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Our Favorite Town: Springdale, Utah says NO to Chain Restaurants!

By Brian Passey, USA TODAY: Surrounded on three sides by the soaring red rock cliffs of Zion National Park, this town of about 500 has the kind of charm one would expect from a tiny tourist burg in a scenic location.

A 2008 Forbes magazine travel article included it among the "20 Prettiest Towns" in America.

"They haven't been homogenized, they still have their local character — and the charm is real," photographer Bob Krist wrote.

Striving to protect that charm, town officials crafted an ordinance that bans "formula restaurants" from opening within the city limits. A group of eight investors challenged that ordinance, suing Springdale, 16 town officials and the town's attorneys for what the plaintiffs say is their constitutional right to open a Subway restaurant franchise.

"We knew of the ordinance by the time we contracted with Subway, but my clients looked into it and absolutely believed that ordinance was unconstitutional," says David Stucki, the attorney representing the investors, who are incorporated in Utah as Izzy Poco. The ordinance has been in place since 2006. The suit was filed June 17 in U.S. District Court.

Chuck Thompson, executive director of the International Municipal Lawyers Association, says the investors may have a legal argument if they can prove the town of Springdale attempted to limit business ownership to local investors.

Springdale's attorney, David Church, says the ordinance serves a good purpose and was correctly applied.

Springdale's zoning ordinance, similar to others across the nation, prohibits a variety of businesses, including formula restaurants and delicatessens, because they are found to be in conflict with the town's general plan.

The National League of Cities supports leaders who want to protect their community's character and economic development, says Gregory Minchak, a spokesman for the league.

"We're big on local control here," Minchak says.

When preparing the ordinance, Springdale officials looked at other towns across the USA that regulate formula businesses in one way or another, including Bainbridge Island, Wash.; Bristol, R.I.; Cannon Beach, Ore.; Ogunquit and York, Maine; and seven municipalities in California, including Arcata and Solvang.

York and Ogunquit both have bans on formula restaurants. Paul Lempicki, land use director and code enforcement officer for Ogunquit, says his town's 6-year-old ordinance was designed to protect the seaside town's character and has not been challenged.

There have been no challenges to the York ordinance either, which has been on the books for six years, says town planner Christine Grimando. The town did recently consider loosening its ordinance, but Grimando says officials decided against it.

This month, Sister Bay, Wis., officials approved a ban that came about after a developer submitted plans for a Subway restaurant.

"Cities are going to make the best decisions for their communities based on what local businesses want and what local citizens want," Minchak says.

The restaurant bans get mixed reviews from tourists.

Shelley Neeleman, a visitor to Springdale from Bainbridge Island, Wash., says she thinks formula restaurants would ruin the "feel" of Springdale.

John Souza of Modesto, Calif., says he can get all the fast-food restaurants he wants at home and having them in Springdale would damage the town's "uniqueness."

"I would hate to see them popping up everywhere," Souza says.

Rick Dean of Mount Shasta, Calif., says he understands the town's intentions in trying to maintain its unique atmosphere but believes the investors have a free-enterprise right to open the franchise.

"This is America, darn it," he says.

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