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Santa Rosa renews business-friendly zoning policies

Santa Rosa made permanent or extended 20 changes to city codes intended to boost economic development across the city.

Measures that delay the collection of permit fees, streamline permitting of small projects and give landlords more time to find new tenants for vacant buildings were all passed by the council Tuesday night.

"These measures are actually the heart and soul of what will be our economic recovery," Councilman Jake Ours said.

The bulk of the changes were first implemented in 2010 in response to the recession and high commercial vacancy rates. Before then, owners of properties that didn't conform to current zoning were allowed to continue their so-called "non-conforming uses" if they did not have a lapse of more than six months. If the use lapsed longer than that, the old land use was automatically replaced by the new zoning.

But the previous council extended that period from six months to 24 months to make it easier to find tenants for existing buildings. With that two year period now expired, the council needed to decide whether to extend extend the provision and if so for how long.

Officials from the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce urged the council to extend the measure until 2015.

Residents the Burbank Gardens Neighborhood, however, objected to another extension for a vacant used car lot on Santa Rosa Avenue. Judy Kennedy worried that an extension would allow a vacant car lot to retain that designation through 2015.

Such extensions won't promote development of the site, and what happens is such vacant lots "stay there for 40 years and the neighborhood vision and the vision of the General Plan is lost," she said.

The council agreed to an exemption for that neighborhood, citing its importance for the downtown.

After some debate about whether the extensions should be to 2013 or 2015, the council supported the later date and approved the changes unanimously.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.


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