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Our Plaza is a public park, an iconic, inclusive place for our town and our guests.
Our Plaza is a public park, an iconic, inclusive place for our town and our guests, to gather. Photo by Prayitno - Attribution 2.0 Generic

Why “Save Our Plaza” ?

Mar 29, 2019

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On Monday night, March 18th, an Appeal was heard by the Healdsburg City Council. Filed by a dozen concerned citizens, this appeal was asking our locally elected officials who have broad, comprehensive powers regarding Land Use matters, to review an approval made by their appointed Planning Commission in a 4:2 vote with one abstention, the Planning Commissioner who is the builder/contractor of the project. The appeal was denied by the City Council:  5:0.

The history: A huge restaurant building was proposed last year. Two of the four retail businesses would be “kept.” Our beloved Fair Trade store and our fabric store were evicted. Both are now out of business. Copperfield’s Bookstore would be moved over to the right and downsized in square footage. The kitchen store had a remaining lease. 45 parking spaces were “grandfathered in” ( I doubt a grandmother would allow this!) and the millionaire investor, owner of this building, would need special use permits for his two fourth story condos ( to help with our housing crisis). All this was approved. 

The Citizen’s Appeal was an effort to “Save Our Plaza” from an intense use project. How would this building, created for a 318 seat, three- story restaurant with a rooftop bar, a 100 wine wall, and two luxury penthouse condos impact our already problematic downtown parking, the traffic congestion, our small retail businesses on the Plaza, an already-crisis-level shortage of restaurant workers and affordable worker housing, and, even more unmeasurable, our historic Plaza Park area? Our Plaza is a public park, an iconic, inclusive place for our town and our guests, to gather. It must not be “boxed-in” by tall buildings. As our townspeople shared at the public meetings, the Plaza is a sacred space, our “living room,” and square to enjoy the sky, the light, the mature trees, and the    all-ages atmosphere. With this denied appeal, a 105 rooftop bar/restaurant with fire pits will look out over the Plaza. Above us all. 

To be clear, the City Council “may affirm, reverse or modify, in whole or part, the project approval. The Council may also make or substitute additional decisions or determinations as it finds warranted.” (Land Use Code, 20.28.085 E.2)

Our five elected city council members said nothing or did nothing to protect our Plaza that night.  Healdsburg citizens organized and numerous residents and businesses signed their names with their Healdsburg addresses on the five page petition delivered to their elected council members.

As a participatory, concerned citizen, as Healdsburg’s 2018 mayor and city council member, and as the primary appellant in the project known as 106 Matheson, I engaged because I know this project’s roots and the nature of this investment.  I am deeply concerned this four story building on our Plaza will adversely impact our town’s future. 

View the meeting on the city’s website:http://healdsburgca.iqm2.com/Citizens/SplitView.aspx?Mode=Video&MeetingID=1803&Format=Agenda

Many proponents of the project spoke about the proposed restaurant’s celebrity chef, of the value of this “small business,” and of the need to trust the city’s staff’s findings to support this large restaurant, this out-of-scale use, in our Plaza Retail District. But the building is not the chef and the chef is not the owner of the building. This decision sets a precedent and it grants an investor entitlements that run with the land. 

As an informed citizen, I consider it my civic responsibility to identify, understand, and question issues of importance to our residents  — my neighbors — and to advocate for policies that benefit all our town's citizens.

Here are our my citizen goals:

• Foster civil civic dialogue (focus on ideas over personalities) 

• Protect our unique, historical Healdsburg Plaza (this requires enforceable language) 

• Promote and support small businesses (we need to honor small, local investment) 

• Value our precious Social Capital (take care of our local artists, our hard-working farmers and hospitality workers, our service clubs, our library and museum and public school and parks volunteers, our teachers, and our healthcare workers who serve our local hospital and health centers)

The economic gap widens in Healdsburg. Our land use policies need updating to protect our treasures, our parks, our neighborhoods, our livability, and our small town charm. We must preserve and build more middle class housing, honor our low-wage workers who are not “teenagers” but adults who seek dignified, decent wages and the opportunity to live in the community they work and serve. Housing continues to be challenging for this affluent community, and we can do better. 

What kind of community are we supporting and building?

Not a single Healdsburg resident who either was part of the formal appeal of the 106 Matheson’s size or chose to sign a line on the five-page citizen petition, is against the “exciting new restaurant” that “promises to be a family-friendly, affordable restaurant with an al fresco dining concept located on the second floor overlooking the historic Healdsburg Plaza.” We shall see. 

This effort was to SAVE OUR PLAZA. My aim is to work together, but we must pay attention. The money is coming north and once the “small town charm is gone,” it cannot be brought or “bought” back. 

 Brigette Mansell

 

Healdsburg resident 

 

 

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