A used car dealer whose lot was taken by the city when it widened Santa Rosa Avenue a few years ago cannot relocate his business to a recreational vehicle sales lot just north of Highway 12 because the city is trying to encourage less auto-dependent land uses near downtown.
During a meeting Thursday, Planning Commission members expressed sympathy for the plight of George Dibs but said his plan to buy the lot where Bob's Travel Center has operated for 25 years and begin selling cars there conflicted with long-range plans calling for the neighborhood to be more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.
Commissioner Peter Stanley said he agonized over the decision but felt bound by the zoning guidelines of the city's Station Area Plan meant to guide growth around the future downtown train station.
"We're not kicking the Dibses out of their business and we're not kicking the Montgomerys out of their business," Stanley said, referring to Bob Montgomery, who has run the travel center since 1987 and is hoping to retire. "We're saying that this community came together, whether you agree with it or not, and they passed zoning requirements and restrictions for that area of the Station Area Plan."
Several speakers blasted the commission for blocking a viable business deal that was important to two longtime businessmen and for adhering to a plan whose goals were either lofty or ill conceived.
"This is not a pedestrian area," said Jane Duggan, the real estate agent on the deal. "For the next 20 years, it's going to be what it is. It's a thoroughfare."
Rosa Koire, an activist who opposes the plan's goals of higher density, mixed-use development downtown, condemned the commission.
"The Dibses are being victimized by your adherence to this ideology," she said, claiming that the city wants to see "the Windsor Town Green on Santa Rosa Avenue."
But Supervising Planner Clare Hartman explained that auto dealers are a more intensive use than RV sales in terms of traffic. RV sales can continue in that location indefinitely, but any new use, such as auto sales, cannot be more intensive, she said.
City staff denied the project and Dibs appealed to the commission, which rejected his appeal on a 6-0 vote.
Commissioners said it was a challenging decision because it was both emotionally charged and involved highly technical zoning rules.
"This is probably the most technical, legal exercise that the commission has gone through in years," Chairwoman Patti Cisco said.
Dibs' team argued that auto sales wouldn't be a more intensive use of the property, noting that RVs take up far more space on the property than cars would.
But several residents of the adjacent Burbank Gardens Neighborhood, many of whom worried about people taking test drives down quiet residential streets, urged the commission to follow the long-range plan for the area.
"There is a specific dream here and it's not auto oriented," said neighbor Judy Kennedy.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum @pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater