Costco gas station gets green light from Signal Hill Council

<strong>A rendering shows the design of the proposed Costco gas station that will include four fueling islands with a total of 16 pumps. Costco representatives said the facility would be able to accommodate 45 to 50 vehicles in queue at a time.  </strong>
Sean Belk
Staff Writer

Costco members will be able to fuel up in Signal Hill beginning next year.
The Signal Hill City Council gave unanimous approval at its Tuesday, Sept. 3 meeting for Costco Wholesale to build a new members-only gas station adjacent to the Signal Hill store at Willow Street and Cherry Avenue.
The 16-pump gas station will be located on a portion of the Towne Center East shopping center’s parking lot between the Wells Fargo stand-alone ATM and the Dawson Avenue driveway.
The Council voted 4-0 to grant a conditional-use permit (CUP) and zoning-ordinance amendment for the project, along with a set of conditions to mitigate potential impacts, such as loss of parking and traffic congestion in and around the shopping center. Councilmember Tina Hansen was absent.
Councilmember Lori Woods, a Costco shopper, expressed enthusiasm about the retailer being able to invest in its Signal Hill location. “First of all, I’m impressed that Costco considers this location viable,” she said. “So I’m excited about the possibilities of it.”
For years, Costco has been searching for a suitable location for a gas station near the more than 136,000-square-foot Signal Hill warehouse, which was once a Price Club. The retailer, however, has been held back by several constraints, including abandoned oil wells and being located near the Willow Ridge condominium complex.
Signal Hill’s sales-tax consultant has indicated that Costco stores that have gas stations, such as the nearest location in Lakewood, generate 15 to 18 percent higher sales than those without gas stations, with the increase attributed to fuel sales and incremental in-store sales.
Jenifer Murillo, manager of real-estate development for Costco, agreed that a potential increase in sales was a major driver in the retailer’s request for the new gas station, adding that it’s a needed accessory for customers.
“We think this was a good warehouse location,” Murillo said. “We wanted to stay here. We just want to offer the same benefits and services to these residents that all the newer Costco’s have… So this is a big push for us as well. We worked with staff to make it the best we think it can be.”
Murillo said Costco hopes to make improvements to the parking lot before the holiday season, with construction of the gas station expected to be from January to March of next year.
According to Costco’s website, gas stations are only open to members, with the exception of Costco Cash Card users, who aren’t required to be members.
Signal Hill resident Bruce Troupe said he will be one of the Costco members fueling up when the new gas station opens next year, since he currently has to pump gas at a location in Orange County, where he works, to get the low prices.
“I think this is a great idea,” he said. “Anyplace that can save me money is a good idea, provided that we mitigate all the concerns of the community.”
Woods added, however, that she is still “skeptical” about Costco’s ability to ease increased traffic at the shopping center, adding that she has seen gas stations at other nearby locations, such as in Cypress, backed up with lines six to 10 cars deep.
“As far as I can tell, employees do a very good job of managing that,” she said. “But there are queues, a line-up of cars, going into parking areas, and they’re always having to manage that.”
Photos by Sean Belk/Signal Tribune<br><strong> A customer walks to his car from the Costco warehouse at 2100 E. Willow St. in Signal Hill. The wholesale discount retailer plans to build a new members-only gas station on the parking lot adjacent to the store.  </strong>
Murillo said the gas station is designed to accommodate 45 to 50 vehicles in queue at a time, which is in the retailer’s 95 percentile for capacity. Some locations have older gas stations with only three fueling islands, but the Signal Hill gas station is designed after the new models and will offer four islands, she said, adding that that business also fluctuates depending on the price of gas.
“I know there are some gas stations that back up,” Murillo said. “The one across the street from my house is the busiest one on the mainland, so I understand the concern there. Being a membership warehouse, members learn pretty [quickly]… You learn the times to go and the times that are the least amount of queue.”
Costco’s gas stations are mostly self-serve but do have an attendant on site to help customers and assist with maneuvering traffic during the gas station’s operating hours, which will be from 6am to 9:30pm on weekdays and 6am to 7pm on weekends.
Scott Charney, Signal Hill director of community development, said Costco has also agreed to a number of conditions that would help alleviate traffic impacts as well. Some of the conditions were proposed to address concerns brought forward by residents during a Planning Commission hearing earlier this year.
According to a staff report, Costco’s consultant, Kittelson & Associates, prepared a traffic-impact analysis on the project. Mitigation measures include removing the existing “dip” at the Willow Street and Dawson Avenue driveway and re-striping three lanes along the same driveway.
Other conditions include a new striping plan for Junipero Avenue and additional red-curb striping along Combellack Drive. Costco has included directional signage to help deter gas-station customers from driving directly in front of businesses in the shopping center.
Costco has also agreed to perform a traffic study on the gas station about a year after the opening of the facility.
In terms of parking, the new gas station is expected to eliminate 110 parking spaces. However, Costco plans to reconfigure its parking lot by removing trees, which would result in a net loss of 13 spaces. City officials said Costco still meets city requirements for parking.
Costco has also recently modified its landscape plans to include additional “diamond planters” with trees while increasing the size of some existing planters, resulting in “a zero net loss of trees.”
As a final condition, Costco has agreed to allow the City to coordinate an annual community forum in which the public would be able to submit comments on impacts from the gas station or other operations and give Costco the opportunity to respond in advance of the annual review of the CUP.
The Council also requested that Costco report back on the status of the gas station within six months of the facility’s opening.
Olivia Walker, who lives in the Willow Ridge condominium complex, however, said she still wasn’t satisfied with the City’s conditions for keeping Costco accountable, adding that she already contends with noise from trucks at night.
“I know there was an attempt to create a venue for us to voice our concerns,” she said. “I really wonder what will motivate Costco to be a good neighbor and consider our concerns if they really only have to meet annually and then they get to respond when already they don’t enforce or control the issues that we already face.”
<strong> The new 16-pump, members-only Costco gas station will be located on a portion of the Town Center East shopping center’s parking lot between the Wells Fargo stand-alone ATM and the Dawson Avenue driveway.   </strong>
Other Council Highlights:
Realignment funding The Council unanimously approved the award of $25,000 in funding from the State of California for compliance and enforcement efforts related to AB109, the state-prison realignment law passed in 2011 to reduce overcrowding in prisons. The funds will be allocated to the Signal Hill Police Department for detective services and police overtime as part of the fiscal year 2012-2013 budget. The City has been awarded the funds based upon the number of post-released supervised persons in the local community and expected compliance and enforcement activities.
Watershed management program The Council voted 3-0 to approve two memorandums of understanding with the Gateway Water Management Authority, known as GWMA, to develop a Watershed Management Program and Coordinated Integrated Monitoring Program for the Lower Los Angeles River and the Los Cerritos Channel. Councilmember Woods abstained. The City’s share of the costs for developing watershed-management programs and coordinated monitoring plans in Fiscal Year 2013-14 will be limited to $29,000 and $35,000, respectively, for a total cost of $64,000, according to a staff report.
Right to Know and Vote The Council unanimously approved entering into a $24,736 contract with Adler Public Affairs, owned by Signal Hill-based political consultant Jeff Adler, to manage the City’s public-information program on the Right to Know and Vote Initiative that will be on the ballot during a special election in June 2014. The program will provide informational material to Signal Hill voters, according to a staff report.
Community garden City staff presented the Council with the conceptual design for the proposed community garden at 1917 E. 21st St. in Signal Hill and reviewed proposed guidelines and fees for gardeners. The garden space, which became available to the City after the property was significantly damaged by a fire, includes 26 plots, with two of those available for people with disabilities. The cost estimate for developing the garden is more than $120,000. After estimating costs for staff time, maintenance and water for the garden, city staff anticipates costs to purchase a plot will be $175 per space per year, in addition to a $100 refundable deposit that would cover the cost of a landscaper removing plant material and clearing the garden for replanting if a plot was left abandoned. However, the Parks and Recreation Commission has approved a request to instead offer a six-month contract rather than the full-year contract, particularly for the first year or two, in response to concerns that the price for plots is too high.

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