Editor’s note: This article was meant to run earlier but was delayed for technical reasons. The Planning Commission met on Thursday evening, on Tuesday night the Fort Bragg City Council reappointed Jay Andreis and Nancy Rogers to the commission.
FORT BRAGG, 12/22/20 —The Fort Bragg Planning Commission held a special meeting on Dec. 17, to review the next round of draft recommendations for a potential city ordinance that would establish regulations for “formula businesses,” establishments that might colloquially be referred to as a “chain stores.” However,the commission took no action on further work on the ordinance. Though the commission had a quorum to proceed, upon convening they found that two of their members had termed-out and are now waiting for the two commissioner seats that termed out to be filled. A review of legislative findings pertaining to the ordinance were also on the agenda.
Fort Bragg city staff who are handling the administration of drafting the ordinance presented a report on the ordinance development and asked the Planning Commission at the meeting for additional guidance on establishing categories of formula businesses and where they would be allowed in the city.
This proposed formula business ordinance is an effort by the city council to prevent an overabundance of formula retail establishments that could come into conflict with goals found in Fort Bragg’s general plan for the city that outlines the future physical development of Fort Bragg that considers protecting the historical character of the city and the unique local economy servicing both visitors and residents. Currently there are two retail store applications already on file with the City of Fort Bragg, one for a Grocery Outlet and one for a Dollar General that could be considered formula businesses under this ordinance.
Prior to the Dec. 17 Planning Commission meeting, the Fort Bragg City Council discussed regulating formula businesses on Oct. 24, 2019, and on Feb. 24, 2020 the council directed staff to take this matter to the Planning Commission.The council also requested that the commission draft an ordinance to bring to the Council for review. The Planning Commission then began the work to shape a draft ordinance addressing formula businesses. On Oct. 14 and on Nov. 12 the commission reviewed and provided comments on the draft text for the formula business ordinance as they aimed for consistency with the city’s Inland General Plan and Inland Land Use and Development Code (ILUDC).
Framing The Ordinance
The commonly accepted formula business definition incorporates retail chain stores, and commercial businesses, including franchises, that have several other business locations regardless of ownership and that are required by contract to adopt standardized services, methods of operation, menus, decor, architecture or other features identical to businesses located in other communities.
Several definitions were presented to the commissioners to consider for the new ordinance at the Dec. 17 meeting and can be found in the city staff report entitled Receive Report and Make Recommendations for Preparation of an Ordinance to Regulate Formula Business to Amend Title 18 of the Fort Bragg Municipal Code. Fort Bragg City Manager Tabatha Miller gave a presentation and overview of the staff report and noted that one of the main purposes of the Dec. 17 Planning Commission meeting was to have the commissioners consider land uses that should be designated for retail establishments subject to the proposed formula business regulations. Miller directed the commissioners to the staff report that listed land uses that are likely to have a formula business associated with them.
(For the complete list of categories listed in the report see below)
Miller also discussed examples of how other cities in California went about instituting their jurisdictions’ formula business codes and code examples that would hold up legally. Miller highlighted how several Californian cities including Coronado, Malibu and San Francisco successfully defended its regulations on formula stores. Miller indicated that city staff recommendations as outlined in the report supported following the San Francisco method of specifically listing each defined land use to which the formula business regulations will apply. Miller said, “In the alternative, the Planning Commission could use the Malibu, California method of listing the excluded defined land uses.” “This would lend consistency throughout the proposed code and would also help to apply a clear definition as to what businesses are included in a formula business definition.” In referencing the analysis of legal findings in the report, Miller added, “There have been few challenges in California to local formula business regulations.”
Miller in a follow-up interview with The Mendocino Voice by email on Dec. 18 said, “The intent of the proposed formula business ordinance is to regulate retail establishments that fit within the definition of a formula business as proposed. That regulation will likely include a review of a formula business when it applies for a planning permit to ensure that Fort Bragg retains its unique character and avoids the overwhelming familiarity and sameness that chain stores can create. That review will likely come in the form of a Use Permit or Minor Use Permit, depending on the Planning Commission’s and City Council’s final direction.”
Planning Commission Vice Chair Jay Andreis was appointed to the Planning Commission by former Fort Bragg Mayor Lee in 2019. Commissioner Nancy Rogers was appointed by current Mayor Bernie Norvell in Jan. 2017. Both commissioners’ terms expired on Dec. 9. The commissioners will continue on with work on the formula business ordinance at a meeting tentatively rescheduled for Jan. 6 next year when the new commissioners are seated.
The City of Fort Bragg issued a public notice on Dec. 13 encouraging residents to apply for several board, commissions, and committee vacancies. The notice specifies that the positions on the Planning Commission will be filled by city council appointments. Each member of the city council may submit the name of a resident of the city as a nominee for a seat on the Planning Commission.The full city council will vote on each appointment on Dec. 22. Planning Commission members must be registered voters of the city at the time of his or her appointment and during his or her incumbency. Planning Commission members shall be seated for a term coinciding with that of the nominating councilmember, provided, however, that the commissioners serve at the will of the city council.
Public Comment Confronts Dollar General Project
Commissioner Andreis was not in attendance at the Dec. 17 meeting that was held live via Zoom. During the non-agenda item public comment period comments submitted by mail were read. The public can speak about anything within the jurisdiction of the Planning Commission during the public comment period. However, the commission generally cannot act on or discuss an item not on the agenda, pursuant to the Brown Act. A half dozen public comments were against the application to build a Dollar General store on the vacant lot located just outside of Fort Bragg’s Central Business District at the corner of Franklin and Maples Streets.The application was submitted by the Zaremba Group LLC out of Lakewood, Ohio and for the property they are in the process of purchasing from Thomas A. Carine and Bessie Carine of Saratoga, CA. (see https://mendovoice.com/2020/12/proposed-dollar-general-could-alter-feel-of-downtown-fort-bragg/)
Kristine Hendricks who lives across from the proposed site on Franklin St. does not support the project based on traffic, pedestrian and parking issues. Hendricks in her comments submitted by email to the Planning Commission stated, “There are many empty buildings in town that need a business. Why not have them use one of the already existing structures in Fort Bragg rather than build another completely unnecessary building?”
“There is a constant traffic issue at Maple and Franklin where people don’t realize there is not a stop sign for Franklin. I have heard MANY screeching tires at this intersection as well as witnessed accidents. I’ve also seen pedestrians in this cross walk almost get hit by vehicles. Adding another big business at this intersection will only worsen the traffic and problem. I feel that other options should be explored and that this is not a good location.”
All the submitted comments about the Dollar General project will be re-introduced officially into the record at the continuation of this ordinance review at the January Planning Commission meeting.
Here is the list of the categories of businesses
- Auto parts sales with no installation services
- Bank, financial services
- Big box retail
- Building and landscape materials sales
- Business support services
- Cannabis Dispensary
- Convenience store
- Drive-through retail or service
- Farm supply and feed store
- Fuel dealer
- Lodging –Hotel or motel
- Medical Services –Clinic, lab, urgent care
- Service station
- Personal services
- Printing and publishing
- Retail, general –10,000 sf or larger
- Retail, general–5,000 sf-9,999 sf
- Retail, general -Less than 5,000 sf
- Groceries, specialty foods
- Restaurant, café, coffee shop
- Health/fitness facility
- Vehicle Services
The commission should look into Cotati’s similar ordinance here in Sonoma County. I don’t think it is a good idea though during these pandemic times to enact such an ordinance with local businesses struggling more than usual with financial problems and competing with online sales.