SANTA ROSA -- Santa Rosa business leaders and planners said they hope a tweak last week to the city's zoning rules will encourage more wineries and breweries to set up shop in the city's core commercial districts, speeding the way for pedestrian- and tourist-friendly establishments akin to commercial districts in Sonoma County cities such as Healdsburg and Sonoma.

The proposed changes, which received a swell of support from the public and a unanimous vote from the Santa Rosa City Council on Sept. 11, are part of a targeted set of changes to policy over the past year designed to lower regulatory and financial barriers for businesses in the city.

[caption id="attachment_61419" align="alignright" width="300"] Ancient Oak Cellars founders Ken and Melissa Moholt-Siebert (far right) in their vineyard with the Brown family, founders of downtown Santa Rosa department store Corrick's, where a tasting room is set to open in October. (photo credit: Alan Bartl)[/caption]

"Our feeling was, we are one of the major cities in the middle of the Sonoma County wine industry," said Charles Regalia, director of community development for the city of Santa Rosa. "It would be nice to do a little wine tasting during a business trip to Santa Rosa, then walk back to your hotel."

The proposed changes will create new land-use classifications that define "winery," "tasting room" and "brewery" and reduce regulatory barriers to winery property use throughout the city. Particular focuses are downtown Santa Rosa, Railroad Square and a proposed commuter rail station west of Coddingtown mall.

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

One downtown business, Corrick's department store, was exploring a partnership to offer a wine-tasting area within its walls earlier this year. Then fourth-generation owner Keven Brown discovered the city's work to ease permitting requirements.

That tasting room, an independently operated department from Santa Rosa small-case winery Ancient Oak Cellars, is part of a larger effort to focus the 97-year-old Corrick's store on local products and services. The effort became a tangible example for policymakers, helping to rally support for the changes.

Mr. Brown said that he expects the opening of tasting room, expected in October, will inspire other businesses to consider similar arrangements and for further tasting rooms to look at the downtown area.

"I think you will see other tasting rooms start to dot the downtown," he said. "That is our No. 1 export in Sonoma County, and it's great to be a part of that."

Melissa Moholt-Siebert, who cofounded Ancient Oak with her husband, Ken, said the historical department store and downtown district were a natural fit for a tasting room to feature wine from the 7-year-old winery.

"I believe this is the start of a real renaissance for downtown Santa Rosa," she said, commending the city's efforts. "We have such fantastic restaurants and fun shops, and this will just give support for more to come."

Mr. Regalia said it would still take several years for the downtown and other commercial districts to evolve along with the new zoning rules.

Yet Jonathan Coe, president and chief executive officer of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, said that the organization supported the city's ongoing work to reduce regulatory barriers for business.

"As we continue to emerge from the recession, I think it's critical that municipalities do whatever they can to help businesses grow and start up," he said. "I think that we're increasingly seeing the importance that the hospitality industry is playing in Sonoma County and Santa Rosa. This will just add to our ability to sell Sonoma County as a great place to visit."