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Lodi Planning Commission approves permit for new gas station against school owner’s wishes

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Posted: Thursday, August 9, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:04 am, Thu Aug 9, 2012.

When Fred Ergonis purchased a former Montessori school on Harney Lane with plans to reopen it, he did not envision a gas station across the street.

On Wednesday night, he pleaded with the Lodi Planning Commission to deny the application for a new AM/PM gas station, because he said it is too close to the school he is buying this week and reopening next week.

He cited a statistic saying gas stations make 50 percent of their profit on the sale of liquor and tobacco.

"Unless the city of Lodi wants a beer and cigarette store within 200 feet of a school, they might need to reconsider this," he said.

After much discussion, the commission approved the project's use permit unanimously.

The gas station will be located at the corner of Stockton Street and Harney Lane and open 24 hours a day. The city originally approved a similar project in 2004, but it was never built, so the use permit expired. The Montessori school opened 10 years ago across the street, but has been closed for the last three years. Current owner Terry Tarditi has been maintaining the property and just recently decided to sell it to Ergonis, whose daughters will reopen the school.

So far, 70 families are interested in signing up for the school, Ergonis said. In the past, the school has had 100 students.

"I made a huge financial commitment to this, and now I'm faced with this potential issue. I would plead and beg that you at least reconsider this," Ergonis said. "There are other options for these gentleman that won't impact my situation."

City manager Rad Bartlam said he remembers voicing concerns when the school was approved in the early-2000s because it was in an industrial zone.

There are no state or local regulations controlling how close a school can be to a store that sells alcohol or tobacco, city attorney Steve Schwabauer said.

Without any state or local laws, commissioners Wendel Kiser and David Kirsten said it is not up to the commission to decide.

"It's beyond the scope of our duties," Kiser said. "The reality is we do not have the authority to create any type of guidelines for proximity."

Commissioner Randy Heinitz said there are multiple schools throughout Lodi that are within a block of a gas station or store that sells alcohol or tobacco.

"This is not a new animal. We already have it in our community," he said.

Two neighbors also showed up at the meeting to voice their concerns about having a gas station next to their property.

When he purchased his house, Richard Karsting said his Realtor told him the area behind his house would likely be a small strip mall with shops. His main concern is with the noise that will likely be generated from the car wash, and he said his current renter is already asking for a reduction in rent.

"The only thing I can request of the commission is for them to think if they would live in a house 22 feet from vacuum cleaners," he said.

Resident Connie Ibarra worried about the noise and whether she will still be able to hold family functions in her backyard. She said most of the homes in the area are rentals, so that is why there was a low turnout at the meeting.

She asked for a higher soundwall, but the commission did not grant her request.

"I'm frustrated, I love Lodi, I want to stay in Lodi. I love my house," Ibarra said. "But what's going to happen to my property value? I wouldn't buy a house near a gas station, mini-mart and car wash, and who knows what else."

City staff did put in some restrictions on the business to make it more compatible with the neighborhood. There will be an 8-foot wall to reduce sound, the car wash and vacuums can only operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and the car wash will have doors on either end to reduce the noise, Lodi associate planner Immanuel Bereket said.

Commissioner David Kirsten said he understands the dilemma of the residents and the owner of the school, but they should have checked the zoning and considered all the different possibilities before buying.

"We would like to see the school thrive and to be successful, and for the neighbors to live in peace and harmony but the applicants also have rights. That property was zoned commercial for a long time, and that information was publicly available," Kirsten said.

After the decision, Ergonis said he was disappointed and hopes the families still want to come to the school.

"It seems to me it was a pre-determined decision," he said. "The commission decided to choose beer and alcohol sales over the school that has been there for 10 years."

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.

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  • Elise Middlecamp posted at 7:54 pm on Sat, Aug 11, 2012.

    Elise Middlecamp Posts: 20

    What is this third grade schoolyard politics? How regressive is this commission? It is a fact crime and vagrants will rise in the area. Unlike the statement that there are other gas stations near schools, a gas station this close to a freeway is going to cause problems. Lastly, so now it is OK to sell booze and cigarettes within 200 feet but not regulated medical marijuana? Hopefully we get some more understanding members on this commission.

  • Jay Samone posted at 2:37 pm on Thu, Aug 9, 2012.

    Jay Samone Posts: 359

    All of you who's homes will but t up against the backside of the gas station will have something to worry about. Harney is on it's way out of town, the location is close to the freeway so it is easy access for criminals. I wish someone would have presented a logical argument to the City Commission. I think they would have listened to facts and figures presented to them based on the number of crimes committed within a half mile radius of our gas stations and compare it to those that have no gas stations nearby. This would have been a far more effective way to show that your safety is at risk. Using the argument that there is a school across the street or the possibility of too much noise makes all of you sound like NIMBYs (not in my backyard) and have no credibility.

  • Janice Coe posted at 11:45 am on Thu, Aug 9, 2012.

    silverpony Posts: 1

    As much as I feel for property owners ( I am one also), I have to admit, this is like buying a house close to railroad tracks or airport-then complaining about the noise. Before buying a property, the zone should be checked-no question about it....and if you are buying in the country-a look at the property lines and official survey should be done also-it cost us thousands of dollars when our neighbor decided the house we purchased 30 years ago was on his property-come to find out everyone for 3 miles down the road was 3 feet off! Basically I am saying..do your home work before you purchase, so that you have legal recourse when things like this happen.

  • Kathy Stafko posted at 10:36 am on Thu, Aug 9, 2012.

    MOMMAKAT Posts: 7

    I am a resident/tenant in the neighborhood affected by the building. It will literally be in my backyard. I wonder if the Building Commission took into consideration the effect it will have on all of us. The noise, the filth, lights, safety, etc..... I will no longer feel safe leaving my house to go to work or vacation unless someone is there. Did they, the Commision, consider how easy it will be for someone to now scale the brick wall and burglerize the homes left unattended? NO they did not!! Is it so much to ask of the Commission to raise the soundwall? Ms. Ibarra has a legit concern, as do all of us who have property that backs the proposed development. For the Commision to deny her request outright is not a sound decision on their part. So who are we going to point our fingers at when our homes are burglerized because of the ease with which theives now have access? You Betcha! The Commission, for not granting a simple and logical request to keep our homes safe.



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