San Juan hotel developer fuels gas station debate

Frank Leal now owns the San Juan Inn property.

An overcapacity crowd flowed into San Juan Bautista City Hall on Tuesday evening to mostly voice opposition to a planned gas station and convenience store expected for the area near Highway 156 and the San Juan Inn.
The city council voted 5-0 to review mitigation efforts by the project’s developers and bring it back to city staff for further study. They also voted unanimously to approve the project on the condition that the legality of an appeal made by Frank Leal, the owner of Leal Vineyards, Inc. that recently purchased the nearby San Juan Inn, could be addressed before the planning commission.
“It’s our contention those (mitigation) measures are inadequate,” said Daniel De Vries, the attorney for Leal Vineyards. “We don’t believe this project … is consistent with a nice neighborhood.”
Leal Vineyards, a Hollister-based winery, had purchased the San Juan Inn on Jan. 17 and filed an appeal of the planning commission’s approval of the Arco project at their meeting on Feb. 4.
De Vries denounced the city for not doing a traffic study along the highway. He also said the developer provided a “lack of specifics” on how it would address mitigation effects.
“These are special places,” he said. “That is a quiet residential street. We’re San Juan Bautista. We’ve demanded the best for the last 100 years.”
John McCormack, the real estate broker for the developer, defended the mitigation efforts in a PowerPoint presentation.
“They (the city) proceeded with a negative declaration with full analysis including a traffic study,” he said, noting that the city had concluded the project would not have an impact on traffic.
He defended the plan and said the project was well within the city’s general plan, noting that the site has been zoned commercial for a long time.
“We have consistently met or exceeded your requests,” he said.
He also took umbrage to the notion a McDonald’s would be brought in as part of the plan, as some residents had suggested.
“We have no agreement with McDonald’s – the dreaded monster – or Arco, for that matter,” he said. “We’re not contractually bound to anybody.”
He said he wanted to help improve the “quality of life” of the people in town and improve “economic opportunities.”
“We want to attract tourists who are driving along 156 to stop,” he said. “You have an opportunity to bring and stop people here.”
More than 25 people spoke up either for or against the proposed gas station. Tod duBois, a resident of the town, defended the project.
“We need to get things done in this town, and that’s the bottom-line issue,” he said. “We got to stop the fearmongering. A rising tide helps everyone.”
Elaine Reyna, another resident, said she lived across the street from the San Juan Inn and said she was concerned about the traffic along the highway.
“I was nearly taken out twice by semis blowing through,” she said. “I am for enterprise.”
Residents and the council members were concerned about children crossing the highway to get to the gas station at night.
Councilman Robert Lund said whether they build the gas station, kids would still cross the highway.
“Not matter what is there, it’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s just a fact.”
He said he supported the project because the city was in dire need of money.
“We’re in big-time debt,” he said.
Ruben Lopez, who also lives in the neighborhood close to the proposed project, said he would like another gas station in town because the current Valero gas station is too expensive – and he has to drive into Hollister to get gas.
“They need competition,” he said. “We’re not going to please everyone.”
Councilman Tony Boch concurred.
“We can’t make contingencies for everything that might happen,” he said. “I don’t want this town to die. If we stop all development, all building, whatever you want, you’re going to die.”
Another resident of the nearby neighborhood, Ruben Gonzalez, worried about crime and alcohol use at the gas station, as well as safety issues.
“We have to think about drinkers buying booze late at night,” he said. “San Juan is a destination area. You’re hopeful it (the gas station) might bring people in.”
Ray Sanchez, who lives near the San Juan Inn, said he had never heard from the developer.
“Call me naive. Call me selfish, but I live directly across from that (area) day and night,” he said. “As a resident of that area, I absolutely do not want it.”
He wondered if the gas station might be moved somewhere else. Other residents asked if the city had considered a visitor’s center or an expansion of the San Juan Inn, as Leal Vineyards proposed.
“The city does not put a visitor’s center on a piece of property,” Councilman Rick Edge said. “We don’t put up the gas station. We listened to people who have money that want to put in a project.”
Mayor Andy Moore said a visitor’s center or other efforts to bring in tourism to the city would depend upon the city’s finances.
“If you want signage, this is how we do it,” he said. “We need revenue. We got to keep our lights on.”

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