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."