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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.

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