The battle to stop construction of an AM/PM gas station at Caldwell Avenue and West Street in Visalia isn’t over yet, but the opposition appears to be slowing down.
Not Quite Dead
Residents of the south Visalia neighborhood hoped the project was stalled by their earlier fight against the construction. There were no signs the project was moving forward until a notice of an alcohol sales license transfer appeared on a for-sale sign still standing in the open field where an ARCO filling station may yet appear.
While the notice lists the applicant as El Centro Corner, Inc., that company is owned by the same individuals who own and operate Chandi Group USA. Calls to the phone number for El Centro Corner reroute to Chandi Group USA.
“These guys won’t quit,” said resident Bill Reeser, whose family home is across the street from the site. “They’re insidious.”
Last autumn, residents of the south Visalia neighborhood were shocked to learn Southern California real estate developer Chandi Group USA planned to build what would have been the city’s largest gas station in the midst of some of the Visalia’s most expensive residential real estate.
Banding together in their upset, the neighbors managed to win several concessions from Chandi and City Hall. A scaled-down plan calls for a gas station with just 12 hoses that may not operate around the clock.
Also missing from the original plan are a car wash and drive-through restaurant. The size of the convenience store was also reduced to 3,700 square feet.
For Robin Hernandez, a resident of the area who led the fight against Chandi’s plans, the concessions were a victory.
“I feel like we fought and we won,” she said. “We knocked it down from a monster to something doable.”
Down But Not Out
A rumor seemed to make the neighbors’ apparent victory even more complete. ARCO–the parent company of AM/PM–wouldn’t allow its franchisees to operate a site if it could not remain continuously open, or so the rumor ran.
Now, it looks as if that was wishful thinking.
And Hernandez is done fighting.
“If somebody wants to do it, that’s wonderful,” she said of possible opposition to the gas station’s construction. “Somebody else needs to do this. I’m going to work toward a grocery store.”
Hernandez would like to see an ALDI Market constructed there or nearby, and fighting the AM/PM’s liquor license would, she says, be “counterproductive.”
Reeser, however, isn’t ready to give up the battle.
“I’m like at ground zero,” he said.
His home is just yards away from where the AM/PM may stand someday very soon. He plans to keep struggling against it.
While plans for construction have been scaled back considerably, the market and gas station will still be open 20 hours a day.
Even with no plans for a car wash and drive through restaurant, Reeser is still concerned about traffic, noise and reduced property values.
“In that 4-hour time frame (when the store will be closed) is when they’re going to be doing deliveries,” he said.
The city has placed limits on the time when deliveries may be made to the store.
Too Much Booze
Reeser says he intends to file a protest against the issuing of a liquor sales license for the site. There is already an excessive number of such licenses nearby, he said.
“One of the problems is there’s like 19 liquor licenses in a one-mile radius,” he said. “I don’t want to add to a situation.”
According to the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board, that number may actually be higher. The ABC’s guidelines call for two to three licenses per square mile.
The nearest alcohol sales point to the proposed AM/PM is across the street to the north, at a convenience store where gas is also sold.
The site is also less than one mile from the city’s busiest shopping district on Mooney Boulevard, where dozens of locations sell alcohol.
Currently, Visalia businesses have 133 liquor license–one for every 1,000 residents of the city–an average of four per square mile.
Consumption of alcohol may lead to problems that concern Reeser and which he would rather not have in his otherwise fairly calm area of Visalia.
“Liquor has a tendency to create violence and drunk drivers,” he said.
Those who wish to protest the issuance of the liquor license have 30 days from the date the notice was posted. It appeared in mid-December.