Construction is scheduled to begin soon on new Wendy’s and KFC restaurants in Sonora, but the would-be owner of a planned Dairy Queen near Sonora High School says the project may be doomed.
Andy Singh, who wants to build the Dairy Queen off Highway 49 next to his ARCO ampm at 15 Pesce Way, said he likely won’t be able to move forward unless he can get a break on taxes or fees from the city due to the permitting process taking longer than he anticipated.
“Any kind of help would be nice,” he said. “I’ve been spending time and money for the last five years on this project.”
Jerry Fuccillo, the city’s contract engineer, approved the final civil engineering plans on Monday and a building permit will be issued to Singh’s contractor if and when he hires one.
The Sonora Planning Commission approved the site plans for the Dairy Queen building in November.
Singh’s engineering contractor submitted the building plan to the city on Feb. 26. The city contracts out plan review services to a consulting group called Interwest, which typically has a 14-day turnaround for the initial review and 10-day for any additional reviews.
Rachelle Kellogg, the city’s community development director, said there were three reviews done for Singh’s project before they were approved on June 25 because of issues that needed to be corrected.
The civil engineering plans were initially submitted on March 25 and required two sets of corrections before being approved, Kellog said.
“How long it takes to process an application just depends on how many plan checks occur and how quickly they respond to the comments,” she said. “On larger projects it takes longer than it does on smaller projects.”
Singh said he’s not sure whether to proceed with hiring a contractor now because it’s expected to take at least two months for construction to start after the permits are issued. He wanted the work to start this month or in August to complete the project before the rainy season.
A rundown building on the property would be demolished and replaced by the Dairy Queen, which would have a drive-through window and also sell Orange Julius products.
The building on the site was the home of Sonora Motors for many years and later a Chrysler dealership, but has remained vacant for decades.
Singh said he budgeted up to $2.4 million for the project, but he estimated it will now cost at least $3 million. He’s tried to seek some help from Dairy Queen, but they said there wasn’t much they could do.
“It’s not worth it,” he said. “I cannot get back my investment, and it’s a very risky project now.”
Singh said he’s already spent $500,000 since purchasing the property in 2013 at the same time he and his wife bought the ARCO ampm after moving to Sonora from New York.
The couple saw it as a prime location for such a business because the only other fast-food options are roughly between three and 16 miles away.
Their initial proposal was to build a food court with three or four different eateries, including at least one with a drive-through window that would be open later than other eateries in the area.
Singh wants the city to cut him a break on property or sales taxes to help reduce the costs, or waive some of his fees. The traffic mitigation fee for the drive-through window alone is nearly $300,000, he said.
The Dairy Queen would create approximately 45 jobs, Singh said.
City Administrator Tim Miller said the city has not provided any sort of tax or fee breaks for developers since he started working there in 2010 to his recollection, in large part due to not having enough money for it.
Miller said many cities previously used redevelopment agencies as a tool to provide such incentives, but those were eliminated in 2011 by state lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown.
The $1.7 billion in property tax revenues that the state’s more than 400 redevelopment agencies used to collectively receive was redirected to plug holes in the state budget, which was billions of dollars in the red at the time.
Sonora’s redevelopment agency used to receive about $1.2 million annually.
Miller said he hasn’t been contacted by Singh.
“If he’s got those concerns, he should reach out to the city,” Miller said.
Meanwhile, the city has issued the permit for demolishing the former Denny’s restaurant building in the Timberhills Shopping Center on Mono Way to make way for a new KFC to replace one in The Junction shopping center a little over a mile away.
The new KFC was originally proposed in September 2017, but the planning commission sent back the initial designs to make it look more consistent with the other ones in the area.
Planning commissioners approved the final design of the building in September last year.
All Around Renovations Inc., based in Woodbridge, is the contractor and anticipates the demolition to happen later this month or in early August, according to Kim Campbell, community development specialist for the city.
Campbell said the contractor did not provide a timeline for completion.
Harman Directors Investment owns the property and is based in Los Altos. The company owns the existing KFC franchise in Sonora and a number of others in the western United States.
There are no other pending applications for food-related businesses within the city at this time, Campbell said.
Construction crews have also begun grading the site where a Wendy’s will be located across from the McDonald’s at Mono Way and Sanguinetti Road.
The north side of Mono Way at the intersection is actually outside of the city limits, so the Tuolumne County Community Resources Agency is handling the development process.
Eastbay Equities Inc. is the developer and will operate the franchise upon completion. The land is owned by Sukhjit Sangha, of Fresno.
Josh Thomassen, assistant chief operating officer of Eastbay Equities Inc., said the plan is to complete construction by mid-November. He said they will open soon after completion. They will hire between 30 and 40 people about a month before the opening.
The building’s walls are expected to start going up by the end of August, Thomassen said.
Quincy Yaley, assistant director of the Community Resources Agency, said there were no other pending application for fast-food businesses within the county at this time.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.