SDAT Healdsburg

Do you have a vision for the future of Healdsburg? Organizers of a community planning effort want to hear about it.

A volunteer group from Healdsburg approached the American Institute of Architects last year and requested that the AIA consider Healdsburg for a visit from the AIA’s Sustainable Design Assessment Team. Known locally as SDAT (say ‘ess-dat’), the AIA team approved the application and a team of experts from around the country will be here in mid-August for a three-day community planning exercise.

According to the AIA website: “Our SDAT program helps communities develop a vision for a sustainable future and a realistic, attainable roadmap to get there. We bring teams of experts including architects, urban designers, landscape architects, planners, economists and others to work with your community leaders, stakeholders and citizens. The result is a broad assessment that helps you frame future policies and solutions and be proactive about sustainability.”

The effort is the modern version of the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT), which came to Healdsburg in 1982. The resulting R/UDAT report is widely credited for encouraging city leaders to pursue a tourism-driven economy.

Three decades later, the success of tourism has some feeling that the community needs fresh advice. The application to the AIA from the local SDAT team reads, in part: “We are again at a critical juncture in our history. Our community is seeking direction on how to find balance. With our success at becoming a renowned food, wine and lifestyle destination comes concerns that our friendly and connected social fabric is tenuous. We want to preserve our small-town character, which appeals to visitors and locals alike.”

The SDAT team will host a town hall meeting on Monday, Aug. 13 at 6 p.m. at the Smith Robinson Gymnasium on the Healdsburg High School campus, and is seeking a broad cross-section of the community to attend and voice their thoughts on the future of Healdsburg.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” said Merrilyn Joyce, a member of the SDAT steering committee. “The underlying and crucial goal is strengthening the social fabric. The more ideas that community members leave with the AIA people that night, the more information they’ll have for their report.”

The plan is for the AIA group to meet with the local steering committee, hear from the public on Aug. 13, spend two more days planning and discussing what they hear and then present a summary of their findings on Wednesday, Aug. 15, also at the high school gym.

Ariel Kelley, another member of the steering committee, said the Aug. 13 meeting will be as inclusive as possible. “We’ll have childcare and Spanish interpretation and people will be able to provide personal experience and history they want to share.”

Why bring the AIA back? “Knowing what the R/UDAT was for our community and knowing the suggestions that were made 36 years ago and knowing that it had a profound impact on where we are today … this can be a deflection point, we can build engagement from Healdsburg residents who will be excited about the outcome and want to roll up their sleeves,” Kelley said.

And, what will be the outcome? The AIA SDAT teams typically provide a written report after their visit, that includes suggestions for what it calls “opportunities and challenges for a sustainable future.”

Housing, the cost of living, the proliferation of hotels and visitor services and how to utilize still-undeveloped land within the city’s urban growth boundary are all expected to be discussed, along with whatever issues and concerns attendees bring on Aug. 13.

“It’s important that people know that if they come to the town hall meeting, they’ll be heard,” Joyce said.

SDAT steering committee meetings (open to the public): Aug. 1 and Aug. 8 at 6 p.m. at the Healdsburg Senior Center.

SDAT town hall meeting at Healdsburg High School: Aug. 13 at 6 p.m. at the Smith Robinson Gym

SDAT town hall meeting and recap at Healdsburg High School: Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. at the Smith Robinson Gym

To read the 1982 R/UDAT report and Healdsburg’s SDAT application, see the links in the sidebar above.

To learn more about SDAT, visit

This article was originally published on July 26, 2018.

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