Rules to handle a summer of expected drought and the longtime challenge of chain businesses topped the Fort Bragg City Council's June 28 (Monday, last wee) agenda.
The council adopted both unanimously. The city's new water conservation ordinance will bring a range of requirements, bans and strong suggestions to bear on Fort Bragg's water users if supplies tighten over the next few months as expected.
Businesses and households are under the same set of requirements and fines, ranging from $100 to $1,000 a day. But fines are only for serious repeat offenders, city manager Tabatha Miller told the council.
The conservation regime is supposed to work — as it has in past years — mostly by voluntary effort and, where necessary, visits from city staff or, if necessary, the police, to advise a resident or business how to get in compliance.
The ordinance — meant for final adoption July 12 — adds a fifth level of emergency to Fort Bragg's existing conservation rules, envisioning a worst case scenario where city officials could implement what amounts to rationing by setting use levels and installing flow restrictors.
Such drastic action is preceded by a range of measures — limiting days for yard and landscape watering, and cutting back on and eventually eliminating many other outdoor uses, from vehicle washing to construction.
Lodging establishments were a special focus of the council's discussion since, according to city staff, they are among the biggest water users and are able to fairly simply cut back.
For instance, the ordinance calls for motels and B&Bs to first encourage their guests to give up daily fresh laundry (Stage 2), then stop offering daily service altogether (Stage 3).
Existing rules requiring restaurants to use only paper plates and utensils were taken out of the ordinance. Miller said those rules proved very disruptive to businesses and increased the local trash problem. She said more goal-oriented language in the current ordinance is meant to accomplish the same thing.
Council members accepted the ordinance without many changes, asking only that certain early, lighter restrictions and suggestions be made more clear cut, to put people in a water saving frame of mind as early as possible.
The council tackled another thorny issue, approving an ordinance regulating, but not banning, formula businesses in the Central Business District, a mostly two-block-wide stretch including Franklin and the east side of Main streets.
The ordinance will come back for a formal OK, and more opportunity for public debate (only two people spoke up last Monday).
The council approved a moratorium on formula businesses about two months ago and asked the Planning Commission to come up with an ordinance that would reflect the community's often mixed but sometimes vociferous views regarding out-of-area chain stores locating in Fort Bragg.
Some people are against chain stores, period, for a variety of reasons. Others are against most chain stores, except the ones they like. Others enthusiastically demand the perceived better deals and wider selection that they hope chain stores would bring to Fort Bragg's admittedly limited — especially for families on a budget — shopping and dining horizon.
City government's job was to respond to the range of demands while skirting legal pitfalls that basically boil down to the fact that local governments cannot ban chain businesses just because they are chain businesses.
What many other communities have done, is to regulate formula businesses based on land use, not type of business. For instance, Fort Bragg's ordinance allows formula businesses, but puts a 2000 square foot limit on them in the Central Business District. Any proposals larger than that would need a use permit, potentially triggering public hearings. The ordinance applies only to that strip of commercially zoned land basically covering downtown Fort Bragg, the east side of Main Street and both sides if Franklin. Industrial property at the north end of Franklin Street, as well as the west side of Main Street, is not covered by the ordinance.
Only one of Fort Bragg's existing chain franchises is smaller than 2000 square feet — the DinoMart gas station and its Craving Grill (the chicken tika masala wrap is awesome). McDonalds, Starbucks, and even Taco Bell would be too large under the proposed ordinance.
With land use requirements like those, difficult but not impossible to meet, plus strict guidelines on businesses' appearance, even touching on acceptable styles of employee uniforms, the council hoped to take some control over Fort Bragg's economic mix, while protecting city government from legal challenges that would likely result if the rules it approved banned any kind of business outright.
The one exception was a ban on payday loan operations, which are described as plain bad for a community, and are commonly singled out for bans elsewhere.
The ordinance also carves out some exemptions for formula businesses willing to “add value” as city manager Tabatha Miller put it. For instance, a formula business that was willing to build a substantial amount of affordable housing along with a store would find some standards relaxed.
In general, council members welcomed the ordinance, and thanked planning commissioners and city staff for coming up with a relatively clear way forward in evaluating future proposals. The ordinance will apply to Dollar General's application for a downtown store, which is currently in limbo due to the moratorium.
Council member Tess Albin-Smith at first asked for language specifically mentioning competition with existing businesses as grounds for denial. But Jessica Morsell-Haye and Lindy Peters pushed back on that, saying they believed that language would be viewed as discriminatory.
Instead, the ordinance states that it is geared toward maintaining Fort Bragg's “unique economic mix” and gives planning commissioners and council members a fair amount of leeway in determining what that is.
Albin-Smith relented, and mayor Bernie Norvell, who noted he is not a fan of any kind of broad restrictions on business, said he is satisfied that the ordinance addresses local concerns and has enough flexibility for officials to work with applicants.