Faced with a public outcry, the Sonoma City Council on Monday unanimously overturned a decision by the Planning Commission and will allow Peet's Coffee &Tea to open its first store in the city.
Peet's use permit application was seen as a first test of the city's new formula store ordinance, which requires almost all businesses with more than 10 outlets that seek to open at the plaza or in the city's historical district to meet certain conditions.
Those conditions include that the business offer diversity and variety and not detract from Sonoma's historical character.
A majority of planning commissioners in September believed Peet's could not meet that threshold and voted to deny a use permit. But the City Council unanimously upheld Mayor Joanne Sanders' appeal of that decision, paving the way for Peet's to open on Broadway at the gateway to the city.
The decision drew loud applause inside the council chambers, packed mainly with Peet's supporters. The reasons for their support included the quality of the coffee Peet's serves and the possibility of getting a cup long after most other shops and restaurants have closed.
"Peet's is not what we think of as a high-volume fast-food joint," said Ann Foley of Sonoma.
A few critics said Peet's is not a good fit for Sonoma and fear it could take business away from local coffee purveyors.
"Being so close to the square gets me feeling that the uniqueness (of Sonoma) could be compromised," one man said.
Peet's will open at 591 Broadway in what now is a vacant office building and plans to operate 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. It will have up to 35 seats, including seven in an outdoor patio area, and will have seven parking spaces.
Council members did not address concerns about increased traffic, another concern raised by the Planning Commission.
Councilman Steve Barbose, who spearheaded the formula store ordinance, said his efforts have been "misunderstood" to mean he believes all formula stores are "bad."
"That is totally not the case. What this ordinance is about for me was the opportunity to have this hearing," he said.
He also noted Peet's would have had to apply for a use permit regardless of the ordinance because it is going into a space not formerly used as a restaurant and, thus, a change in use.
Sonoma 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.
The Sonoma location for Peet's, which has only 198 stores, is outside of the plaza area but falls within the historical district.
Sanders, a vocal opponent of the regulations, said the city would have lost out had Peet's not "rolled the dice" and applied for a use permit.
Councilman Tom Rouse, who also opposed the ordinance, said, "I can't tell you how many phone calls I got saying, 'How can you not let a Peet's in town?' "
Sonoma's ordinance was sparked after Staples opened last year on West Napa Street in a 14,400-square-foot building that had been a Ford dealership.
An ad-hoc committee led by Barbose spent weeks crafting proposed changes to the zoning ordinance. Other than through design review, the city did not regulate chain stores.