ENCINITAS — To say the vacant gas station on Santa Fe Drive stands out like a sore thumb would be a gross understatement.
Sandwiched between a shimmering new Scripps hospital expansion and a renovated Vons shopping center, the former 76 gas station — cloaked in a translucent green tarp wrapped around a chain link fence — is coming up on its 20th year of vacancy.
At times, the green tarp flags in the wind, or the chain link fence falls down, exposing the eyesore to passersby. The fence line has become magnet for the homeless over the years.
The lot has been a burden on city code enforcement, which has numerous times admonished the property owner about the state of the property, only to see it all in disrepair once more.
“It’s definitely an eyesore,” Councilwoman Teresa Barth said. “I think everyone has been waiting for some good news, but it just hasn’t happened as of now.”
The property recently achieved a long-awaited milestone, but it also suffered a setback that almost ensures the fallow property will main in its unoccupied state for a while longer, the Rancho Santa Fe man who owns the property said.
Bruce Hochman purchased the property at 411 Santa Fe Drive from Robert Hall and the Elisse Trust in 2008. He originally wanted to build a two-story medical-office building there — and received approval for a 10,000-square-foot one in June 2013 — but when the market for the building turned sour, he leased the property to JPMorgan Chase Bank.
The banking giant planned on building a branch there and secured approval for the plans of a 3,475-square-foot branch in November 2013. It even started a long-anticipated site environmental cleanup, which Hochman said was completed two weeks ago. The city required the cleanup after contaminated soil was found on site.
“That was a big step, because cleaning up a gas station and removing the underground gas tanks is a arduous and expensive process,” Hochman said of the bank’s efforts.
But just as it seemed the bank was poised to build its branch, it suddenly scuttled the plans and are now in the process of sub-leasing the land, Hochman said.
“It was definitely a surprise,” Hochman said. “I believe they were prepared to pull building permits, but this was a corporate decision to move on, it was disappointing to say the least.”
Meanwhile, city code enforcement continues to grapple with the property owner on the state of the lot.
Over the years, the city has warned Hochman and previous owners about the green tarp, the homeless people and the trash that accumulates around the periphery. Once warned, the property owner cleans it, said Joan Kling, the city’s code enforcement manager.
But the fixes are usually short lived, she said.
Kling said part of the reason the city hasn’t fined or cited the property owner for the state of the property is because technically, he isn’t violating any section of the city code that they are aware of. But Kling said code enforcement is pouring over the code to find a section that would be enforceable.
“It’s just unfortunate, you would think the property owner would want that piece of property to look good, but it has been a struggle,” Kling said. “Obviously what I am doing is not working, but I haven’t given up hope.”
Hochman, who has relinquished site maintenance duties to Chase, said sympathizes with the community.
“I certainly commiserate with the neighbors who believe it is an eyesore, I agree,” he said. “I would have hoped it would have been developed some years ago. I think in the near future, sooner than later, the property will be developed, but it is out of my hands now.”