Opponents of a 17,000-square-foot gas station planned for their south Visalia neighborhood say they’ve learned the development is worse than they first feared after receiving a tip from a whistleblower at City Hall.
“This is going to be the biggest truck stop in town, even in the industrial park,” said neighborhood resident Robin Hernandez.
Fleet Service Planned
Hernandez — who is leading a group of her neighbors in a fight against the construction of a combination ARCO gas station, car wash and drive-through restaurant at the corner of Caldwell Avenue and West Street by the Chandi Group — says she and her neighbors only realized the scale of the project after they obtained plans submitted by Chandi for a similar station located in the city’s industrial park.
“They are going to be on the side of the scenic corridor (on State Route 198),” she said. “What we have realized, we got to the plans to that, and the one they’re proposing to put here on Caldwell is bigger than the one they’re putting in the Industrial Park.”
The 198 location has no restaurant or car wash, but a similar number of pumps.
Hernandez’s group also learned the Caldwell ARCO will be a refueling location for fleet vehicles.
She says that cleared up at least one mystery, how Chandi planned to make a profit with such a large facility in the middle of a residential area.
“We kept saying how are they going to make money in the middle of a neighborhood?” Hernandez said. “That’s one way they’re going to do it.”
The result, she says, will be even more traffic and noise in an already busy area of town.
Booze, Traffic and Children
If the project is constructed, it will include the third car wash within a mile of the intersection.
It will also add another sales point for alcohol in an area that is already saturated.
“This is going to make 19 alcohol establishments within one mile of our neighborhood,” Hernandez said.
A gas station and convenience store already occupies the opposite corner where the new ARCO could be built, and its owners were denied a permit for a car wash when the business was originally constructed.
That corner of Caldwell and West could become quite congested if fuel deliveries begin at the proposed ARCO, at least according to one interpretation of a new map of the project submitted to the city by Chandi last month.
“That (map) shows them bringing in two different kinds of trucks to bring fuel in,” she said. “One is an 18-wheeler, a normal truck. The other has like 30 wheels. It’ll be a big tanker truck delivery. They’ll have to park it on West Street to bring in their fuel.”
The spot they’ll need to use is also the drop-off point for school buses in the neighborhood.
“We’ve got loads of kids in buses right there where they’re doing the trucks,” Hernandez said.
Property Sales Impact
The group has also learned the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) will not insure mortgages for homes within 300 feet of a 1,000-gallon or larger fuel storage tank. Some of the residents will be effected by the location of the ARCO.
“We measured from the eastern side of the fuel tanks–and they’re over 30,000 gallons–and four of the houses on James Court fall into that,” Hernandez said. “It’s going to impact the ability of those folks to sell their homes.”
It’s unclear whether construction of the station will effect area residents who already have FHA-backed mortgages.
FHA insurance is the most popular program of its kind in the nation.
“That’ll be up to HUD and the FHA,” said Hernandez. “It’s going to make it an issue, because FHA loans are the most used by Americans.”
Potential Buyer Rebuffed
Habib Wahid, co-owner of the Princess Market already located at the northeast corner of Caldwell and West, has a quick and ready solution to the situation: He wants to buy the land where the ARCO would be constructed and use it as the location for a family-style restaurant.
But, the agent offering the land for sale has stopped returning his phone calls.
“I’ve called the dude three times,” Wahid said. “He wants us to go to the corner by the Jack in the Box (Caldwell at Court Street).”
Wahid says he and his two partners are ready to begin the project immediately. They even have a chef ready to start cooking, but they are making no headway.
“I think the reason is money,” Wahid said. “It (the ARCO station) doesn’t belong in a neighborhood.”
While Hernandez and her group are getting help from a secret source at City Hall, they’re getting less action than they’d like from their elected representatives.
Councilman Bob Link, who represents the area, says he won’t talk to the group until after the Planning Commission has made its final decision. They got a similar response from Councilman Greg Collins, Hernandez said.
“He said he’d be happy to hear everything we have to say when we appeal,” Hernandez said. “The mayor is the only one who is listening.”
Mayor Warren Gubler has agreed to meet with the opponents to the ARCO later this month to hear their concerns Henandez, however, won’t be ignored. She’s collected all the research her group has performed on the ARCO projects, calling attention to its alleged shortfalls, and delivered copies to each member of the City Council and the Planning Commission.
“This is my Plan B. I took a packet to each of them,” she said. “The ones to the councilmen got time-stamped. The ones to the Planning Commission ended up on (City Planner Paul Bernal’s) desk. I wasn’t home for 20 minutes before I got a call.”
Chandi Not Talking
The project’s developer, Cochella Valley-based Chandi Group, has also cut off contact with Hernandez and her group, but only after offering to hear their concerns initially.
“(An agent for Chandi) Tom Freeman wanted to negotiate with us, and we put him on hold to get some legal advice on where we should go,” Hernandez said. “He was, ‘Great! What are your ideas? It’ll take a little time, because it has to go to the head office.’”
Then he stopped responding. No one else from Chandi Group is talking to Hernandez either, even ignoring registered letters seeking their renewed attention. Chandi Group also stopped responding to requests for an interview from the Valley Voice after initially agreeing to speak on the record about their plans.
The developers have yet to submit a new project plan for for the ARCO station for consideration by the Planning Commission. Once it does, the public will be allowed to comment on the plan. No date has been set for a public hearing.