The Sonora Planning Commission Monday night postponed a decision on issuing a permit that would allow a KFC restaurant to relocate to the Timberhill Shopping Center until the developer makes revisions to the exterior design of the proposed building..

City planners recommended the approval of a design-review permit based on the franchisee agreeing to make the design look more like the other buildings in the shopping center. However, commissioners wanted to wait until they could see the changes for themselves.

“We really want to see it happen and be a part of Sonora’s restaurant business, but I’d like to see how they’re going to put it together,” said Commissioner John Richardson.

Harman Management Corporation, a Los Altos-based company that owns KFC franchises in California, Colorado, Utah and Washington, wants to move the existing KFC at The Junction shopping center in East Sonora to the site of a former Denny’s restaurant at 1001 Mono Way.

Rather than require the company to revise plans for the restaurant before Monday’s meeting, city planners recommended approving the permit with the required changes in an effort to expedite the process.

Some of the changes the city required included incorporating a sloped roof, Spanish tile, and stacked rock as opposed to brick along the base of the building, similar to the other buildings in the plaza.

Sharon Marovich, chairwoman of the Tuolumne Heritage Committee, said her group was strongly opposed to the plans originally submitted to the city and described the look as a “cookie cutter” KFC design.

Marovich urged the commission to postpone the decision until the company submits the new plans.

“I don’t think we’re in any kind of a hurry,” Marovich said. “We would just encourage you to do your due diligence and actually see what they want to propose.”

In addition, Marovich asked the city to make the developer complete a traffic study because the restaurant will have a drive-thru window and potentially increase traffic along Mono Way and in the bustling shopping center that also includes Save Mart, Carl’s Jr. and a number of other businesses.

Marovich added that the new cancer center under construction by Adventist Health Sonora at the northeast corner of Mono Way and Greenley Road is also expected to increase traffic in the area.

“When you look cumulatively at the traffic out there, it’s going to be a nightmare,” Marovich said.

Rachelle Kellogg, city community development director, said she and her staff would review whether the city could require a traffic study for the project while awaiting the developer to submit revised plans.

“We need to make sure what requirements that city can impose or can’t impose on the project,” Kellogg said. “When the project comes back, we’ll either A, have a traffic analysis or B, explain why there isn’t one.”

Paula Daneluk, the city’s planning consultant, cast doubt on the city being able to require a traffic study because the project is less than 2,500 square feet in size and therefore does not fall under the city’s requirements for a site plan review.

A site plan review is not required for any projects less than 5,000 square feet in size under the city’s existing ordinances. Such a review allows the city to impose requirements based on other aspects of the project beyond just the design, such as parking and traffic circulation.

Daneluk revealed that she and Kellogg are working on changes to the ordinance that would reduce the threshold for the review.

“I definitely recommend changing it,” Daneluk said in an interview after the meeting. “I think it’s ridiculous that you don’t have site plan approval over any changes to a site under 5,000 square feet.”

Commissioner Gary Anderson asked whether there was any plans to install a stoplight at the main entrance into the shopping center.

The hospital would have been required to put a light at the entrance of the shopping center if it allowed left turns onto Mono Way from the new cancer center property.

However, Kellogg said the hospital decided to forfeit any left turns onto Mono Way from the property.

Marovich suggested that the commission decline to allow a drive-thru window at the proposed restaurant if a traffic study can’t be required, which would be something it could do as part of the design review process.

Several commissioners expressed concerns about the traffic issue, including Chairman Chris Garnin.

“I’m suspicious of traffic impacts,” Garnin said. “There’s a lot going on at the intersection (Mono Way and Greenley Road) right now. It’s the busiest intersection in the city, and probably in the county.”

Travis Gutke, real-estate director for Harman Management Corporation, said in a telephone interview after the meeting that the company anticipated the city would require changes to the proposed design of the building.

Gutke also said the company would do a traffic study if required by the city.

“We would like to avoid having to do that because of the added costs, but that’s out of our control,” Gutke said. “If they determine they need to see a traffic study and that’s what they require, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Though the company plans to eventually move the existing KFC in The Junction shopping center to the proposed new location, Gutke said that could be a year or more away from happening because of the lease for the current building.

Gutke said some advantages of the new location would be better visibility, access and the company would own the building as opposed to leasing it.

A number of comments to a previous article in The Union Democrat about the project expressed dissatisfaction with service the existing KFC in East Sonora, but Gutke said he’s not involved with the day-to-day operations of the franchises.

“That’s something I can direct our operations guys to look at,” Gutke said. “If there are major issues like that, I’m sure they’re aware and hopefully trying to make corrections to it.”

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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