Developers behind a plan to build an ARCO AM/PM in southeast Visalia are making a third attempt at approval after the Planning Commission shot down the project in a split decision last month.
Appeal to City Council
The Visalia City Council will act as final arbiter in the matter when Chandi Group USA appeals the denial at 7pm on Monday, May 7, at the Visalia Convention Center, 303 E. Acequia. The group can expect to meet with another wave of objections from its possible future neighbors, but those behind the scheme say they expect it to be approved.
“The officials have all told us on the public record to make it smaller, make it fit the neighborhood,” said Tom Freeman, Chandi Group USA’s point man for the project. “We hear them loud and clear. We’re following that direction.”
Yet with another gas station already at the same intersection, those who may have to live with the council’s decision say the development is unnecessary and that it will fundamentally change the character of their neighborhood.
And, they know what they’d rather have.
“Responsible development, and specifically a grocery store with associated retail,” said Bernard Cooker, a leader of the community group fighting the development, Oppose ARCO.
The New Plan
The amended project is radically different than Chandi Group USA’s original design. The plan rejected by the Planning Commission would have included a 6,800-square-foot store with an 18-foot high canopy, a car wash and drive-through restaurant. Noise generated by alarms from the car wash were a major objection by those opposed.
“So now what’s gone is the car wash. We dropped the canopy to down to 14 feet, reduced the pumps from 10 to six,” Freeman said. “Listening to the Planning Commission, listening to the residents, that’s what we’ve done.”
Also gone is the restaurant, leaving just a corner market with gas pumps.
“That means no drive-through, nothing in it but your typical convenience store items,” Freeman said.
Yet the neighborhood’s residents don’t seem convinced this plan will be any better than the last two. Cooker, an engineer by profession, said the supporting documentation for the previous plan was sloppy.
“In the last analysis, we found multiple errors with regard to the acreage of the project, the number of land parcels involved, even the location was misstated,” he said. “They had it on Court Street, rather than West Street in one instance.”
Cooker fears the new plans–which were revealed to interested parties at a community gathering sponsored by Chandi Group USA in the open field they hope to develop will be no better than the last set. The work, he said, was far from adequate.
“It’s grossly misleading,” Cooker said. “It’s unprofessional.”
Part of Chandi Group USA’s concessions include closing their store for four hours a day.
Neighbor Wayne Girard, whose house is within 100 meters of the West Street and Caldwell Avenue development site, says the change in hours is really a ruse. Girard worked for a decade as a driver for Core-Mark, one of the state’s largest distributors, and he made deliveries to Visalia and Tulare’s AM/PM stations.
“They want to say they’re dropping this to 20 hours. Deliveries are not 20 hours,” he said. “Fuel trucks come as the fuel is refined. They don’t have holding. They’ve tried for 20 years to try to get a schedule on fuel. It’s never happened.”
He predicts a constant stream of large, noisy delivery trucks moving through his neighborhood and past his home every day.
“They have MTC; it’s perishables. They have fuel deliveries. They’ve got Red Bull, Pepsi, Coke, Bud Light, Valley Wide (Beverage Company),” Girard said. “After five or six o’clock (in the morning), you (as a delivery driver) don’t even go because you can’t get in. There’s too many trucks there.”
There Goes the Neighborhood
If the City Council approves the AM/PM, Girard says it will ruin his neighborhood.
“I’ve watched new AM/PMs come in, and neighborhoods take a hit, like seriously,” he said. “I’ve watched them dilapidate. Not up here, but up towards Bakersfield and north toward Fresno, I have watched first-hand these homes just go to crap.”
The AM/PM site is surrounded on three sides by homes. Businesses line the block on the other side of Caldwell, but none of them is open late or does the volume of business AM/PM expects to do. A major complaint of those opposed to the gas station’s construction is it will change their neighborhood to the point it is no longer safe and peaceful.
“I don’t want to see that happen to this neighborhood,” Girard said. “I’ve never seen one (an AM/PM) be so intrusive.”
He pointed out some of the neighbors who will have their lives and homes intruded upon by Chandi Group USA if the City Council gives its nod to the plan.
“That’s an old-folks home. That’s a (school) bus stop,” he said. “That’s somebody’s backyard. This is somebody’s front yard.”
The Fight Goes On
When the Planning Commission rejected Chandi Group USA’s plans, it did so in front of an audience packed with more than 100 of the gas station’s possible neighbors. All of them turned out to object to the plan. The City Council can expect a similar turnout when it considers the matter.
Robin Hernandez, a leader of Oppose ARCO from its inception, is rallying the troops. Their message, she said, must be repeated often and with ongoing consistency. The only solution that will satisfy them is an end to the project.
“We are speaking and have been speaking for months loudly and clearly what the community wants,” she said. “We need to be heard, so the neighborhoods must come out Monday night and make their voices heard and remind the City Council that they work for us.”
Though it will not stop the developers from trying to move ahead with their plans, Chandi Group USA’s Freeman respects the stance Oppose ARCO has taken.
“I think that’s fair,” he said. “I think that’s their right.”