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A downtown real estate office that was deemed a formula business won city approval after the applicant agreed not to post a logo in the front window.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to allow Calistoga native Sandy Tucker to establish an independently operated NextHome real estate office at 1437 Lincoln Ave., in a portion of the old Miguel’s space.

Tucker’s use permit application was denied by the Planning Commission on June 27 for fear that approving one formula business might open the floodgates for others.

Tucker appealed to the council. At an initial hearing on July 17, councilmembers told city staff to work with Tucker on a compromise that would allow her to open without setting a troublesome precedent for other formula businesses.

The new conditions approved by the council on Tuesday prohibit the NextHome “name, logos, or standardized design elements” from appearing in the street-facing windows. Exterior signs will be limited to generic terms like “Real Estate” or “Real Estate Office.”

The NextHome name and logo may appear inside the business.

The new conditions “address the city’s concerns and the applicant’s needs,” said Tucker’s attorney Emily Fisher, who thanked the council and staff for working with her client.

Councilmember Jim Barnes called the matter “the most vexing one” he’s faced during his six years on the council, and said there were some gray areas as to whether the office complies with the city’s specific policies.

“It’s not black and white,” he said.

Mayor Chris Canning, who was on vacation during the council’s previous hearing, said the Planning Commission made the right call on the project as it existed at the time, with a proposed exterior sign that would have read “NextHome In The Valley.”

However, he said the new compromise complies with the letter and spirit of the formula business ordinance and doesn’t endanger the city policy that’s intended to preserve unique businesses.

“The formula ordinance concept is a hill I will die on,” Canning said. “I think it absolutely, positively makes Calistoga what it is – part of what it is – and sets us apart from Everytown, USA.”

At the previous hearing, Tucker said she will operate the franchise independently, with NextHome providing technological and marketing tools to help her reach a larger pool of potential clients.

Councilmembers and planning commissioners said the application highlights the need to update the city’s formula business ordinance, which dates back to 1996. That ordinance prohibits formula restaurants and hotels but allows other types of formula businesses to apply for use permits on a case-by-case basis.

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.