should be.

Mayor Gary Plass asked the item be agendized for Tuesday's joint meeting of the Planning Commission and City Council. He said he had received comments from some commissioners that felt council's direction was too vague.

The current criteria is one alcohol-serving establishment, such as a tavern or a wine bar, per city block -- but it is more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule, according to comments at last year's Bergamot Alley hearings.

On Tuesday, Healdsburg Police Chief Kevin Burke said that wine tasting rooms are not a major source of alcohol-related disturbances.

He cited POLD (Place of Last Drink) data, which indicated bars and restaurants serving hard liquor and beer were the number one cause of problems. Second on the list was alcohol served in private residences.

Also Tuesday, Planning & Building Director Barbara Nelson said clutter is down from excessive outdoor signage by merchants, following a new set of guidelines instituted earlier this year.

However, Nelson said there were a few instances where signs infringing on the right-of-way were collected and returned to the business owner for repositioning.

In addition, Councilman Tom Chambers said the Growth Management Committee expected to have a recommendation to the City Council very shortly on proposed changes to the city's 12-year-old Growth Management Ordinance.

Chambers described the probable changes as "tweaking the GMO slightly," rather than a major revision.

Eddinger, who also serves on the GMO committee, said the changes, if approved by voters, would blend in well -- particularly in the 80-acre redevelopment area in south Healdsburg called the Central Healdsburg Avenue Special Study Area.

"I would hope CHASSA looks like the rest of Healdsburg," Eddinger said.

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