Cotati planners OK amendments to limits on franchise businesses
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By Dave Williams  July 19, 2013 12:00 am

The Cotati Planning Commission, in a move aimed to make the city more attractive for businesses, voted on Monday to amend parts of the city’s municipal code involving formula-based fast-food restaurants.

The matter now goes to the Cotati City Council for final approval. Because this proposal was initiated by city staff, there is a strong likelihood it will get to council’s OK.

Cotati currently has a cap of eight formula-based businesses (franchises) and only three more formula businesses, all along Highway 116, are permitted. There currently is also a 60-foot buffer zone between formula businesses and a provision where no formula business can open more than one location in Cotati. 

At the end of a laborious meeting that lasted more than three hours, the commission unanimously voted to eliminate the 60-foot buffer zone between formula businesses and it also voted to end the ban on formula-based businesses opening more than one location in the city.

More importantly, the planning commission voted to increase the number of formula-based businesses allowed in targeted development areas. Subway and Starbucks are the two formula-based businesses on East Cotati Avenue, while Peet’s Coffee and Tea and Papa Murphy’s Pizza are the two in the area known as the Downtown Specific Plan. Also, Burger King is a formula-based business on Gravenstein Highway.

The planning commission’s vote would allow three more formula-based businesses, one on East Cotati Avenue and two in the Downtown Specific Plan (northern corridor). 

The commission opted against allowing more formula-based businesses on Gravenstein because there are three allocations that have not been filled. The city had requested five on Gravenstein and the northern corridor and three on East Cotati.

“Business owners have waited long enough for this policy change to take place,” said vice-chair Jami Brady, who chaired the meeting in place of chairman Ben Ford, who was out of town but sat in on the meeting via teleconference. 

Cotati’s regulations on formula-based businesses have been in place for five years. They primarily were intended to keep the city from becoming inundated with fast-food style restaurants. 

Current business owners have lamented the number of empty storefronts throughout the city. The vacancy rate, according to assistant city manager Micah Hinkle, is hovering around 43 percent. Hinkle, during a presentation to the commission, showed pictures of how other cities in Sonoma County were able to blend franchise businesses into their cities’ landscapes without too much intrusion.

The meeting drew a nearly packed room at city hall and nearly 20 speakers took to the podium to express their views. All but two speakers were in support of amending the limits on formula-based businesses.

“I think that as servants and stewards and leaders within our community it is our responsibility to continually look for change,” said Patrick McCarty, president of the Cotati Chamber of Commerce. “This proposal is the perfect opportunity to take that step. There’s no guarantee about any adaption about any of these things. The only thing that is guaranteed is if that we don’t make significant change, 43 percent vacancy is never going to change.”

Adrian Laube, a longtime Cotati resident, was one who spoke against modifying the limits on franchise-type businesses. She’s OK with Cotati’s makeup.

“We should not be like any other town…we should be fiercely different,” Laube said.

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