The city of Sacramento is laying plans to ban new gas stations, drive-through restaurants and marijuana cultivation businesses within a quarter-mile of light-rail stations, saying those areas should be reserved for transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly uses.
The goal, officials say, is to boost rail ridership at 23 light-rail stations around the city and give more residents the chance of living a car-free lifestyle by paving the way for higher-density housing, job-rich offices and pedestrian-oriented retail in those areas.
"You wouldn't ride light rail to a gas station, but you would ride it to buy groceries, get a haircut or have a meal," planner Jim McDonald said. "This ordinance addresses those uses that absolutely don’t serve" the transit-using public.
Notably, the city launched its rule rewrite amid a bitter court fight with developer Paul Petrovich over his desire to build a 16-pump fuel center in his Crocker Village housing and commercial development project.
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Petrovich has said he hopes to land a Safeway supermarket as a tenant but needs a gas station included to get Safeway to agree. The City Council rejected Petrovich's request for a gas station permit, but a judge in January nullified that council vote and ordered the city to conduct a new hearing on the project. City officials say they instead will appeal that court's ruling to a higher court.
The new ordinance, as written, would include Petrovich's site because it is within a quarter-mile of the Sacramento City College light-rail station, city officials said.
Councilman Jay Schenirer, who led the council opposition to the Crocker Village gas station, proposed creating the transit-related ordinance last October. Speaking to The Sacramento Bee this week, Schenirer said the ordinance is not aimed at Petrovich.
"This is not related to any single development," he said. "It was a broader issue of where we should be going as a city on housing and transit issues, not based on (Crocker) Village at all."
John Dangberg, an adviser to the city manager, echoed that. "I (would) hate to see this progressive policy move by the city get tied to a single project or to the controversy surrounding the litigation regarding Mr. Petrovich, because it is much bigger than that."
Petrovich declined to comment on the city's efforts, a representative said.
The ordinance, still in draft form, would create two zones around each of the city's light-rail stations, one a quarter-mile around, the other a half-mile circle.
Gas stations, mini-storage companies, cannabis cultivation sites, auto service or repair and drive-through restaurants would be prohibited from locating within a quarter-mile of light-rail stations. But they would be allowed to locate outside of a quarter-mile away and inside a half-mile of a station if granted a conditional use permit from the city.
Other businesses that are not considered transit-supportive – such as car lots, auto repair, equipment yards, plant nurseries, manufacturing sites and wholesale outlets – would be allowed anywhere within a half-mile, but only if the city grants them a conditional use permit.
Existing businesses near stations would not be affected by the new rules.
Sacramento Regional Transit leaders say they support the city's effort in hopes of seeing more transit-oriented development similar to the hotel and apartment complexes sprouting up around the 65th Street light-rail station on former industrial and vacant parcels.
"I’m encouraged that this will attract new riders and make public transit a priority," SacRT head Henry Li said. "Smart growth is important to our regional and state goals of reducing congestion and harmful greenhouse gas emissions, while responsibly planning for the future."
And the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the region's transportation planning group, has sent the city several letters pushing for tougher policies on transit-area development. SACOG currently is opposing a request for a permit by Quick Quack Car Wash to build a facility at College Square, near the Cosumnes River Community College light-rail station.
Efrain Corona, a representative of Roseville-based Quick Quack, countered that, in reality, that area already is a high-car-usage site with three drive-through restaurants, a gas station and a large multilevel parking garage. "TOD (transit-oriented development) is no longer feasible" there, he said. "The car counts speak for themselves."
Sacramento city officials said they are still conducting community meetings and fashioning the ordinance and have not set a date for City Council review.
Some residents have been critical of the city's approach, saying it focuses too much on what shouldn't be allowed and not enough on encouraging uses the city and SacRT think are more appropriate.
Several City Council members said the city also should take into account that the areas around light-rail stations are often quite different and that the city should not take a one-size-fits-all approach.
Dangberg said the city also needs to consider where gas stations should be allowed. "We have to encourage gas stations," he said. "Where are the right locations?"
The Crocker Village proposed gas station site, in the far southwest corner of the project, sits on the opposite side of the Union Pacific railroad tracks from the city college light-rail station. The station is connected to Crocker Village by a pedestrian bridge.
City planner McDonald said the ordinance has been drafted to measure the quarter-mile distance as a direct line from the center point of the station platform to the edge of the property.
Attorney Michael Colantuono, a specialist in government law, said the city ordinance likely would pre-empt the Crocker Village station from being built, as long as Petrovich has not already obtained vesting maps and development approvals from the city.
The proposed ordinance would not affect a planned new Raley's supermarket nearby on Freeport Boulevard, because that site is farther than a quarter-mile from light rail. But a Raley's spokeswoman said her company does not plan to include a gas station.
"We’ve never had it in the plans," Raley's spokeswoman Chelsea Minor said. "We heard from the residents a gas station is not what they want."