Formula stores and Coral Gables
This is written a few miles from Coral Gables, Fla., where a zoning controversy has brewed on and off for decades over the 1960 passage of a law prohibiting the overnight parking of pickup trucks on city streets and even in private driveways.
The law was passed at a time when, we can only speculate, its unstated purpose may have been as much to exclude a certain class (dare we say color) of homeowner, as to ensure the aesthetic values of the painfully picture-perfect town.
The constitutionality of the law has been tested in the State Supreme Court (it was upheld) and was recently debated by the Coral Gables Planning and Zoning Board, which proposed some changes prominently including allowance for non-commercial pickup trucks to park overnight in private driveways, as long as they are backed in and the pickup beds are properly covered. No mention was made of acceptable colors, makes, models or years.
This radical proposal was rejected by a three-to-two vote of the Coral Gables City Commission, triggering a move by the mayor to put the law to a public vote on the November ballot. As absurd as it may sound to those of us living in Sonoma – or anywhere in California, for that matter – it should not be assumed that the good people of Coral Gables will vote the antiquated ordinance down. This is also a town with strict Mediterranean Revival design standards where conformity in color, finish, height, roof style and virtually every other parameter of a single-family home gets careful scrutiny.
It is doubtful we would stomach such rules in our historic town, which happily embraces a variety of architectural styles while successfully protecting the history embedded in our buildings.
And that brings us to the City Council’s recent three-to-two vote in favor of an ordinance governing approval of so-called “formula stores.” As we’ve written earlier, we are ambivalent about the need for adopting such a law and we’re not at all convinced the formula store rules adopted on Monday don’t represent a solution in search of a problem.
The issue originally arose in reaction to the impending arrival of the Staples store now ensconced in the former Holder Ford building on West Napa Street. We may be missing something, but we’re not aware of a downside to Staple’s arrival. In fact, it appears to have been an instant asset for Sonoma and we wonder how appealing the site would have been had the Staples “formula store” chain had to first jump through a long string of use-permit hoops.
We’ve also observed that numerous Plaza stores – including Ben and Jerry’s, Chico’s and Massage Envy, already fit the formula store definition. Do these stores really diminish the appeal of the Plaza?
All that said, we can’t fault the process the city council, and its appointed ad hoc formula store committee, followed in arriving at a policy that helped guide the City Council’s decision on Monday.
And we agree that Sonoma would benefit from a review process allowing greater analysis of the social and economic impacts of new developments. We’re just not sure we need so many regulatory teeth and we don’t want to end up like Coral Gables.