By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa officials say they want to relax zoning codes to make it easier for grocery stores to locate in the city.
The City Council on Tuesday will consider a major overhaul of grocery store regulations, with the changes aimed at creating jobs, filling vacant storefronts and bringing more fresh food choices to more neighborhoods.
“We are opening up most of the city to small grocery stores,” senior planner Erin Morris said.
The changes are part of the City Council’s long-standing goal of removing impediments to business and thereby boosting the local economy. The city previously amended the zoning code to allow more businesses to locate in areas without permits and rezoned other parcels to smooth the way for new developments.
Real estate professionals, developers and residents long have complained that the city’s rules for groceries are confusing and restrictive, Morris said.
For example, the city’s general plan identifies 17 locations where supermarkets can be located. Smaller groceries hoping to locate in other parts of town had to qualify as “specialty” grocers, such as one selling natural or ethnic foods.
But as stores likes Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market and Lola’s Market have blurred the distinctions between supermarkets and speciality groceries, the definitions required updating.
“At some point the term ‘specialty’ has become quite permissive,” Morris said. ”The code is not clear.”
The changes would eliminate the terms “supermarket” and “specialty food” and instead just call them “grocery stores” categorized by size. Those over 20,000 square feet will be large grocery stores, those under will be small. A typical supermarket is about 45,000 square feet.
Other changes would:
– Allow small grocery stores in any commercial district in the city
– Remove the requirement for neighborhood shopping centers to provide residential housing when they do major remodels or expansions, and allow phasing when residential units are required
– Allow small and large groceries downtown without a use permit.
– Allow large grocery stores to be located in places other than the 17 designated “community shopping sites” in the city.
There are several grocery stores that have expressed an interest in locating or expanding in Santa Rosa but have not followed through on plans for one reason or another, Morris said. That gives her hope the changes could have a positive impact.
“I feel like this project has the potential to make things happen,” Morris said.