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The Santa Rosa City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to begin a process that could make it easier for wineries and breweries to set up shop in the city's core districts, as well as easing the route for expansion at current and future sites and clearing the way for certain developments elsewhere in the city.

The proposed changes will create new land use classifications that define the categories of winery, tasting room and brewery and reduce regulatory barriers to winery land use throughout the city, particularly in districts that include downtown Santa Rosa, Railroad Square and a proposed commuter rail station west of Coddingtown.

The current zoning code requires that stand-alone tasting rooms undergo the same permitting process as liquor and convenience stores. City staff noted strong public interest in modifying the code and easing those regulations, citing staff findings that wineries and breweries are a growing industry and "an untapped opportunity for the local economy."

The proposed changes, which will now be recast as an official measure and presented to the council at a later date, are the result of an economic development effort that began in 2011. The Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the recommended changes in July.

In addition to easing the requirements for stand-alone tasting rooms, the changes also modify rules related to wine production. While wineries are currently allowed in areas zoned for "industrial" use, the changes would allow production in districts that include the city's downtown.

"Boutique" wineries -- those producing less than 10,000 cases a year -- will be allowed in the central districts with a minor use permit. Larger "production" wineries will be allowed with a major use permit, with city staff citing the desire to allow successful, smaller wineries to grow over time.

The proposed changes also describe similar zoning changes for breweries, describing a "brewery-brew pub" designation of no more than 15,000 barrels per year and a production brewery designation that exceeds that amount.

The regulations would also ease permitting for adding a tasting room or expanding a brewery to include a restaurant.

In a majority vote, the city council also directed staff to finalize an ordinance that would allow large grocery stores as a permitted use within existing buildings in a U.S. Department of Agriculture-identified "food desert" in southeast Santa Rosa, an area bounded by Highway 12 to the north, Highway 101 to the west, Petaluma Hill Road to the east and Mountain View Avenue to the south. Nearly 8,000 people live in the area.

The final amendment involved an 8.16 acre property on Yolanda Ave., from residential medium density and light industry to retail and business services. The amendment will remove a 2.7-acre parcel designated for medium-density housing, but allow higher density at other sites that will result in a net gain in medium-density housing units.


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