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Sebastopol considers chain store ban, solar energy requirements for projects

Annie Carouba, owner of Bliss Organic Day Spa, removes Christmas decorations from her business overlooking downtown Sebastopol, on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013.

(Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)
Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 4:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 4:30 p.m.

The Sebastopol City Council, with the controversial CVS Pharmacy project still casting a shadow over downtown, is adding a chain store ban and solar energy requirements as possible ways to preserve the community's identity and shape new development.

“As the city grows and develops and learns, there is a lack of clarity in what the city wants future growth to look like, and it is important the council become pro-active,” said Vice Mayor Robert Jacob. “It is very clear our town wants to maintain its unique, small-town identity.”

At a time when many cities, notably Santa Rosa, are relaxing zoning and building ordinances in an effort to attract business and development, Sebastopol is searching for ways to tighten the rules.

A chain-store ordinance and a requirement for solar installations on all new business and residential construction or major remodeling would join the recently adopted moratorium on new drive-thru services.

City officials say that none of the measures are meant to derail the disputed CVS project, planned for Petaluma and Sebastopol avenues, one of the city's busiest and most prominent intersection.

Instead, they said they consider CVS a lesson learned.

“In the CVS process, we identified many holes in the city's laws, regulations and ordinances,” said Jacob.

Jacob and City Councilman John Eder were elected in November in the backlash against CVS.

All three of the proposals have some following in a city in which seemingly all development is subjected to debate and delay. It's a town that takes pride in being ahead of the political curve, having fought PG&E Smartmeters, rejected cell phone towers and free downtown wifi and, decades ago, declared itself a nuclear-free zone.

“Sebastopol is a cute, funky vibe; that is what we want to promote, to have that quaint, sweet little town,” said Annie Carouba, owner of Bliss Organic Day Spa, which overlooks Main Street. “To put another CVS in, forget about it. You would lose so much.”

“Chain stores should be limited, to an extent,” said Zach Morris, who was having lunch with his daughter, Marsella, at the Sebastopol Plaza Wednesday. “It helps with local business; it helps small business owners. In a town like this, independent business seems to be appreciated.”

“My personal choice is not to have CVS, not to have drive-thrus, not to have chain stores and to have solar,” said Irene Flynn of Graton, a zen priestess who was reading at the Sebastopol plaza Wednesday. “Let's keep it quaint and small.”

Armstrong Development Inc. of Sacramento has purchased the vacant Pellini Chevrolet dealership property for a CVS Pharmacy and Chase Bank branch buildings, a $10 million project on 2.5 acres.

After three years of debate and two dozen often-heated public hearings, the project has received the major approvals needed to go forward, but has not yet gotten a demolition or building permit.

The newly composed City Council in December approved an urgency ordinance that would ban drive-thrus, which is an integral part of the CVS project. That action last week spurred a lawsuit by the developer against the city.

Mayor Michael Kyes is proposing the council consider regulating “formula,” or chain, stores, but it would not affect CVS, which already has a store in Sebastopol.

“The purpose is to keep the city as a sustainable level of a mix of businesses, so that we can maintain our economic base, our distinctive types of stores,” Kyes said.

Chain stores are regulated to varying degrees in Sonoma, Calistoga, Coronado and a few other places nationally. Interim City Manager Larry McLaughlin said the discussion is just beginning in Sebastopol and it is not clear what the regulations might entail.

It may be limited to the downtown core or be citywide with the town's lone shopping center, the Redwood Marketplace, being exempted.

It might not be an outright ban, since there are some chain stores, such as Apple or Verizon, that the city might want to encourage, McLaughlin said.

Sebastopol Councilman Patrick Slayter, an architect, said he isn't a supporter of chain store bans.

“As a design professional, I am not sure they really get us where we all want to go. It feels like social engineering,” Slayter said. “What we all appreciate about vintage downtowns or successful shopping districts is the wide mix of types of stores, sizes of stores, the widest variety ... it is more authentic. It is grown up naturally; it doesn't have an artificiality about it.”

A subcommittee of councilmembers is proposing that solar energy be required for all new residential and commercial construction and for major reconstructions.

It would add about $16,000 to the cost of a house, said Kyes, a retired energy consultant.

The City Council also debated the need for solar while considering the CVS project. However, under current city regulations, a builder is required only to make basic provisions so that solar systems later may be added more easily.

(You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.)

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