Opponents of a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant at the northeast corner of Fir Drive and Mono Way in Sonora will have to come up with $1,000 in less than 10 days if they want to appeal the Tuolumne County Planning Commission’s approval of the project at a public meeting Wednesday night.
Several residents who live on Fir Drive attended the meeting and raised deep concerns about the safety of using the street as an access point for the planned 2,600-square-foot commercial business that’s expected to generate as much as 413 vehicle trips per day.
“Basically what we’re all saying is you’re asking us to compromise our safety for this guy’s business,” said Anne Milberg, of Fir Drive. “I think you need to think about that and hopefully deny the project, or maybe put in a different kind of project that wouldn’t be so impactful on traffic.”
Milberg said she purchased her home on the street prior to the construction of the East Sonora Bypass and has seen the number of accidents and near misses increase since it was completed.
Commissioner Charlotte Frazier, who also serves as chairwoman of the Tuolumne County Republican Central Committee, specifically addressed Milberg after public comments had ended and told her that it wasn’t in the commission’s purview to choose what type of business goes into the location.
Milberg tried to respond but was told it was not time for public comments.
Commissioner Peter Rei backed up Frazier’s point and said the site is zoned for commercial, meets all of the requirements, and therefore he didn’t see any way to deny it.
The commission delayed a decision after hearing the concerns from residents at a meeting last month for a traffic study to be conducted.
According to county planners, the traffic study showed that delivery trucks could safely navigate the proposed driveways on Mono Way and Fir Drive and exit back onto Mono Way, the project would not increase the risk of accidents at the intersection, and ultimately would not have “appreciable impact on the capacity or safety of Fir Drive.”
While the property owner is listed on county documents as “Sukhjit Sangha, et al.,” the business would be owned and operated by Eastbay Equities Inc., based in Pleasant Hill.
Joshua Thomassen, district manager of Eastbay Equities Inc., said they are a family-owned Wendy’s operation that has been in business for 42 years throughout Northern California and the Bay Area.
Thomassen said he believed the estimated maximum of 413 vehicle trips per day sounded realistic to him in response to a question from Commissioner Heidi Lupo, who said the number concerned her.
Holly Britton, who owns Front Porch at 905 Mono Way with her husband, Zach Britton, said she had concerns about the safety of the intersection both for the residents who live nearby and her employees who have to travel through it to get to work.
She also said she’s in favor of a economic growth and new businesses coming to the county, but feels that every time she turns around there’s a new dollar store or fast-food restaurant being developed.
She noted that her husband is the eldest grandson of the late Harvey McGee, former longtime owner of The Union Democrat, who published many editorials over the years warning of major corporations squeezing out small, locally owned businesses.
“That business at that place at this time may not be the best decision,” she said. “Both for the safety of the residents there and those of us that travel that intersection regularly, and for the vision that we had really hoped the direction of Sonora would really go.”
After both sides had gotten a chance to speak, the commission voted 5-1 to approve a site development permit for the project.
Lupo was the only commissioner to vote against the project. She said that she voted no because she believed it would lead to unintended consequences down the road.
“I couldn’t in good conscience approve this project,” she said after the meeting.
Commissioner Cole Przybyla was absent.
Quincy Yaley, assistant director of development for the county Community Resources Agency, informed those in attendance that if they wanted to appeal the decision to the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors they would have to file it within 10 days of the decision and pay a $1,000 fee, which used to be $164 prior to September.
Appealing decisions now costly process
The board approved increasing the appeal fee from $164 to $1,000 at a public meeting on Sept. 18 as part of many changes to user fees charged by county departments following a study conducted last year to determine if they were too low or too high.
Officials initially recommended increasing the appeal fee from $164 to $500, but the county Finance Committee, headed by District 2 Supervisor Randy Hanvelt and District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer, decided to double the proposed amount because $1,000 is still said to be less than the cost of staff time for processing the appeals.
“Just wanted to be clear, so those aren’t punitive,” Rodefer said at the Sept. 18 meeting after asking Yaley to clarify why the amount was increased. “It’s just recouping some of our costs.”
Appeals have been used by citizens at times in recent years to delay and, in some cases, halt certain development projects from moving forward.
The process led to stopping a proposed Dollar General store from being built near Columbia State Historic Park that was widely opposed by the community. After the commission approved a site development permit for the store, the board voted 3-0 to overturn the decision upon appeal in early 2016.
Rodefer had to recuse himself from the decision because he said he had unknowingly signed a petition against the project, while District 4 Supervisor John Gray recused himself because his partner had represented property owners who had dealings at the time with the Texas-based Dollar General developers.
Later that same year, the commission denied a site development permit for a Dollar General store in Lake Don Pedro that was requested by the same developers.
The board overturned the commission’s denial of the permit for the Don Pedro store in early 2017 after the developer’s appealed the decision, with supervisors saying they couldn’t deny the permit because the developers had followed all of the county requirements.
Also in 2017, a group appealed the commission’s approval of a site development permit for a proposed commercial business and shopping plaza called the Stone Mill Center near Parrotts Ferry and Union Hill roads.
Supervisors voted unanimously to uphold the commission’s approval of the permit for the project, which was backed by a group private investors led by developer Gary Simning.
The opposition later sued the board over the decision, but lost the battle in court. Simning said the whole ordeal added upwards of $100,000 in costs to the project, which still has yet to be built.
Some of the Fir Drive residents opposed to the Wendy’s project vowed to fight against it while addressing the commission, including Steve Case, who said he’s been involved with local development projects and believes the county has the ability to say no.
“As a community, we’re going to fight it,” Case vowed before going to his seat.
No one had appealed the decision as of Thursday.
Case said in an interview on Thursday that the community is still working on the plans to file an appeal. He believes the traffic mitigations are flawed and that anyone who travels through the intersection should be concerned as well.
“The comment they’re not supposed to be picking and choosing, if not them then who?” he said of the commission. “Their job is to make sure their making smart growth decisions for the community.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.