After four years and at least one failed proposal, the owners of an aging Leucadia service station just west of Interstate 5 finally won approval from the city's Planning Commission Thursday, Dec. 20, for an expansion project.
The commission's vote was 3-1, with Commissioner Kevin Doyle voting against. Doyle said he was opposed to the latest design for the proposed building's exterior, saying it didn't look that much different than one presented earlier this year.
"It still looks like a big, gray box to me," he said.
Commission Chairman Glenn O'Grady said he wasn't "unsympathetic" to Doyle's view, saying the design with its "butterfly" flaring roof design didn't match his tastes either. But, he said, the proposed building did meet city code standards.
Commissioners Al Apuzzo and Bruce Ehlers said they both liked the new design better than the old one. Ehlers said he liked the proposed planter boxes out front and the fact that the building's proposed height had been lowered, while Apuzzo said the property's owners actually could have put a much bigger structure on the site.
The latest plan calls for demolishing the site's existing 1,863-square-foot mini-market and mechanic shop and replacing them with a new, upscale-looking market and a yet-to-be-determined take-out restaurant. The new market would be at 1,972 square feet, while the take-out area would occupy 1,066 square feet. While they are proposed to be two separate businesses with their own entrances, they would share a single building.
"This is not a dramatic increase in what is already there," argued attorney Marco Gonzalez, who represents the property's owners, as he told commissioners that his clients were starting to wonder if any enhancement to the property could win approval. "At some point, you have to ask yourself, 'Is there anything we can do?' "
The Gupta family has owned the service station on the southeast corner of Orpheus Avenue and Leucadia Boulevard for about two decades. For many years, the place was a Shell station, but it has recently become a Chevron station. Though they haven't yet picked an occupant for the proposed take-out restaurant, they want a local business, not a national fast-food chain, Gonzalez said.
Years ago, the family was initially proposing to redevelop the property by adding more gas station pumps, an upscale marketplace and an automated car wash. Neighboring homeowners vehemently objected to the car wash plans, saying its dryers would be so loud it would be like having airplanes landing in their living rooms. City planning commissioners held five meetings on that proposal, and ultimately agreed with the neighbors that the car wash proposal wasn't compatible with the area.
The Guptas appealed the commission's decision to the City Council, and the council denied their appeal in April 2016.
The latest plans also have had their share of opponents. Several neighboring homeowners told the commissioners Dec. 20 that they thought the proposed take-out restaurant would eventually morph into a sit-down restaurant, creating parking problems and adding to the traffic congestion at the already troubled intersection. They also said they expected the property's owners would eventually seek to sell alcohol at the facility.
In their vote to approve the permits, the commissioners set a series of conditions on the project. Among other things, they decided that if the owners later do seek to sell alcohol, the commission wants to weigh in on the issue given how much controversy there has been in the neighborhood over the development plans.
One thing that the commissioners, the property owners' attorney and the neighbors all agreed on Dec. 20 was that the drive-through Starbucks across the street from the service station property has caused "nightmarish" traffic congestion issues in the area in recent years. Commissioners said the traffic lights should be reprogrammed. That's a request that city staff members were asked to take up with Caltrans, which controls the signals because they are adjacent to the freeway.
-- Barbara Henry is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune