ENCINITAS — After nearly four years of debate, and several project iterations, a proposed gas station renovation at Leucadia Boulevard and Interstate 5 is a go.
The City Council unanimously rejected a neighbor’s appeal to the Planning Commission’s approval of a Chevron gas station and a companion 1,972-square-foot convenience store and 1,066-square-foot quick service restaurant.
The decision came despite community outcry that the project would exacerbate traffic at an already problematic intersection, concerns with future alcohol sales and that the convenience store and restaurant violated the city’s laws governing the size of such buildings.
But the council sided with the applicant, S&L Oil, Inc., whose attorney urged the council to reject the appeal, which he said was based on conjecture, not facts.
“To me the question is about whether the project is consistent with the municipal code and the general plan…and the Planning Commission found that it was, and from what we’ve heard tonight, I believe that it is,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said.
Originally, S&L Oil proposed in 2015 converting the current gas station and mechanic shop into a mini mart and a self service car wash.
The Planning Commission and City Council both rejected the project in 2016, arguing that the car wash was too noisy and didn’t fit the surrounding community.
After more than two years of revisions, the Planning Commission approved the project in December. An appeal was filed just before Jan. 1.
The appellant, Alex Mrazek, contended that the the applicant and city staff low balled the average trips the project would generate and that proposed mini mart and restaurant, which are a combined 3,000 square feet, violated the city’s 2,000-square-foot size limit for such businesses.
Mrazek said that he believed the new business would add between 800 to 2,000 trips per day to the intersection, rather than the 389 trips the city’s traffic engineer estimated.
The business would add to the “traffic nightmare” many residents face at the intersection, caused largely because of the Starbucks Coffee on the north side of Leucadia Blvd.
“Basically there’s two points,” Mrazek said. “It’s not compliant, it’s not safe,” Mrazek said. “And it’s not good for the neighborhood.”
The Planning Commission in March 2018, in response to a request for an official opinion from the applicant, said that the mini mart and all ancillary uses associated could be no bigger than 2,000 square feet.
But city staff argued that the restaurant was a standalone use because it was separated from the mini mart by a wall.
Staff also said that the current project did not include a request for a permit to sell alcohol, but the applicant could apply for a permit in the future.
When they did, they would have to come before the planning commissioner because of the controversy surrounding the project, a requirement in the municipal code.
Marco Gonzalez, the applicant’s attorney, said the neighbors had been engaged in years of misrepresentations and hyperbole to thwart his client’s development plans.
“It pains me because what we have is a community that puts out fliers that misrepresent the truth,” Gonzalez said. “It’s part of the hyperbole that this community has adopted to try to incense people who aren’t paying attention to the process to begin with.
“It is completely disingenuous to anecdotally suggest we are going to create thousands of trips and therefore cause a big problem, when the reality is the science and experts say you’re supposed to focus on the a.m. and p.m. peaks and really decide whether they are going to decrease the level of service, and nobody thinks 19 and 24 (peak) trips is a problem,” he added.
Every speaker during the hourlong public hearing spoke against the project, most citing the issues with the Starbucks as the reason to deny any project on the property.
Councilman Tony Kranz, however, said that while the city does need to work with Caltrans and staff to fix the problems at the intersection, it didn’t preclude the council from approving the project.
“I don’t feel it’s appropriate to uphold the appeal based upon the chaos that is there right now,” Kranz said. “What we need to do is recommit ourselves to addressing it both with Caltrans and the city. This is a project that I think is legal.”