Sonoma OKs strict rules for chain stores, restaurants

Sonoma on Monday became one of the few cities in the nation to enact regulations on chain establishments, including a ban on large-scale restaurant chains, such as McDonald's, from opening on the city's historic plaza.

The City Council voted 3-2, the same as a June 4 vote on the issue, to enact the ordinance.

Mayor Joanne Sanders, who along with Councilman Tom Rouse does not support the new regulations, on Monday reiterated her belief that they will stymie economic growth.

She cited as one example a building on the plaza that once housed a creamery but that has sat vacant for years. She said a restaurant chain, such as P.F. Chang's, might have been a good fit for that location.

"The doors have been closed to a pool of potential tenants," she said. "I think we're better off having some business than no business."

The council's consideration of an ordinance governing "formula" stores was sparked after Staples in April opened on West Napa Street in a 14,400-square-foot building that had been a Ford dealership.

An ad-hoc committee led by Councilman Steve Barbose spent weeks crafting proposed changes to the zoning ordinance. Other than design review, the city does not regulate chain stores.

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

That ultimately was scaled back to a ban on only formula restaurants on the plaza. The area where these businesses would be subject to use permit review also was shrunk.

Under the ordinance, restaurant chains with more than 250 outlets will be prohibited from opening on the plaza. Currently, the plaza is home to a Mary's Pizza Shack, which has 19 outlets, and a Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor, which has 580, according to their websites.

The plaza also has a Chico's clothing store, which has more than 600 outlets, and a Massage Envy, which has more than 700. But large-scale retailers will not be banned under the ordinance.

But all formula businesses seeking to open at the plaza or in the city's historical district will have to get use permits. A formula business is defined as one with 10 or more outlets, excluding hotels, offices, financial institutions and other service businesses.

A formula business seeking to open in a space of 10,000 square feet or larger anywhere in the city also will be subject to use permit review. The council exempted four shopping centers from the new regulations: Marketplace Center, Plaza West Center, Sonoma Valley Center and Maxwell Village Center.

Williams-Sonoma, which has announced plans to open a store on Broadway where Chuck Williams founded the company in 1956, will be subject to the new use permit, which could add two to three months to the planning process.

Relatively few cities nationwide restrict chain stores. Regulations that do so are touted by some as a way to protect a community's charms but viewed by others as an impediment to economic growth.

Calistoga subjects chain businesses to permit review and bans chain restaurants and hotels downtown. Carmel became the first city in the nation to enact such rules when the Monterey Peninsula city banned chain restaurants in the mid-1980s.

Sonoma's ordinance will take effect in 30 days.