Sonoma City Council proposal scales back chain-store restrictions

A controversial proposal to restrict chain stores in Sonoma has been significantly scaled back amid infighting among city leaders who are at odds over the issue.

The original proposal called for banning all "formula businesses" from Sonoma's historic Plaza and enacting new use permit requirements elsewhere in the city.

But the latest version, which is supported by a slim majority on the City Council, calls for banning only formula restaurants on the plaza. It also significantly shrinks the area where these businesses would be subject to use permit review.

The revisions to the draft ordinance were made at Monday night's City Council meeting following another testy exchange between council members on opposite sides of the debate, which was sparked last year with the opening of a Staples store at the site of a former car dealership.

Councilman Steve Barbose, who is the main proponent of new restrictions on formula stores, accused Mayor Joanne Sanders of being comfortable with a Starbucks opening on the plaza.

"That's not what our town is about," Barbose said.

But Sanders, who along with Councilman Tom Rouse is opposed to new restrictions, lamented what she said has been a lack of collaboration on the issue.

That brought a sharp retort from Barbose, who said his support for the revised ordinance was proof that he is willing to compromise.

"You need to acknowledge there has been some movement in that regard," Barbose said to Sanders, who did not respond to the comment.

Sonoma currently does not regulate chain stores other than through design review. Relatively few cities nationwide have more restrictive regulations, which some tout as a way to protect a community's charms and others view as an impediment to economic growth.

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