Public hearing extended for proposed downtown Sebastopol car wash

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, January 18, 2021

car wash plan

Plan for the Benedetti Car Wash from Sebastopol City Staff Report

The discussion carries on as to whether an automated car wash has a place beside the applicant’s existing business, Benedetti Tire Service & Express Lube, in Sebastopol’s downtown core.

City council members voiced their support following discussion, voting 4-0 at the Jan. 5 meeting to continue that night’s public hearing on an application to establish the car wash on Sebastopol Avenue to Feb. 16. The council directed staff to outline conditions of approval regarding noise and vapor standards and other measures for Mark Reece, applicant and owner of Benedetti Tire Service & Express Lube.

Councilmember Patrick Slayter recused himself from the proceedings, as he’s the car wash project’s lead architect.

An initial challenge for the envisioned car wash bobbed up as Planning Director Kari Svanstrom delivered the Planning Commission’s recommendation that the council deny Reece’s application for a conditional use permit, variance to the floor area ratio and parcel map.

Potential air pollution from water vapor, traffic and noise impacts factored into the decision, according to Dave Hogan, M-Group contract planner consulting the Planning Department with the project. Planning Commission Chair Evert Fernandez said the commission also encountered a principal debate over whether the car wash aligns with the city’s general plan for a more mixed-use, pedestrian downtown.

“It was a difficult decision because on the one hand, you’ve got a location that’s, ideally, you’re just adding and supporting local businesses, but people had concerns also about the zoning and if it would set a precedent for other businesses,” he said.

Some community members present voiced uneasiness that adding a car wash next to the existing auto repair services would invite more industrial development in the downtown area. Concern that this would discourage housing development also emerged. However, Fernandez said the project may be unique enough that it may not pose an issue for the council.

Hogan said the proposal adopted additional noise mitigation measures, including a 10-foot sound barrier to spare the second-story office workers of the neighboring Chimera Arts and Maker Space.

Reece stood by his blueprint and history operating an independent business, supporting local schools and athletic teams and employing predominantly locals born and raised in or around Sebastopol among his 22 full-time employees.

In terms of traffic, Reece said he believes most express wash customers would already be at the location for other automotive services. The car wash would invite more visits downtown and keep people from seeking suds outside the city, he said.

Reece said the car wash will be designed to use five gallons of water or less to wash a vehicle, recycling and filtering the runoff to pre-wash the next vehicle, with green-certified biodegradable fluids, solar-powered equipment and silencer-installed blower/dryer units to lower noise levels further below the street-level and adjacent property thresholds.

One attendee, Martin, said he works in an office next door to the proposed car wash and views the operation as unlikely to create more local jobs but likely to increase risk of rear-end collisions in the busy intersection of Highway 12 and Petaluma Avenue.

“I sit outside at D’s Diner and listen to the noisy Rotten Robbie car wash, and what an unpleasant experience that made eating outside there, when that was an option,” he also said. “You hear the industrial fans turn on, you hear the hum of cars idling, you often smell the fumes of the car and diesel trucks that are idling, waiting to get washed.”

Earlier, Reece said, “Automotive tire and service-related repairs require a certain amount of tools to perform their duties. These tools do make noise.” But even so, Reece said his business hasn’t had noise complaints yet and that sounds of existing traffic and the Chimera building’s outdoor metalworking come with the territory.

Planning Commissioner Luke Lindenbusch said he voted to dismiss the project because it did not fit the general plan’s intent.

“Do we want to build a downtown for people or for cars?” he asked. “I think we need to be cognizant that this is an area that has been identified for future growth in the downtown core. It’s an area where we want a central growth to keep our vehicle miles traveled low, to be in alignment with our climate goals.”

Hogan said the general plan is carried out by the zoning code that does conditionally permit the proposed car wash in the downtown core district and that the project complies with all relevant development standards, except its floor to area ratio is below the downtown core’s set ratio, requiring an approved variance.

Others praised Reece’s application for offering an eco-friendly alternative car wash, its mostly high compliance and Reece’s support for community groups and local businesses.

“Not quite as glamorous as a bakery or coffee shop certainly, but just as important for a complete and self-reliant neighborhood,” said the project’s assistant architect, Jack Paddon.

Vice Mayor Sarah Glade Gurney said the general plan calls on the city to both promote an atmosphere that supports its businesses and walkability. “And what’s curious here in this circumstance that I think is creating a lot of tension is that we have an outstanding local business that happens to be car-centric. So, we have this clash of values. But I don’t think this business is going to make our community more car-centric if this activity is put on this parcel.”

She said the car wash made sense so long as the applicant met the conditions of being a good neighbor. The council, sans Slayter, ultimately decided to direct staff to draft conditions based on research on noise and vapor standards, possible measures like a door and roof to enclose the vehicle drying area and additional steps for the applicant to take if standards are not met. The public hearing would resume Feb. 16.

At the meeting, the council also reappointed Ted Luthin and Cary Bush to the Design Review Board, with one more vacancy to fill. The council also recognized outgoing Planning Commissioner Patrick Wilson and Mayor Una Glass presented city employees with Years of Service Awards that accumulated throughout 2020 during the pandemic.

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com