The Calistoga Planning Commission on Wednesday agreed for a second time, with a room full of vocal residents, that the town does not need another gas station, especially one of such generic magnitude as proposed by the owners of ‘Loop’ chain of businesses.
The commission rejected a similar version of the same project last August, saying it did not meet requirements to keep with the town’s unique character, and, among other things, violated the town’s General Plan regarding chain businesses.
The ‘Loop’ project called for a 2,300-square-foot, 24-hour, seven-day-a-week convenience store, four fuel pumps, and two additional 1,500-square-foot retail spaces. It also included a 2,000-square-foot car wash with five vacuum stalls, and 39 parking spaces.
The project was proposed by AU Energy of Fremont, which owns and operates 118 gas station locations in Northern California, including one in Napa. Thirty of those include “Loop” branded convenience stores.
The plans presented by the company on Wednesday were for the same community gateway location, the busy intersection of Petrified Forest Road and Foothill Boulevard. The spot is currently occupied by Calistoga Towing Company, auto repair and U-Haul truck rental.
The new plans eliminated the call for a restaurant, relocated the car wash to the south side of the property, and moved the fueling canopy from the front to the back of the building. Architectural variation and styling were also added.
The project was brought before the commission again for feedback for a possible design review application.
Chair Paul Coats noted he was not present for the August meeting when the project was first considered by the commission, but if he had been, he would have discouraged the owners from bringing the project back at all, he said.
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“It doesn’t fit well as a business we need (here in the community). We already have three gas stations. Not one person has supported it. We need to listen to the people that live here. I don’t feel you have the ability to meet General Plan requirements,” he said.
More than a dozen residents spoke before the commission against the project, citing concerns about traffic safety, non-compliance with the General Plan, noise and light pollution, water usage from the car wash, and environmental concerns about continued use of fossil fuel.
The commission also received 11 email and letter responses from the public regarding the proposed project, generally speaking against it, staff said.
Sunny Goyal, COO of the family-run AU Energy, said at the meeting that the plans are flexible and the company would be willing to work with the community on traffic and other concerns. He also said the gas station would evolve over time to meet future needs of customers, but this was not enough to convince the city planners.
Commissioner Alissa McNair said, and Commissioner Tim Wilkes agreed, that the layout of the project was improved, but they were still struggling with the scale of the project and the use of materials on the Craftsman-style buildings, including the faux water tower, which was “overwhelming. It’s something typically seen in a strip mall,” McNair said.
Commissioner Scott Cooper said he agreed with residents’ concerns and said the commissioners’ hands were tied.
“In this case it is clearly a formula business. If everyone was jumping up and down with joy (it would be another matter) but the community has spoken,” he said.