Business, Community

Residents pack out meeting to oppose new ARCO on Sunrise Blvd

ARCO, Citrus Heights
Mayor Jeannie Bruins addresses a standing-room-only audience of residents concerned about a new ARCO proposed on Sunrise Boulevard. // CH Sentinel

Updated Nov. 30, 3:30 p.m.–
A standing-room-only audience of concerned Citrus Heights residents filed into a small room at the new Citrus Heights city hall Monday night, eager to make their voice heard about a controversial proposal to build a new ARCO gas station and car wash at the corner of Sunrise Boulevard and Sungarden Drive.

The proposal was submitted by Barghausen Consulting last month and includes plans to demolish the existing multi-story office building and construct a 3,000-square-feet AM/PM convenience store, a 42-feet-by-110-feet covered area for eight gas pumps, and a small car wash. Sacramento County Assessor’s records indicate the nearly one-acre parcel at 7056 Sunrise Blvd. is owned by prominent real estate developer Angelo Tsakopoulos, with the existing 9,500-square-feet structure built on the site in 1981.

Monday’s meeting, attended by about 80 residents, was called on short notice by Mayor Jeannie Bruins to address what she described as a “flood” of emails and questions from the community about the proposal. Bruins told attendees that such a meeting was “unusual” to have happen so early in a proposal’s process, but was necessary to address concerns and clarify the city’s process for handling new development proposals.

Resident concerns raised at the meeting included blight, increased crime from alcohol sales and a 24-hour convenience store, traffic, “noise pollution,” and general opposition to having a gas station at the location. Led by Sunrise Oaks Neighborhood Association President Nancy Graham, the group vowed to continue opposition to the project following the meeting — their goal being to completely stop the gas station from ever being built.

“We’ll do anything we can do to make this stop, because that’s our goal,” said one resident during the meeting, later providing only her first name as Cindy. Other comments ranged from “I never even thought in a million years there’d be a gas station there,” to “I guarantee crime is going to go up.”

The process
Although many residents present at the meeting seemed largely eager to hear what they could do currently to get the project stopped, the city’s planning division manager, Colleen McDuffee, said the project won’t face an up or down vote until it is heard by the planning commission “in several months.” In the mean time, McDuffee said community input is “welcomed,” but she said developers have a legal right to go through the city’s process before a vote is taken.

She said the development process begins with a proposal and site plan being submitted by an applicant, followed by extensive review and comment from the city’s planning division, which sends the proposal out for comment from more than a dozen agencies and also publicizes the project with public notices and a “development proposal” sign on site. She said agencies involved include engineering, Metro Fire, the water district, and neighborhood associations potentially impacted by the proposed development.

[Document: see proposed site plan]

McDuffee said planning department staff then compile agency and community responses, which are then sent back to the applicant along with comments from the planning department. After corrections and any specified conditions are met, the applicant can then re-submit the proposal, which — if adequate — is then forwarded on to the seven-member planning commission for review, a public hearing, and a vote.

The planning commission’s vote can also be appealed by either the applicant or community members, which would then send the proposal to the full city council.

“We’re at least several months away,” said McDuffee, referring to a planning commission hearing. “At that point they will make their decision.”

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An environmental review, which includes assessing potential traffic and noise impacts, is also conducted during the process and completed before the planning commission hearing. As the plan proposes beer and wine sales, a state Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) license will also be required for the convenience store and a “letter of public convenience/necessity” will have to be obtained from the city council before a license is issued.

Associate Planner Nick Lagura later confirmed with The Sentinel that a letter from the council is needed due to the area already having above the number of alcohol licenses set by the state.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

What stage is the process currently at?
Currently, McDuffee said an initial response letter was sent back to the applicant about two weeks ago and “the ball is in their court” to resubmit a plan.

Does the planning commission vote the same night a public hearing is held?
McDuffee said typically commissioners will vote on a proposal the same night as a public hearing, but they have discretion to move the vote to a further date.

Has an applicant ever pulled out?
McDuffee said “it’s rare” for an applicant to pull out and the mayor said she could only think of one such example. An audience member’s question was followed by laughter from the audience as she asked, “what would make them want to pull out?” Bruins responded with a smile that she would have to leave the room if that question were to be answered.

Does public opinion matter?
McDuffee said staff will compile each comment received and forward it to the planning commission, who will receive existing comments plus future comments as part of a packet related to the project. Mayor Bruins also affirmed the role of public input and said the proposal “is not a slam dunk.”

Former planning commissioner Jack Duncan, who is opposed to the proposal, spoke up during the meeting to confirm McDuffee’s assertion. “We listen to everything you have to say,” said Duncan, referencing his 9-year term as a commissioner. “Just keep hammering, and hammering, and hammering… the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

>>See a map of the neighborhood boundaries and learn more about Citrus Heights’ 11 neighborhood areas: Neighborhood groups REACH out to connect Citrus Heights residents”

McDuffee also said the city encourages developers to contact neighborhood associations directly for input on their projects, but former councilwoman Jayna Karpinski-Costa, who was also in attendance, objected that developers “just want to shove it down your throats… they really don’t want to listen.”

In replying, McDuffee gave an example of a 15-home development on Antelope Road where she said the developer met with nearby residents and modified plans in order to accommodate privacy concerns about the placement of several proposed two-story homes.

Where should comments about the project be sent?
McDuffee said all comments will be compiled and submitted to planning commissioners in a project packet prior to their vote. She said commissioners can be contacted directly and also gave out the planning division’s phone number, (916) 727-4740. The planning division’s email address is planning@citrusheights.net.

Mayor Bruins told attendees the city council can also be contacted by email at citycouncil@citrusheights.net, which will send a message to the council as a group. Asked by a resident how many times they should contact the council about the project, Bruins replied with a smile, “You can email me as many times as you want, but I read the message the first time.”

What about neighborhood compatibility?
Asked during the meeting to explain how “neighborhood compatibility” applies to the proposed ARCO, McDuffee said “compatibility” is listed in the zoning code, but not defined. In her short answer, she said the term generally relates to looking at adverse impacts of a proposed project on nearby uses, but she referred to the zoning code for more details.

[View the city code online: click here]

A review by The Sentinel of the city’s online zoning code found 42 references to “compatibility,” with a recurring emphasis on promoting or ensuring compatibility with adjacent land areas and uses. The only reference specifically to “neighborhood compatibility” applied only new residential subdivisions.

Will there be a crime impact analysis on the proposal?
Addressing a question from resident Kyle Hasapes about whether crime impacts would be assessed, the mayor and planning manager said a security plan is required to be submitted and reviewed by the police department.

Who is the applicant?
The applicant is Barghausen Consulting in Roseville, but an ARCO franchisee would own the building, according to McDuffee.

What kind of “conditions of approval” can be imposed on the project?
McDuffee said the planning commission can impose conditions of approval on development projects and often review recommendations on conditions like hours of operations restrictions and delivery times. One conceivable outcome could be for the project to be approved, with a condition that it not be open 24-hours-a-day.

What is the location zoned?
McDuffee said the center is zoned Shopping Center (SC) commercial, which allows a wide range of uses that do not need a use permit. While some categories of businesses have a permit “by right” to operate under SC zoning, McDuffee confirmed that a gas station requires a special use permit.

How are planning commissioners appointed?
Each of the five city council members appoints one commissioner to the seven-member commission. Two additional members are appointed at-large by the entire council. Four commissioners’ terms are set to expire at the end of this year, and applications are currently being accepted through Dec. 12. No experience is required to apply.

Share your thoughts on the proposal: Submit a letter-to-the-editor here