Should Santa Rosa make it easier for new businesses?

Santa Rosa is set to once again rewrite its zoning rules to grease the skids for businesses wanting to set up shop in the city.

The City Council will decide Tuesday whether to be more welcoming to downtown wineries and tasting rooms, to big-box retailers considering the site once eyed for a Lowe's Home Improvement Center and to grocery stores hoping to locate in an area starved of supermarkets.

The measures being considered are the city's latest effort to boost economic activity by cutting red tape for new projects and streamlining the permit processes.

"We're trying to improve the opportunities for economic development," said Chuck Regalia, director of the city's community development department.

The proposed changes are built on those approved by the City Council in 2010 that make it simpler for businesses to locate in certain types of buildings and easier to get land-use permits.

Last year, the council went a step further, deciding to proactively amend the General Plan for some properties with outdated zoning and relax other zoning requirements that could prove prohibitive to businesses wanting to locate or expand in Santa Rosa.

Making it clear where wineries and wine-tasting rooms are allowed makes perfect sense for the largest city in the Sonoma County Wine Country, Regalia said.

"Healdsburg does it. Sonoma does it. Why shouldn't Santa Rosa do it?" he said.

Under the city's current zoning rules, tasting rooms are only permitted in existing wineries, which themselves are only permitted in industrial areas. Stand-alone tasting rooms can win approval but are treated the same as liquor stores and require lengthier permitting.

City planning staff realized the zoning code needed updating after being approached by property owners proposing wine-related uses. One was longtime downtown business Corrick's Stationery Store on Fourth Street, which wants to add a frame shop and tasting room for Santa Rosa's Ancient Oak Cellars.

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