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Council considers moratorium on gas stations

The Petaluma City Council flexed its authoritative muscle this week, when it discussed plans to place an emergency moratorium on new gas stations in a direct response to the proposed Safeway gas station.

After realizing a proposed Safeway gas station in the Washington Square shopping center may not need council approval because it complied with the city's zoning laws, Councilmember Mike Healy asked the council Monday to consider the temporary ban next month. The council unanimously voted to revisit the issue at the Feb. 24 city council meeting.

"I wanted to see if the council wished to formerly discuss putting a temporary emergency moratorium on processing gas station applications, while the city works out a way to force this type of development to come before the council for review," said Healy. "If an emergency ban is passed, it will give Safeway the opportunity to convince us that this makes sense for the community -#8212; though I think they're going to have a difficult time doing that."

California state law allows local jurisdictions to place a 45-day emergency moratorium on development, if local government is considering amending its current laws.

City Attorney Eric Danly said the emergency action requires no special public noticing for the initial 45-day ban, but pointed out that if the city wanted to extend such a ban for the allowable two-year maximum, it would need to go through a hearing process.

"It's a consideration of the way the city regulates land use, and not specifically directed at blocking one particular business," he added.

Danly said city staff will give the council several moratorium options to consider at the February meeting, though he wasn't prepared to discuss what those options were.

After Safeway proposed the 16-pump fueling station in front of its South McDowell Boulevard location last year, site manager Fulcrum Property moved and evicted a handful of businesses from the building that formerly housed Pepper's Restaurant, Sonoma Travel Service and the Washington Square Veterinary Clinic. Displaced tenants were told by Fulcrum that their leases would not be renewed to make way for a Safeway gas station.

News of the possible fueling station in the shopping center drew sharp criticism from local officials and gas station owners who feared a Safeway station could put other gas stations out of business. Due to its customer rewards program, Safeway typically sells gas below market prices.

Nearby businesses and residents also worried that the proposed station could create traffic jams at the already congested intersection of East Washington Street and South McDowell Boulevard.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com.)


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