Proposed gas station fuels public safety debate
After a lengthy meeting last Thursday, El Dorado County Planning Commissioners approved an Arco AM/PM at the Sophia Parkway and Green Valley Road intersection, giving opponents just one more opportunity to stop the project.
The Board of Supervisors must give its final approval; a date for that discussion has not been set.
An unpopular project with some El Dorado Hills residents, particularly those living in the Promontory neighborhood, the 2.12 acre site located on the southeast corner of the intersection is planned to include a gas station, convenience store, drive-through fast-food restaurant and car wash. The developer and interested buyer of the property is Marc Strauch of Strauch Companies.
“My neighbors and I are mostly concerned about safety and how the project fails to fit into our neighborhood,” said Promontory homeowner Darren Bobrowsky after the meeting. “The intersection of Green Valley Road and Sophia Parkway is very busy with vehicles traveling 50-plus mph, significant bicycle traffic and pedestrians visiting the state park across the street. The traffic impact analysis does not adequately address all of these uses and how the proposed project will impact the traffic safety.
“Specifically most believe a deceleration lane is needed to provide vehicles slowing down to enter the site to get out of the flow of traffic,” he continued. “The developer does not have to do this due to the cost of relocating underground utilities. The developer and county staff are trading public safety over cost, which is unacceptable.”
When the project came before the Planning Commission two months ago, residents complained about its traffic and public safety impacts. Others described it as a future source of noise, trash and light pollution and criticized its architecture as a gateway development into the county.
As a result of their testimony, the project was referred back to the developer.
At Thursday’s meeting, Strauch and his team of consultants came back with revised plans — changes to the site’s architecture along with a deceleration lane channeling traffic into the center. Noise studies had also been conducted to counter complaints about the car wash.
Since the early 1970s Amy Anders has owned the 9-acre parcel of land that houses the Green Valley Center today, including The Purple Place and Barber Jon’s. She said an Arco AM/PM station across the way would not only be a blight to the area, but a public safety hazard.
“I’m pro commercial business,” Anders said repeatedly in an interview with Village Life just before Thursday’s meeting. “This is just not the appropriate use for that commercial area. It’s a misfit. The three major problems with the project are the traffic issues, the noise issue and the negative impact to the wetlands.”
The land in question is listed for $995,000 by Cemo Commercial Properties. “It’s a low price because it’s only 1.38 usable acres,” said Anders. “It’s an irregular shaped lot and it borders a wetland.”
Strauch owns seven other Arco AM/PM stations in the area with his latest acquisition in Placerville on Forni Road.
“Where the other Arco stations are there are wide roadways versus rural, low density residential like we have in this case,” said Anders.
After listening to testimony from residents and a presentation by the developer’s engineer, the commissioners spent several hours negotiating with the developer to reduce some of the noise and address signage and landscaping issues. Changes to the project included restrictions on signs and banners, screening vending equipment from street view, collecting traffic data, planting more mature landscaping and closing the doors at one end of the car wash after 7 p.m.
Commissioners then voted 5-0 to move the project forward.
Anders plans to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision when the project comes to the board.
“Both Darren and I presented fact-based information about the traffic and public safety hazards, but our presentations had zero impact on the commissioners’ decision,” she said. “However, the most concerning new information I took away from the meeting is that El Dorado County does not have formal documentation or a clear plan for developing its infrastructure. It appears the strategy is to build first and then ‘Mickey Mouse’ architect infrastructure around it. Clearly, this has failed in the past and will fail in the future.
“When commissioners questioned the Department of Transportation about options to add turn lanes to Green Valley Road, DOT announced that this is not an option because retaining walls (DOT constructed during 2004-07 widening) on both sides of Green Valley Road precluded any further widening along this section,” Anders continued. “I find this unacceptable! If our neighboring communities of Folsom, Roseville and Rocklin can adequately plan infrastructure to accommodate growth and increasing traffic volume, residents of El Dorado County must demand the same!”
Anders also said the county isn’t appropriately staffed to make sure public needs are met. “We don’t do enforcement in El Dorado County,” she said. “The sign ordinance is a good example. Take, for instance, the 8-foot tall, tattered flags on Green Valley Road; they make the gateway to the county look tacky. I’ve called so many times with this problem and there’s only one person doing code enforcement.”
Anders and Bobrowsky both predicted any sign or banner restrictions wouldn’t likely be enforced in this case.
“We have to be mindful we’re just now experiencing a recovery,” said Anders. “El Dorado County was dormant for several years. Now we’re positioned again for significant growth.”
Anders said she’s willing to give up some of her land to put in the dedicated turn lanes. “I’d have to revamp my store fronts to do that, but I welcome it,” she said. “I’m a big proponent for appropriate projects in appropriate locations. Let’s just not put people in jeopardy.
“Mark Strauch doesn’t own the land yet, but he’s paid a lot of little fees already, which will probably push it along,” Anders added. “This project was pushed through and I feel it was brought too late to the public’s attention. The planning process in El Dorado County is broken and it needs to be fixed.”
Dawn Hodson contributed to this article.