According to officials at City Hall, six months after winning an appeal to construct a downsized version of its project–a 24-hour fueling station, car wash, convenience store and restaurant at West Street and Caldwell–the developers have yet to submit an updated plan. Meanwhile, the environmental impact report for an 82-plus-acre commercial park that will house the Valley Children’s Medical Group’s Specialty Care Center has been approved, with construction beginning as soon as early 2019.
ARCO a No-Go?
Residents of south Visalia who fought to keep what would have been the city’s largest gas station out of their neighborhood and lost may end up winning by default. Chandi Group USA, which planned to build an ARCO AM/PM in an area surrounded by homes on three sides, has not communicated with city planners since it won the right to build a scaled-down
version of the project during an appeal before the city council in April.
“Outside of that last city council meeting, it’s been quiet,” said City Planner Paul Bernal. “I haven’t really heard from the applicant.”
Tom Freeman, spokesman for Chandi Group, initially responded to an email request for additional information, promising to provide an update, but did not do so.
Rumors Suggest Lawsuit
As a condition of approval for the project, the council declined to allow 24-hour operations at the location. This, says Robin Hernandez, who led citizens fighting the plan, may be the reason no progress has been made.
“What I am hearing is ARCO AM/PM values its brand and says their AM/PM means 24 hours and not less than 24 hours,” Hernandez said. “We’re hearing the rumor AM/PM is telling Chandi you don’t get your bonus. He’s not going to get that money if it’s not 24-hours.”
Hernandez said neighbors believe the Chandi Group is awarded a bonus from ARCO for each AM/PM it constructs. She has not confirmed the information.
With no real information to draw on, neighbors are focused on what the developers may do next.
“So, the rumor is they’re thinking of suing the city to get 24-hours,” Hernandez said. “It all comes back to AM/PM wants 24 hours. I can take them (the rumors) all back to one point.”
Hernandez says no one outside Chandi Group really knows what’s going on.
“None of this is from someone who I’d say is an inside source,” she said of the rumors. “It’s information coming to me from different sources in Visalia.”
‘A Family Affair’
While the ARCO project lingers in limbo, an EIR has been approved for the Sequoia Gateway Commerce Center, an 82.8-acre business park that will eventually fill the open fields southeast of the northbound entrance to Highway 198 at Caldwell Avenue.
“We’re been working with that EIR for a long time,” said William Travis, principal owner of development group Sequoia Gateway LLC.
Fred Ruiz, of Dinba-based Ruiz Foods, also has an ownership stake in the company. Travis and Ruiz are former brothers-in-law. Travis said other relatives are also involved.
“It’s kind of a family affair,” he said.
Valley Children’s to Anchor
The initial phase of construction, which still requires county approval, will include construction of Valley Children’s Medical Group’s Specialty Care Center. When the years-long project, which is still being planned, is complete, as many as 30,000 patients per year could be seen at the facility. Project Manager Steven Peck says the addition of Valley Children’s Medical Group was fairly recent.
“We’ve had different tenant mixes and ideas about how to develop it,” he said. “About the middle of last year, we developed a plan that included the Valley Children’s Group.”
Peck says Valley Children’s will make up roughly half of the initial phase of construction.
“The Valley Children’s facility will be half of the first phase,” he said. “They haven’t decided how big that building will be initially.”
Valley Children’s Medical Group already operates offices in Visalia, and constructing a permanent home for administration will be the first order of business. Peck says Valley Children’s portion of the project will eventually take up 60,000 square feet of office space, with that construction taking well into the next decade to complete.
Initial building will include about a quarter of that.
“Our estimate is they’re going to do something in the 10,000 to 15,000 square foot range and add to that over time,” Peck said. “The specific timing hasn’t been determined yet.”
Breaking Ground in 2019
The first phase of building will also include hotels, gas stations, fast food restaurants and similar businesses, he said, and eventually retail shops. Traffic studies of the area estimate more than 76,000 vehicles pass the location daily. Peck says as many as 2,300 new jobs will result from the development, and sales will earn tax revenues of $17 million a year to be shared between Visalia and the county. Visalia, he said, is expected to annex the land.
All of that, however, hinges on approval from county planners. Once they give their nod, the board of supervisors will take one last look at the project, Peck said. Those hurdles should be leaped by year’s end.
“We think we can be out doing the streets and site improvements and grading by probably the end of the first quarter next year,” he said. “We’ll probably spend all of 2019 doing that. In 2020, you’ll see the first buildings.”