Formula Business Restriction — Mendocino County, CA

Mendocino County, Calif., passed a formula business ordinance in November 2016, and it took effect in August 2017. As an ordinance at the county level, it’s particularly effective, as it covers unincorporated areas that are outside the boundaries of city and municipal zoning.

The ordinance, which the county describes as a “community character” measure, was passed after a two-year process that began when Dollar General received permits to construct a 9,100 square foot store in the area of Redwood Valley. The location was next to a small farm and locally owned grocery store in the rural area, as the group Smart Growth Rural Mendocino reported on its website.

After a community outcry, the County Board of Supervisors passed a one-year moratorium on new permits for formula businesses, which it later extended for an additional year. During that time, community members advocated for a process that would require chain stores to satisfy additional criteria to open in the county, instead of, as Smart Growth Rural Mendocino put it, “wide-open ‘permit by-right’ procedures that currently leave rural communities open to any chain business development on properties zoned Commercial (C-1 and C-2).”

In November 2016, the county passed a formula business policy that requires chain stores — defined as retail and restaurant businesses with 10 or more locations — to seek a minor use permit in order to open. The permit application involves a public hearing, and county staff then review the application based on whether the proposed formula business would fit with the community’s character, including the business’s site design and architecture.

“County supervisors say they weren’t intending to deter development, but were instead seeking a more public process for rural communities,” the Ukiah Daily Journal reported.

The policy took effect August 1, 2017. It covers unincorporated areas of the county, and does not cover cities within the county or part of a highway corridor.

After the new law took effect, local business owner Alex Chehada told the radio station KZYX Community News that the ordinance is allowing the community to be more proactive about maintaining its distinctive character and quality of life. “We’re thinking ahead now, and thinking about what we need in the Valley, and what we should accept or shouldn’t accept,” Chehada said.


Sec. 20.147.010 – Intent.

The Community Character Combining District (“CC Combining District”) is intended to establish special requirements and regulations to retain and enhance the special features of community areas and commercial places within Mendocino County by:

(A) Enhancing the visual attractiveness of commercial structures by restricting standardized features that would detract from the distinctive character of the community areas and commercial places in the County.

(B) Protecting diverse commercial activities of each community area and commercial places by encouraging a variety of commercial land uses that serve the needs of the community.

(C) Preserve and enhance the established historic character of each of the communities, including the retention and restoration of historic building sites.

(D) Establish places and facilities that create a sense of community, and encourage building designs that reflect and incorporate historic character of each community.

(E) Encourage locally owned businesses, and support the creation of economic opportunity, places and facilities that support a sense of community, as well as promoting economic opportunities that support infill development and improve the aesthetic character of core downtown community areas.

( Ord. No. 4390, § 2, 8-1-2017 )


Sec. 20.147.020 – Applicability.

The CC Combining District may be applied over C-1 (Limited Commercial) and C-2 (General Commercial) zoning districts in the unincorporated areas of the County including but not limited to the following Community Areas or Commercial Places:

•  Anderson Valley

◦  Boonville

◦  Navarro

◦  Philo

•  Covelo

•  Fort Bragg

◦  Cleone

•  Hopland

•  Laytonville

•  Potter Valley

•  Redwood Valley

•  Willits

◦  Brooktrails

◦  Ridgewood

•  Calpella

•  Ukiah

◦  Lake Mendocino Drive

◦  South Ukiah

•  Talmage

•  Other Commercial Places

◦  Bell Springs

◦  Comptche

( Ord. No. 4390, § 2, 8-1-2017 )


Sec. 20.147.030 – Definitions.

As used in this Chapter, and as used in this Chapter only, the following definitions shall apply unless the context otherwise requires:

(A) Community Area. “Community Area” includes communities located in unincorporated Mendocino County that are listed and described by Chapter 6, Community-Specific Policies, of the General Plan.

(B) Commercial Places. “Commercial Places” includes lands designated C-1 (Limited Commercial) or C-2 (General Commercial) that are not located within a Community Area.

(C) Formula Business. “Formula Business” means a business of any of the following type of commercial use types, as defined by Mendocino County Zoning Code — Division 1, Chapter 20.024, regardless of location or ownership, which along with ten (10) or more other establishments maintains two (2) or more Standardized Features:

(1) Eating and Drinking Establishments (Section 20.024.065).

(2) Food and Beverage Retail Sales (Section 20.024.075).

(3) Food and Beverage Preparation — Without Consumption (Section 20.024.080).

(4) Retail Sales, General (Section 20.024.120).

(D) Improvement. “Improvement,” as used in this article, shall be interpreted and shall include the construction, alteration, and repair of all buildings, structures, and facilities permanently affixed to real property, and appurtenances thereto.

(E) Standardized Features. “Standardized Features” include the following:

(1) Color Scheme. A selection of colors used throughout, such as on the furnishings, permanent fixtures, and wall coverings, or as used on the façade.

(2) Décor. The style of interior furnishings, which may include but is not limited to, style of furniture, wall coverings or permanent fixtures.

(3) Façade. The face or front of a building, including awnings, looking onto a street or an open space.

(4) Servicemark. Words, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs that identifies and distinguishes the source of the services from one (1) party from those of others.

(5) Signage. “Signage” shall be defined as a sign pursuant to Title 20 of the Mendocino County Code.

(6) Standardized array of merchandise. An inventory of merchandise of which fifty (50) percent or more is provided by a single distributor bearing uniform markings.

(7) Standardized array of services. A substantially common menu or set of services priced and performed in a consistent manner.

(8) Uniforms. Standardized items of clothing including but not limited to standardized aprons, pants, shirts, smocks or dresses, that, and points (other than name tags) as well as standardized colors of clothing uniforms.

(F) Structure. “Structure” means anything constructed or erected, the use of which requires location on the ground or attachment to something having location on the ground; excepting tents, recreational vehicles and fences less than six (6) feet in height.

(G) Substantially Reconstructed Structure. “Substantially Reconstructed Structure” means the alternation, removal, replacement of more than fifty (50) percent of the structure’s existing floor area or exterior walls, whichever occurs first.

( Ord. No. 4390, § 2, 8-1-2017 )

Sec. 20.147.040 – Prohibitions.

The County, and its agents, employees and departments, shall not approve any subdivision, use permit, variance, building permit, grading permit, business license, certificate of use, certificate of occupancy or any other approval, permit, license or entitlement for the use of land or structures by a Formula Business in the CC Combining District without compliance with the provisions of this Chapter.

Any application for an approval, permit, license or entitlement for the use of land or structures that is determined by the County to be for a Formula Business that does not identify the use as a Formula Business is incomplete and cannot be processed until the omission is corrected. Any approval, permit, license or entitlement approved after the effective date of the ordinance adopting this Chapter that is determined by the County to have been, at the time of application, for a Formula Business that did not identify the use as a Formula Business is subject to revocation at any time. If the County determines that the application for an approval, permit, license or entitlement is for a Formula Business, the applicant bears the burden of proving to the County that the proposed use is not a Formula Business.

( Ord. No. 4390, § 2, 8-1-2017 )


Sec. 20.147.050 – Requirements.

(A) The establishment of a new Formula Business in a newly constructed Structure on any lot or within a Substantially Reconstructed Structure located within a Community Area or Commercial Place, as defined in this Chapter, within the CC Combining District, is subject to the approval of a Minor Use Permit, pursuant to Mendocino County Zoning Code — Division I, Chapter 20.196, Use Permits. Establishment of such Formula Businesses are subject to review of the following requirements, unless the applicable base zoning district contains a more restrictive similar requirement, in which case the more restrictive requirement shall control:

(1) Site Improvements. Site layout, open space and topography, orientation and location of buildings, vehicular access, circulation and parking, setbacks, height, walls, fences, public safety and similar elements shall be designed to integrate with adjoining properties and provide a desirable environment compatible with existing development in the area.

(2) Architectural Design. The character, scale and quality of the design, the architectural relationship between the site and other buildings, building materials, colors, screening of exterior appurtenances, exterior lighting and signing and similar elements have been incorporated into the Formula Business’ design concept in order to ensure its compatibility with the character of adjacent buildings and properties.

(3) Signage. Signage shall be established in conformance with Mendocino County Code — Division I, Chapter 20.184 Sign Regulations. All signs shall be designed to be compatible with the architecture and design of buildings/structures on-site, and shall incorporate similar and compatible building materials and colors as utilized by the buildings/structures on which they are affixed.

(4) Landscape Design. The design of the Formula Business shall include a landscape design plan which shall include the location, type, size, color, texture and coverage of plant materials, and provisions for irrigation, maintenance and protection of landscaped areas and similar elements to ensure visual relief, to compliment buildings and structures and to provide an attractive environment.

r(B) In addition to the findings required for a Minor Use Permit, all approvals of a Formula Business shall contain a finding that the requirements of this section have been satisfied.

(C) In addition to all noticing required for a Minor Use Permit, ten (10) days prior to the date of the hearing required by Chapter 20.196, notice of the time and place of the hearing and of the intention to consider the Minor Use Permit shall be posted by the applicant on the subject property of the proposed Formula Business in a manner best calculated by the Department to give public notice. Notices shall be posted on paper not less than eight and one-half (8.5) inches by eleven (11) inches in size.

( Ord. No. 4390, § 2, 8-1-2017 )


Sec. 20.147.060 – Exceptions.

The provisions of the CC Combining District shall not apply to a Formula Business in the following instances.

(A) When an active building permit for a new Formula Business on any lot or within a substantially reconstructed structure is deemed complete by the Department prior to September 22, 2015.

(B) When building and site improvements associated with an existing Formula Business are necessary to comply with fire safety or Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requirements.

( Ord. No. 4390, § 2, 8-1-2017 )

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Olivia LaVecchia

Olivia LaVecchia is a former senior researcher with ILSR’s Independent Business Initiative. Her work focused on building awareness and support for public policy tools that strengthen locally owned businesses and check concentrated economic power.