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Planners OK coffee outlet, but postpone tasting room issue

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The Sonoma Planning Commission approved a new formula business at the Hot Shots Broadway location, but kicked the can down the road on tasting room regulations Thursday.

Dutch Bros. Coffee, a drive-thru firm that started in Grants Pass, Ore., was approved on a 5-1 vote. But the commission made strong recommendations to the Design Review Commission that it “tone down” the bright blue color scheme which is part of the corporate brand.

Robert Fulton, representing RJF Enterprises, said the parent company is “flexible.” He said the building will remain its earth tone color, but accent colors and signage will change based on what is approved by the DRC.

Dutch Bros. Coffee has 200 franchisees in the Western United States. The business is buying Dave Mock’s Hot Shots at 711 Broadway. Unlike Mock, the new business will not have a sit-down restaurant, nor will it have baristas taking orders in the queue. Selling coffee, smoothies, and pastries only, the line should be quicker, according to Fulton, who says average time to get coffee from the drive thru window is 90 seconds.

While the commission had a brief discussion over the formula use, most of the meeting was about tasting rooms.

The commission is not proposing to limit the number of wine tasting facilities, but is considering some form of regulation.

The issue first surfaced last December when there appeared to be a growing number of tasting rooms occupying retail spaces in the downtown. At that time, there were 24 in operation or about to launch, all located in the downtown area.

In March, the commission sent a series of recommendations to the City Council, but after considering the issue for two meetings, the council voted 3-2 to ask the commission to develop draft amendments to the code that did the following: established definitions for wine tasting facilities that distinguished them from wine bars; created a two-tiered permitting system in which tasting facilities with limited hours would be permitted by right, while facilities with extended hours (including wine bars) would be regulated; and established operating standards for both types of wine facilities.

In July, the commission had a study session and reviewed draft amendments to the Municipal Code that incorporated the changes. But at that meeting, it was decided to continue the item until a meeting with representatives of the wine community could be arranged to discuss their concerns. At that meeting the wine community, represented by Richard Idell and Danny Fay, objected to local regulation of tasting rooms because, in their view, there isn’t a problem; pours are already regulated by the ABC and any permit process for existing tasting rooms could devalue those businesses.

On the basis of the meeting, staff revised the draft amendments and presented them for commission review. But it was obvious Thursday there are differing opinions among commissioners. Rather than spend time to see where there might be consensus, the commissioner decided to ask for more information on ABC licenses and how many licenses in each category are held in the city.

Members of the public who spoke on the issue asked for the regulations to be adopted to curb excessive recreational drinking, to allow for a more diversified mix of businesses, and to regulate such things as the number of winemaker dinners and special events that each could have, primarily because of parking. Most of the tasting rooms and wine bars do not have their own on-site parking.

Karla Noyes told the commission, “This is a situation where the foxes are guarding the chickens and you keep asking the foxes what they want.”

The issue will return in January or February.