Council eyes chain, formula store report
Sonoma does not have a "big-box" store problem. But Sonoma could have a "chain store" or "formula business" problem, depending on who you talk to and how you define the problem.
That was one set of conclusions that emerged from a public hearing at the May 2 City Council meeting, a hearing inspired by public reaction to news that a Staples office supply store will open later this year in the empty Holder Ford building on West Napa Street.
Councilmember Steve Barbose wanted to make one thing clear at the outset.
"It seems the public objection is more to chains than big-box stores," he said. "Staples is not a big-box."
The proposed Staples Store, which will occupy a 14,400-square-foot building already zoned commercial and with ample parking, will not require Planning Commission approval, a fact that alarmed some residents who showered City Council members and this newspaper with fears that the town's small, friendly, historic qualities would be put at risk by large, out-of-town corporate interests.
But both council members and citizens noted that Sonoma is already full of chain, or formula, businesses.
The list includes several fast-food restaurants, numerous banks and real estate offices, supermarkets, gas stations, two ice cream shops, a popular pizza restaurant and even the new Massage Envy salon on the Plaza.
One tool used in other cities to weigh the multiplicity of impacts new businesses can have on a community is called the Community Impact Report (CIR), similar to an environmental impact report, but more comprehensive and cheaper.
But Barbose argued that a CIR "is a project tool. It's a big project tool. It's not for a Wiener Schnitzel."
Only six members of the public spoke on the subject, but they included Ben Boyce who directs the Sonoma County Accountable Development Coalition, which advocates the use of planning tools like the CIR for addressing controversial projects.
The CIR, said Boyce, "looks at the relative impacts of sales tax, affordable housing, jobs ... There is a neighborhood needs assessment."
The process, he added, can also be applied to a conditional use permit and helps evaluate "smart growth."
Boyce said a CIR could be "a comprehensive assessment tool for protecting the historic Plaza."
In the end, the council unanimously agreed to have city staff report back with recommendations on the utility of planning tools, including a CIR, that would address the chain store/formula business question, incorporating concerns about store size limits and balancing economic development with a transparent review process.