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Sebastopol City Council freezes out new chain stores

The previous Sebastopol City Council approved a controversial CVS Pharmacy project on prime downtown land only after three years of debate and two dozen, often-heated, public hearings.

Since then, the new council, with two members elected in November amid the backlash against CVS, has taken a more measured approach to commercial development by putting a freeze on chain stores and drive-thru businesses.

City officials insist that the moratoriums are not directed at the $10 million CVS and Chase Bank project that is already in the works. Rather, they say they are attempts to control the types of businesses that open in the west Sonoma County hub and promote the homegrown establishments that give the city its small-town feel.

“We have an independent streak and want to do things our way,” said Councilman Patrick Slayter. “This is a way to get ahead of developments that I don't think a lot of residents would support.”

The council in September passed an ordinance banning chain stores for 45 days, and last week extended the moratorium for 10 1/2 months. It could decide to make the ordinance permanent, city manager Larry McLaughlin said.

Chain stores are regulated to some degree in several California cities including Sonoma and Calistoga.

City staff will review applications for new businesses to see whether they meet certain definitions of a chain store, such as having 10 or more locations, offering the same menu or products in all branches and having consistent branding throughout the chain.

Sebastopol has several businesses that would appear to meet this definition, including Taco Bell, Whole Foods and the existing CVS north of downtown.

The ordinance does not apply to banks and gas stations or businesses smaller than 5,000 square feet located in the city's four shopping centers.

It would also not apply to previously approved projects including the CVS planned for the busy intersection of Petaluma and Sebastopol avenues on the vacant 2.5-acre former Pellini car dealership.

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