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Cotati rethinking limit on fast food businesses


Cotati is considering easing its cap on fast food-type businesses.

The potential change is sparked by a high vacancy rate in the city’s commercial spaces, said Assistant City Manager Micah Hinkle, who oversees City Hall economic development efforts.

Hinkle said that the rate is as high as 40 to 70 percent in some city shopping centers, including the Apple Valley Center and the Grapevine Center.

Cotati (PD FILE)

Cotati (PD FILE)

“It’s an alarming vacancy rate,” city manager Dianne Thompson said. “I think a number of changes need to be made.”

A 2012 fourth-quarter report from real estate company Keegan & Coppin found the combined commercial vacancy rate in Cotati and neighboring Rohnert Park was 8.1 percent, compared to Santa Rosa’s 4.8 percent and Sonoma’s 1.5 percent.

Because the report combines Rohnert Park and Cotati’s numbers, it is not a true reflection of the city’s vacancy rate, Hinkle said.

“I’m concerned that the number is actually higher,” said Hinkle, who is working with Keegan & Coppin to produce a more definitive report on Cotati.

The vacancy problem comes in part because of the city’s cap on fast food restaurants, which has prevented or deterred chain-type businesses from opening within city limits, Hinkle said.

“You really need a balance of local, regional and national businesses,” Hinkle said.

Michael McCullaugh, one of the owners of Redwood Cafe in downtown Cotati, agrees with Hinkle. “I would like to see Cotati evolve out of the mom-and-pop image,” McCullaugh said. “I don’t think we need another McDonald’s, but bringing quality restaurants into Cotati is something I would welcome.”

McCullaugh said he is unopposed to “corporate America” if it will generate income for the city, noting the success of the recent addition of Peet’s Coffee and Tea.

The city’s cap on fast food restaurants is set at eight, and five of the spots already have been filled with Burger King, Peet’s, Papa Murphy’s Pizza, Starbucks Coffee and Subway. The three remaining spots are on Gravenstein Highway west of the 101 freeway.

“Formula Fast Food Regulations (FFR) has been identified as a deterrent to leasing existing commercial space and development of vacant lands,” Hinkle wrote in his report to the commission.

While cities such as Sonoma have similar formula regulations, the rules exclude shopping centers, which allows for some leeway, Hinkle said.

Businessman Marc Mezzetta acknowledged that uncapping formula businesses could cut into his deli business, but he said Cotati needs to become more welcoming to the business community.

“How can a city in this (economic) atmosphere afford to alienate businesses?” Mezzetta said. “They should be doing everything they can to help businesses.”

Steven Keeler, the deli manager, also questioned the city’s attitude toward businesses. “This town is the worst town for business,” he said. “It took almost 15 months to get a permit to build a patio at the deli, but in Marin, it only took me 90 days to get a permit to build my house.”

Hinkle said the city’s goal is to fill the empty spaces and support more businesses.

“We want to try and help all businesses,” Hinkle said.

The Cotati Planning Commission asked Hinkle to produce more studies about the city’s commercial vacancies before voting to change the cap.

Staff Writer Melody Karpinski can be reached at 521-5205 or Melody.Karpinski@pressdemocrat.com.

7 Responses to “Cotati rethinking limit on fast food businesses”

  1. Reg says:

    Cototi is a town lost in the ozone. I travel a lot on business and I always eat at McDonalds or Wendy’s. That’s why I take the freeway exit. I might buy gas or even stop at a Big Lots store, or maybe get my meds at CVS. Cotati needs to get with it and accept that they are not a hippie enclave; that they are just like every other town in the USA and they need to welcome chain restaurants that provide the best food for the lowest prices.

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  2. GAJ says:

    Most national chains use the Franchise model whereby the stores you visit are owned by local small business people.

    If people don’t shop there they close, same as any other business.

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  3. James Bennett says:

    Yeah, don’t want folks to think they don’t like small business.

    Allowing big corporate fast food isn’t helping small business.

    If anything it hurts it.

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  4. Snarky says:

    Pricing Out Local Business:

    Boooo hoooo. Snivel, snivel you say.

    The free market system rewards the most efficient and, yes, sometimes the most aggressive (although legal) business practices.

    Chain business, or any other legal business, is WELCOME in Sonoma County. Its not your business nor that of the arrogant, greedy government types to interfere.

    Anyone who screams “local” as a tool to prevent legal business activities should be ignored as the extremist he is.

    Chain stores bring in benefits to the community that you attempt to ignore.

    I once knew a lady in a “local” dry cleaning establishment. She solo operated with some occasional help from her family. One day, she just decided she wanted to zoom off to the Grand Canyon with her boyfriend. She left a note on the front door that customers could pick up their clothing the following week. YEAH. A “QUALITY LOCAL ESTABLISHMENT.”

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  5. Pricing out local business says:

    While the change might seem like a smart move in the short run, there’s no discussion in this article of what happens to real estate lease prices when national chains come in.

    The national chains frequently run the lease prices up to the point where local businesses can’t afford to stick around or even start up. That’s the national chains’ job: get rid of competition.

    Then Cotati gets more and more national chains, and the locally owned businesses are priced out.

    When the locally owned businesses are gone, that’s a big loss in local profits, local reinvestment, enterprise, creativity and a big loss to Cotati in the long run on a number of fronts.

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  6. Reality Check says:

    The cap isn’t the problem. It’s a regulatory maze that makes one think Cotati wants business to go elsewhere. I guess they are.

    “We want to try and help all businesses,” Hinkle said.

    Hinkle, make it easy on yourself and business, stop helping.

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  7. Grapevines says:

    Amazing what the holier-than-thou government people do when they are faced with the usual intense desire for money money. They even allow fast food joints when they otherwise are too arrogant to mind their own business in business affairs.

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