Peet's Coffee runs afoul of Sonoma chain store rules

In a first test of Sonoma's new rules governing so-called formula stores, the city planning commission has narrowly rejected a use permit for Berkeley-based Peet's Coffee and Tea to open an outlet near the historic city plaza.

The city in June became one of the few in the nation to enact regulations on chain establishments, including a ban on large-scale restaurant chains with more than 250 outlets from opening on the plaza.

Peet's is proposing to open a store at 591 Broadway in what is now a vacant office building. The site is outside the area where the city's ban on formula restaurants applies. With 198 outlets, Peet's is below that threshold anyway.

Nevertheless, the Sonoma Planning Commission on Thursday voted 4-3 to deny the use permit. Peet's has until Sept. 28 to appeal the decision to the City Council.

A Peet's spokeswoman declined Friday to discuss the company's plans. "It is Peet's policy not to discuss matters relating to new store openings until a lease has been signed," said Elizabeth Sgarrella.

David Goodison, the city planning director, said a majority of commissioners said that Peet's could not meet one particular test of the city's new formula store ordinance, which is that the establishment promote diversity and variety and cater to both residents and visitors.

But Sonoma Mayor Joanne Sanders, who has steadfastly opposed the ordinance, on Friday said Peet's would be a good fit for the city.

"I think there are plenty of people in Sonoma who would go there, and do go there when they are in other places," she said.

Apart from a Peet's representative and the property owner, the only person to speak at Thursday's public hearing was David Mock, who owns a drive-through coffee business on Broadway.

He expressed concern that Peet's would adversely affect his business and diminish the uniqueness of Sonoma's downtown, according to Goodison.

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