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No New Limits on Wine Bars, Tasting Rooms, Says Healdsburg City Council

Council votes 4 to 1 to let current approval process stand and "let the market take care of it."

Healdsburg will leave the current "case-by-case" approval process in place for wine bars and tasting rooms, instead of imposing a specific cap, the City Council decided Tuesday night.

Although some members of the city staff and the public said they wanted the city to set a limit, Council voted 4 to 1 to maintain the current system. That includes an informal guideline of one tasting room per city block -- but the guideline is flexible and is not written into the city's general plan.

"I think there is an over-concentration of wine tasting rooms in the community," said Councilman Jim Wood. "Do I want to change it? No."

Wood added: "I think we should let the market ebb and flow take care of it."

Tuesday night's vote came after discussion with the Healdsburg Planning Commission, present during the joint special meeting with City Council before about 30 residents.

a Planning Commission permit denial for the wine bar Bergamot Alley.

At the time of the reversal, City Council said they would meet with the Planning Commission at a later date to discuss whether wine bars and tasting rooms had reached "the tipping point" in the city and should be capped by new restrictions.

"I don't know what an over-concentration is," said Planning Commissioner Jerry Eddinger, who had recused himself for conflict of interest in the Bergamot Alley decision, on Tuesday. "What I do know is that we have empty buildings, empty spaces -- and no one is knocking on our door."

He said  that market conditions will eventually balance any over-concentration.

"Healdsburg is as successful as it is because we are a wine destination," Eddinger said.

He added that some Planning Commissioners would rather not have to struggle with ambiguity or with balancing competing issues in town, but "that's our job," Eddinger said.

Neil Cronin, owner of , asked City Council not to impose any stricter limits on permits for alcohol-serving establishments. Cronin, accompanied by his attorney Herbert Terreri, said he is losing his lease and will need to move to a new location in two years.

"I'm concerned if you're going to set too strict a set of guidelines," Terreri said in his testimony. "My client may need to locate on a street that already has a tasting room."

Healdsburg Mayor Tom Chambers said he realized that current case-by-case approval process was not perfect, but "what we have is working," he said.

"It's messy and it's clumsy at times, and it's not real exact," Chambers said. "But when I see empty storefronts like (former Healdsburg Avenue tasting room) Prohibition, to me that's a bigger eyesore than another tasting room."

Councilwoman Susan Jones and Vice Mayor Gary Plass agreed.

"I would rather see a tasting room than an empty storefront," Jones said. "Let's leave it the way it is."

Councilman Steve Babb cast the sole dissenting vote, saying he was not completely comfortable with the current one-tasting-room-per-city-block guideline, because it wasn't being followed.

"It's not really working," he said, pointing to a map displayed by Healdsburg Senior Planner Lynn Goldberg. "We have three areas that do have an over-concentration."

Planning Commissioner Betsi Lewitter said that when she was appointed to the commission, "I had at least five residents come up to me and say, 'You're not going to approve any more tasting rooms, are you?'"

But Goldberg said a number of tasting rooms were OK'd prior to any guidelines or city general plan policies on the issue. Healdsburg currently has 20 wine tasting rooms, not including other establishments that serve alcohol.

Healdsburg's general plan policy, which refers to conditional use permits, calls for officials to provide for a "diversity of uses" and to "avoid over-concentration" of any particular type of business.

austin October 26, 2011 at 06:04 PM
"I think we should let the market ebb and flow take care of it."-I love it.
Tom October 26, 2011 at 06:22 PM
Great. Now that we have no limit as to the number of tasting rooms, all businesses in downtown Healdsburg can now have tasting rooms. This is good for the local economy as toursist will be getting "hammered" and spending money like crazy. This will also increase employment as more personnel will be needed to clean up the messes left by the "tasters". Also alcoholic rehab should see a boost in business. There should be no problems because, according to our former police chief and city council person, there has been no major incidences caused by the influx of alcohol establishments. Just tell that to the families of the women who were killed or injured by individuals who were out "wine tasting". Because it is just wine.
Keri Brenner (Editor) October 26, 2011 at 08:57 PM
@Tom: I believe that there will still be checks and balances in place -- they're just not setting a strict limit number....
Tom October 27, 2011 at 03:01 PM
Kari - check out the headlines of today's (10/27) Press Democrat. The City could be looking at some serious liability if they do nothing.

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