Healdsburg Planning commissions OKs North Village mixed-use project – Sonoma West

After a lengthy discussion, some concerns with water usage and the agreement to add more shade trees and a pedestrian activated lighted crosswalk, the Healdsburg Planning Commission unanimously approved the design and conditional use permits for the North Village mixed-use project at 16977 Healdsburg Ave.

The 32-acre site on the northernmost edge of town will feature a mixed-use component with 45 multi-family units, 24 moderate-income units, 26 category C units, five live-work units,12,500 square feet of retail space and a 108-room hotel.

Mixed-use portions of the project will also feature a downtown area with an open promenade for retail, pedestrians and events that would connect the downtown area with the hotel site.

The goal of the mixed-use area is to provide residents with a variety of shops and stores such as a neighborhood grocery store, cafe/bakery, restaurant, bike shop, bookstore and a bank branch with an ATM.

The project also includes a senior living community, the Enso Village, which is being developed by a partnership between the San Francisco Zen Center and the Kendal Corporation.

The senior living facility will feature 221 independent living units, including 30 affordable units, and 34 assisted living and memory care beds.

According to Linda Ruffing, a contract planner with the city of Healdsburg, the master conditional use permit (CUP) for the project was approved by the planning commission in late 2020. The Enso Senior Village CUP was also approved by the planning commission in late 2020.

Planning commissioners met virtually in April to provide feedback on the project design and to discuss the vision for the site with architects and Healdsburg city staff.

In general, commissioners expressed support and praise for the project, however, they did have a few suggestions and concerns.

There was a safety concern from Commissioner Phil Lux regarding the crosswalk on Boxcar Drive and a concern with the size of the event lawn at the hotel in relation to water usage.

Commissioners also suggested adding more bike storage across the site as well as ride sharing options for employees.

Design wise, suggestions include adding some sort of structure to connect the retail promenade area with the hotel area and pet waste receptacle areas.

“I want to quickly review some of the topics that were discussed at the workshop,” Ruffing said during the May 25 planning commission meeting. “There was a question about whether the crosswalk on Boxcar Drive that aligns with the entry to the promenade should be lighted. This issue was reviewed by the city engineer, and it was determined that a lighted crosswalk signal at this location is not warranted given the design characteristics of the street and the anticipated traffic volumes and pedestrian crossings.”

All three crosswalks on Boxcar Drive would be elevated with stamped, colored concrete, however, Lux said he’d still like to see some sort of lighted crosswalk at that crossing since seniors from the senior living facility will likely be frequently walking in the area.

In addressing the other commissioners’ desired project additions, electric vehicle charging stations will be scattered at different locations throughout the parking lot and there will also be a shared parking plan.

The plan stipulates that 64 spaces will be designated for residential use on the mixed-use site and there will be 73 shared parking spaces for retail and other uses.

Shared parking is part of the transportation demand management plan (TDM) for the site.

“This plan is really for the successful implementation of the shared parking plan, and it’s intended to both reduce the number of single occupant vehicle trips associated with the project and to reduce the amount of parking necessary and the amount of automobile use associated with the project,” Ruffing said. 

An arbor with lights will connect the walkway between the promenade and the grange hotel area to connect the two in the breezeway section.

While city staff and project designers addressed most of the commissioner’s project suggestions, the commission still expressed concern over water usage and trees, which Commission Chair Dan Petrik said he’d like to see more street trees on Dovetail Lane.

“I look forward to sending friends to stay there and to enjoy the hotel, I think it’s a wonderful addition. I love the design, all of the features, the open spaces,” said Commissioner Vesna Breznikar. “My concerns are climate related. I’m not sure in this environment, where we have to reduce our water usage by 20% or maybe even more, why there are three pools in this development. Where is this water going to come from and how will it be replenished? On top of the drought, we have our fire problems and I’m wondering about the trees. There are several deciduous trees that are going to have leaves lying around. When there are no leaves, you’re going to have a different view of the site.”

City staff said the city is still issuing permits for new pools, however, the applicant cannot use the city’s water system, they’d have to get water from a private well likely outside of city limits and truck it in.

“With regard to water, I just did sort of a back of the envelope estimate and I estimate that the total water consumption for landscaping purposes for both the mixed-use and the hotel is equivalent to about 25 people … and I think it is important for the commission to think about the sustainability (of the project),” Petrik said.

Ruffing said the event lawn space at the hotel was reduced in size in an effort to conserve more water.

Petrik asked what would happen to the landscaping if stricter water use reductions were imposed and asked if the developer could make changes down the line to the landscaping plan in order to better adapt to drought conditions.

Ruffing said minor modifications to the plan can be made and approved administratively. 

Terry Crowley, the city’s utility director, said if next winter is another dry one, landscaping may have to be deferred.

“The current stage of water conservation mandates is three days a week, limited irrigation. If we move into stage three it goes to two days per week and stage four could be one day or no days per week. What we’re discussing with residential customers and some commercial customers is this is not the year to plant landscaping. This is the year to fall back on your irrigation and think about the type of landscaping that’s (being designed) here and applying that to your residential or commercial areas,” Crowley said. “I would suspect that this landscaping isn’t going to be put in place this summer and so the current water supply issue would not be impacted by this development. I suspect that the landscaping would be put in next summer. If we have another dry year, that landscaping may need to be deferred because it takes a lot more water to establish landscaping than it does to maintain it long-term and so that’s something the planning commission and the developer should weigh in their decisions for timings for landscaping.”

Commissioner Carrie Hunt said she was impressed with the 40% reduction in planned water usage that the developer and designers were able to achieve and said if changes are necessary in the future to address drought then that will just have to happen.

Hunt added that she was concerned about the amount of parking, however, the project does have a plan B to add more parking if needed

Petrik got his wish to add two more shade trees on Dovetail Lane, however, the two additional trees will result in the loss of two parking spaces.

After commission discussion, three conditions were added to the project’s CUPs.

The added conditions include:

●      Two additional street trees will be installed in lieu of two parking spaces. The trees will be installed on Dovetail Lane east of the traffic circle to continue the established street tree pattern.

●      The plans shall be modified to include installation of a privately owned and maintained lighted crosswalk that can be activated when needed on Boxcar Drive to be aligned with the breezeway access to the promenade.

●      A transportation management association shall be established to coordinate implementation of the TDM programs on a site wide basis prior to the issuance of the first certificate of occupancy.

With the added conditions, commissioners were satisfied with the design conditional use permits and unanimously approved the design and permits.

Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce CEO Tallia Hart spoke during public comment and said she is excited to see this new addition to Healdsburg.

“The North Village project will provide a plethora of opportunities and services that will serve the north end of the city and all Healdsburg residents. It is a well-thought-out mixed-use development that includes the hotel, which will provide needed services and opportunities for services in the north end. It is also going to increase our TOT (Transit Occupancy Tax), which supports much of Healdsburg’s community services. Housing is also a component of this project and obviously the missing middle key is huge here, it is much needed to attract professionals to our city. Tonight, the chamber urges you to move forward with this project,” Hart said.