NEWMAN - A proposed convenience store, fueling station and car wash got the green light last week from the Newman Planning Commission.

Commissioners approved the site plan, two conditional use permits and a variance, paving the way for construction of an ARCO AM/PM where an auto dealership and bus company stood for many years on the west side of Highway 33 between Kern and Mariposa streets.

A project description details plans for a 24-hour convenience store/fueling station, and a car wash that would be limited primarily to daytime hours. As a condition of approval, the car wash can operate only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily.

Discussion focused largely on the technical aspects of the proposal.

Justin Hendrix, city planner, noted that the project is consistent with Newman’s general plan and Highway 33 plan, and had passed muster with the city’s Architectural Review Committee.

That group, he noted, suggested a number of aesthetic changes which will create consistency with the appearance of the city’s historic downtown and and downtown plaza.

Traffic was another point of discussion.

To minimize the traffic impacts on the fire station located directly across Highway 33 to the east, access off the highway will be right in, right out only. Access points are also located off Mariposa and Kern Streets.

“I appreciated the right in, right out traffic (configuration) due to the impact on the fire station,” noted commission member Leland Coleman. “I also appreciate the architectural elements that will be reflecting the elements of the downtown plaza.”

Traffic later came up for discussion when community member Kristy Cordeiro voiced concerns about the location and potential hazards for pedestrians.

The project site is a high-traffic intersection which is also heavily traveled by students crossing Highway 33 on foot, she pointed out. The convenience store and gas station would be better suited at highway locations on the north or south edge of town, Cordeiro suggested.

Traffic engineer Ken Anderson, however, said a number of considerations went into the traffic design.

He said the design spreads out the traffic to a point where the number of cars at each access point is not excessive, and that the drives have clear lines of sight.

“I don’t think that the school situation requires us to do something different with the site,” he stated.

The convenience store will be a magnet for students, Coleman predicted. Keeping that in mind, he said, bicycle racks should be a requirement of the project.

“That is one of the requirements,” Hendrix assured the commission. “We will make sure that they are there.”

Ultimately, the commission made only two refinements to the staff recommendations.

After extensive discussion following concerns voiced by commission member Kari Thompson, the city changed the required height of a screening wall to the west side of the property from eight feet to 10 feet.

While noise was one consideration, Thompson said she was also concerned that the eight-foot fence would not provide an adequate line-of-sight barrier between the project site and the homes across the alley to the west. Thompson said she was particularly concerned with high-profile truck traffic - particularly vehicles equipped with forward facing cameras which typically sit above driver eye level.

“An eight foot wall may break the driver’s line of sight, but cameras will capture back yards and into windows,” she stated.

City staff indicated that the proposed wall height was based on noise studies rather than line-of-site considerations, and said the only large trucks using the site will be be fuel tankers. City Manager Michael Holland said staff did not believe the higher wall was necessary, but left the matter for commission deliberation.

That issue was settled - and ultimately written in as a condition of approval - when a project representative relayed word that the developer was willing to include the higher wall.

The commission also agreed, at Thompson’s suggestion, to strike a proposed on-street parking ban on the Mariposa Street project frontage.

Parking on the site is actually less than the city’s code requires, Thompson noted, so the on-street parking to the north may be needed for employees. That area is also used for community parking at times, she said.

The commission agreed to maintain on-site parking on the Mariposa Street side of the project. There will be no frontage parking along Highway 33 or Kern Street.

The potential of soil contamination from past site uses and question of responsibility in that circumstance was also discussed.

Hendrix said that an initial environmental study indicated that the likelihood of contamination is minimal. Additional soil testing will be required as the project moves forward, and that if any remediation is required the responsibility will fall to the property owner.

“That is not the city’s responsibility,” he emphasized.

The commission granted the necessary approvals by a 4-0 vote. With that, Hendrix said, the project has the green light to move ahead.

“They are free to move forward,” the planner told Mattos Newspapers. “They are on a fast pace. You could see construction there by this summer.”