By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A proposed Safeway gas station in Petaluma may be halted by a newly proposed ban meant to give the city time to consider changing its zoning requirements.
Eight months ago, Safeway submitted a preliminary application for a gas station that could serve 16 vehicles at a time in front of its South McDowell Boulevard grocery store south of East Washington Street.
They’ve argued the dual-sided, eight-pump station will hurt other stations’ business, damage air quality and increase traffic near the city’s most-congested intersection.
As Safeway’s plan wended its way through the city permitting process, city leaders realized the plan may not rise to the level of City Council oversight. Planners said in August that a gas station is a permitted use in the area.
But this week Councilman Mike Healy asked the council to consider an urgency moratorium — a temporary ban on all gas station proposals.
A moratorium could stop the Safeway proposal in its tracks, at least temporarily.
It would allow the city 45 days at first — and as long as two years if the council reaffirms the ban — to consider rewriting zoning codes to prevent stations in certain areas or with specific characteristics.
“I’m completely serious about stopping the (Safeway) fueling station,” Healy said.
Safeway representatives said Wednesday they weren’t aware of the effort.
“We were surprised to learn … that the city is considering a ban on new gas stations aimed directly at our project,” said spokeswoman Wendy Gutshall.
She said at the request of city staff, Safeway submitted additional studies on traffic, air quality and noise that show the project wouldn’t have significant impacts to the area. Plus, she said, the station could generate as much as $400,000 per year in additional tax revenue for the city.
A completed application was submitted last month, Gutshall said.
Healy said the Safeway business model — which attracts shoppers to the grocery store with cheaper gasoline and a customer reward program — wasn’t anticipated by existing zoning codes.
“The city is concerned that we would have potential dead gas stations around the community,” he said, because of Safeway’s ability to sell gas cheaper than smaller, independently owned stations. “I would worry about empty grocery stores as well.”
The council will consider a temporary moratorium on March 3. State law requires a four-fifths vote, or six of the seven council members for the so-called “urgency” measure.
Moratoriums are allowed by a state government code that says cities can temporarily prohibit certain uses “to protect the public safety, health and welfare” if the city “is considering or studying or intends to study” a change in the code.
Petaluma has in the past decade passed moratoriums twice, both in 2006, to freeze building in the flood plain and to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries. In 2000, an effort to prevent construction in flood-prone areas failed to win a four-fifths majority.
The 2006 building moratorium, which allowed a handful of projects already in the approval pipeline to move forward, was approved over a tougher option that would have frozen all proposals.
In 2007, the city adopted a new ordinance that banned medical marijuana dispensaries.
The city of Sebastopol is being sued over its passage of a moratorium on drive-thrus after the City Council approved a CVS drug store with drive-up window. A newly composed City Council passed a moratorium four months later, preventing CVS from moving forward.
CVS is suing in federal court, arguing that the city violated its due process rights by passing a ban after the company had received city approval.
You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or email@example.com.