Safeway gas station may be fast-tracked

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A proposed 16-pump Safeway gas station in the Washington Square shopping center, which drew sharp criticism from several neighbors and businesses, may not require the city's approval since the property's zoning allows for gas stations to be built at that location.

City officials and local gas station owners first raised concerns over Safeway's plans to build the fueling station in town at an August city council meeting. The main concerns included the impact on traffic that a discount gas station could bring to the already busy South McDowell Boulevard and East Washington Street intersection, and the potential that Safeway could take business from other fuel stations by offering gas at below-market rates. But unlike other developments in town that required general plan amendments, environmental impact studies and other reports to the city council, Safeway's property is already designated as commercial land, meaning a gas stations is a permitted use.

Mayor David Glass said that the city's zoning ordinances are crafted in a way that doesn't allow the council to review new development projects if they comply with zoning and land use laws.

"Our city laws have been written under the guise of being 'business friendly,' but what it really means is that we don't review projects that are permitted by the zoning ordinance of any given property," said Glass. "So we may not have discretionary power this time around."

City staff said they are reviewing Safeway's application to make sure it is complete. Senior Planner Heather Hines said that the project will be at the planning commission's discretion, but only in terms of the site's plan and architectural review.

Developer Fulcrum Property has not renewed a handful of tenant leases to vacate space for the planned gas station. While proprietors of the shuttered Petaluma diner Pepper's Restaurant recently chastised Fulcrum for evicting them in order to build the gas station, not all the affected businesses agreed.

Washington Square Veterinary Clinic owner Sharon Johnson said after Fulcrum told her she had to relocate her office because Safeway planned to put a gas station in the plaza, they made the move as easy as possible.

"When I first heard that I had to move and Fulcrum said they would arrange a space in the center of equal size, I never thought it would work out," said Johnson. "But, knock on wood, everything has gone well so far."

Fulcrum built Johnson a new space, only asking her to pay for upgrades and any extra amenities she requested in her new location. Johnson said she plans to open her new office sometime next month near Peet's Coffee - Tea.

Several other businesses have relocated as well. Sonoma Travel has relocated to a new off-site location at 725 E. Washington St., while Curves gym has leased space at 2000 Lakeville Highway. Optometrist Richard Aston has been unable to find a new spot, but said he is pursing options in the city.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at

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