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Last year, the council went a step further, deciding to proactively amend the General Plan for some properties with outdated zoning and relax other zoning requirements that could prove prohibitive to businesses wanting to locate or expand in Santa Rosa.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.
Under the proposed changes, tasting rooms would be allowed in the downtown commercial district, as well as in the area around Railroad Square zoned "transit village mixed use" in anticipation of the future train station. Boutique wineries, those producing fewer than 10,00 cases, would be allowed in those same zones with a minor use permit.
Larger wineries, those producing over 10,000 cases per year, would need a more comprehensive major conditional use permit to address potential conflicts with neighbors.
Similar changes are also proposed for other general commercial and community shopping center districts. For commercial areas closer to neighborhoods, the city proposes allowing tasting rooms and brewpubs with conditional use permits. Another change would allow brewpubs in business parks and light industrial areas as outgrowths of existing brewery or winery operations.
The changes received no opposition from the public, were approved unanimously by the planning commission and will likely enjoy similar support from the council.
Split over use of funds
The General Plan amendment and zoning changes for the Yolanda Avenue property once eyed for a Lowe's Home Improvement store are likely to be more controversial.
The council split 4-3 on whether to spend up to $110,000 of city funds on the project. Supporters argued that it made sense for the city to remove the zoning barriers from the 12.5-acre site to make it easier for a future development to occur. Others called it inappropriate for taxpayers to fund a cost normally borne by a developer.