The Town of Eastchester, N.Y., amended its zoning regulations in March to ban restaurants with 15 or more locations, a stand-up counter or menus on the wall.

Eastchester joined a number of communities in the past decade, many of them in areas dependent on tourism, that have amended or proposed changes in zoning laws to ban chain, or “formula,” businesses from their borders. This year, new proposals are being considered from Wisconsin to California.

Los Angeles’ city planning commission recently approved and sent to the city council the first of four community plans for South L.A. neighborhoods. The first plan, for the West Adams community, would remove exemptions, in place since 2008, on quick-service-restaurant distance requirements. 

Existing eateries had been exempt from the community plan’s rules that barred new stand-alone quick-service restaurants from opening within a half mile of one another. 

Los Angeles’ city council has yet to confirm a timetable on considering passage of the community plan, but the California Restaurant Association opposes the limits. “We advocate against these proposals,” said Angelica Pappas, CRA spokesperson, in an interview. “We don’t want anything to hinder consumer choice.”

“Robust community organizing ultimately caused the commission to overturn the Planning Department staff’s recommendation and the district councilman’s request to exempt restaurants and moved to throw out the exemption and apply the distance separation requirements to the entire community plan,” Pappas said. “This lumps restaurants in with businesses such as adult bookstores, smoke shops, etc.”

Vanessa Rodriguez, senior vice president for Mercury LLC, which represents the CRA in the L.A. community plan project, said new quick-service restaurants in mixed-use developments would be exempt from the West Adams community plan’s restrictions.

Rodriguez said she found it disturbing that cities are “highjacking” land-use legislation to limit consumer choices.

Bans reach cities big and small

Big cities like Los Angeles are not alone in considering limits on restaurants.

The planning commission in Richfield, Wis., a village northwest of Milwaukee, in April voted to ban construction of new quick-service restaurants in areas that are largely residential. Sit-down restaurants were not affected by the ban.

Also in April, officials in Wauwatosa, Wis., sent a planned zoning change to its city staff that proposed barring a “formula” restaurant with 11 or more outlets and two or more qualifications, such as a standardized menu, façade, décor, uniform or signage.

The Wauwatosa proposal, which would affect a section of the town just west of Milwaukee, drew opposition from the Commercial Associations of Realtors Wisconsin. Jim Villa, president and chief executive of the CARW, said, “Ultimately, for us, it’s about protecting property values and options.

“We can certainly understand why a community would want to have some minimum standards and why they might want to promote local businesses, but our concern is when you drive rents and occupancy by those standards you can devalue your property,” Villa said. “Ultimately, that’s a negative for the municipality as well.”

Villa said the area for the proposed zoning restrictions already has a number of chain restaurants. “Sometimes the world circles around, and we don’t always remember,” he recalled. “There’s a McDonald’s in that stretch, and that was actually started as part of a community plan at one point.”

Some tourism towns in Wisconsin, such as Sister Bay in Door County, have already barred formula restaurants. “They are going for a certain clientele,” said Villa, referring to vacationers from Milwaukee and Chicago.