SANTA ROSA -- The Santa Rosa City Council has agreed to explore what are being labeled by city officials as "aggressive" additions to a plan for kickstarting the city's economy.
The proposal includes 17 recommended changes to real estate development-related regulations and as many suggested economic development initiatives, all designed to "reduce barriers of entry for new and expanding businesses," according to the 17-page document.
Five council members voted to hold a public hearing on the proposed additions to the 2006 and 2008 Economic Sustainability Work Plan developed by the Economic Development and Housing and Community Development departments. Jane Bender was absent, and John Sawyer abstained.
The hearing date is to be determined. [Update: "What do you call 25 changes to city rules? A good start," July 15, 2010.]
Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Coe said it's a "great start" and is glad city staff worked with the business community in developing the recommendations in the past several months.
"We're broadly supportive and encouraged that the city is pursuing this plan for a consistent and aggressive economic development program," he said Thursday.
The key will be to make sure the development-related changes are implemented and economic-improvement metrics are developed.
Proposed development-related changes would affect zoning, General Plan policy and the process itself in seven categories. The changes are intended to be used for two to three years and potentially kept or phased out afterward.
Extensions and reactivations. For example, the timeframe to fill commercial vacancies before existing zoning would change to new zoning would be two years instead of six months. Conditional use permits could pass to a new property owner if the use stays the same. Previous approvals could get longer extensions and be reactivated if expired.
Waive or postpone public improvements such as landscaping and parking lot upgrades on renovation of a building for new tenants or of a facade. It could also apply to reconstruction projects that don't increase gross square footage.
Allow more uses by right, streamlining the review of projects that aren't next to homes. The problem is that the city's policy goals for economic vitality and regulating development can be at odds in tough times, according to the report, written by Chuck Regalia, community development director, and Danielle O'Leary, economic development manager.
"The General Plan Economic Vitality Element calls for the city to proactively facilitate job growth and to develop strategies to attract business," the report said. "The Zoning Code was not adopted with an aggressive economic sustainability strategy in mind."
So changes could be needed in commercial and industrial planning district zoning to allow certain businesses and operations without the time and expense required for obtaining a minor conditional use permit and rezoning, according to the proposal. Doing this, the report noted, would cost the city more for staff time without reimbursement from fees.
That would allow recreation-related businesses to go into large vacant warehouses and beauty and nail salons into office districts as well as allow restaurants to serve alcohol.