By MATT BROWN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The previous Sebastopol City Council approved a controversial CVS Pharmacy project on prime downtown land only after three years of debate and two dozen, often-heated, public hearings.
Since then, the new council, with two members elected in November amid the backlash against CVS, has taken a more measured approach to commercial development by putting a freeze on chain stores and drive-thru businesses.
City officials insist that the moratoriums are not directed at the $10 million CVS and Chase Bank project that is already in the works. Rather, they say they are attempts to control the types of businesses that open in the west Sonoma County hub and promote the homegrown establishments that give the city its small-town feel.
“We have an independent streak and want to do things our way,” said Councilman Patrick Slayter. “This is a way to get ahead of developments that I don’t think a lot of residents would support.”
The council in September passed an ordinance banning chain stores for 45 days, and last week extended the moratorium for 10 1/2 months. It could decide to make the ordinance permanent, city manager Larry McLaughlin said.
Chain stores are regulated to some degree in several California cities including Sonoma and Calistoga.
City staff will review applications for new businesses to see whether they meet certain definitions of a chain store, such as having 10 or more locations, offering the same menu or products in all branches and having consistent branding throughout the chain.
Sebastopol has several businesses that would appear to meet this definition, including Taco Bell, Whole Foods and the existing CVS north of downtown.
The ordinance does not apply to banks and gas stations or businesses smaller than 5,000 square feet located in the city’s four shopping centers.
It would also not apply to previously approved projects including the CVS planned for the busy intersection of Petaluma and Sebastopol avenues on the vacant 2.5-acre former Pellini car dealership.
“This is not a response to any project,” McLaughlin said. “It’s not directed at CVS.”
In December, the council placed a moratorium on drive-thrus, and it will consider extending the prohibition at its Nov. 5 meeting. That ban does apply to the CVS project.
Longs Drug Stores, which owns CVS, and developer Armstrong Development Inc. have sued Sebastopol in federal court over the drive-thru ban saying it would jeopardize an integral part of their project.
Officials at CVS and Armstrong Development declined to comment for this article.
Regardless of the outcome of the CVS case, Mayor Michael Kyes said the drive-thru ban should become permanent.
“CVS is going to be either the last drive-thru we have or the first drive-thru we don’t have,” he said. “We’re done with drive-thrus. If CVS was serious about building the project, they would build it.”
Kyes pointed to Petaluma, where a proposed Walgreens project is moving forward despite a city ban on drive-thrus.
Some Sebastopol business leaders caution that ordinances limiting certain types of commercial development could cost the city much needed sales tax revenue.
Teresa Ramondo, CEO of the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce, said such moves run counter to free enterprise.
“We do support businesses that can thrive and survive and bring revenue in to our city,” she said. “We would not favor an ordinance that would limit a business’ opportunity to locate here.”
Sebastopol is part of the Cittaslow or “slow city” movement, which promotes locally made products and agriculture.
Councilwoman Sarah Glade Gurney said the city is focused on supporting local businesses, and a moratorium on chain stores is an extension of that philosophy.
“We realized that we have a quality of life that we want to preserve,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.