January 18, 2021
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Proposed Sebastopol car wash gets second chance

By: Brandon McCapes
January 8, 2021

A local business owner will have another chance to add an automated car wash next to two existing automotive businesses on his property in downtown Sebastopol. The city council reviewed the project following denial at the Planning Commission during their regular meeting Jan. 5.

The city council held a public hearing Tuesday for plans submitted by Mark Reece, owner of Benedetti Tire Service and Express Lube, located at 6809 Sebastopol Ave. to subdivide his existing property to add a third commercial parcel in the southern portion of the lot. The city council would have to vote to approve a variance to allow for the added business, which would result in a floor area ratio below municipal code requirements.

Reece originally submitted the application in March 2019, with the project coming before the Planning Commission in September 2020. After three meetings, the Planning Commission voted to recommend the city council deny the project, making the town’s elected representatives Reece’s last option to win approval.

The project would require the construction of a new building and issuance of a conditional use permit, with issues like traffic, environmental impact and noise mitigation the main concerns addressed by council members and members of the public in the five-hour regular meeting.

The plan brought up comparisons to the Rotten Robbie business on Healdsburg Ave. with Reece and his business associates calling the project the “antithesis” of Rotten Robbie. Reece has worked at Benedetti Tires nearly since its inception 42 years ago and currently staffs 22 employees. Reece also provides opportunities for local high school students interested in the automotive industry to gain vocational experience, he said.

Proponents of the project advocated for making the Sebastopol community more self-sufficient by providing car wash services in the downtown area, and praised Reece’s efforts to reduce environmental and noise impacts, which include quiet, resource efficient machines, a sound wall to reduce noise and a design to reduce traffic congestion on Sebastopol Ave.

Opponents of the project, including Planning Commissioners who spoke during public comment, argued that the project would conflict with other nearby uses as well as the General Plan’s goals for the downtown area. Opponents also raised concerns over the effect the car wash could have on adjacent offices.

Council members were open to the project, however, they wanted to be sure the project’s unique nature as an additional automotive-related service on a lot already two other automotive-related services, was noted so that the project would not set a precedent for similar modifications required for other potential businesses.

“When I look at this property, it seems to be particularly unique because it has other auto services in the property. I think as a town we can identify what makes this unique and avoid setting a precedent,” Councilmember Diana Rich said.

Mayor Una Glass said that despite the exemptions from parts of the municipal code that the project would require, the council could work with city staff and the applicant to assure the goals adherence to the goals laid out in the General Plan.

“This business is in our downtown corridor and our General Plan calls for creating more density in this area.” Glass said. “The reason why you do that is it creates gravity--it creates a place for people to come to. The concern is really with that, in my opinion. How do we say this use fits in that context.”

After a lengthy discussion, council members voted unanimously to direct city staff to work on issues identified by officials and members of the public and continued the application to their Feb. 16 meeting. Former Mayor and current Councilmember Patrick Slayter, the lead architect on the car wash project, recused himself from the item.


Other City Council News:

The city council re-appointed two members of the Design Review Board to their seats. Ted Luthin and Cary Bush will continue to serve on the DRB, with one seat--that of Gregory Beale--yet to be filled. The DRB, which meets on the first and third Wednesdays each month, reviews development projects to ensure project designs are design quality is in adherence to city standards and goals.

Properties just out of town at 726 and 732 Robinson Road will be connected to the city’s water and sewer systems after the council approved an application from property owners. The properties, which use septic tanks and their own water systems, lie just outside the city limit but within the urban growth boundary. Property owners will be responsible for construction and other ancillary costs.

“We want to join the community. It’s crazy for us to be drawing out of the groundwater when we’re so close to the city services,” one of the applicants said.