"What really disturbs me is how close the car wash is to residences," said council member Ronit Bryant. "It's incredibly close. That's simply inappropriate."
The City Council voted 5-0 to overturn the approval of a mechanized car wash and 24-hour convenience store to be built at the Shell gas station at Shoreline Boulevard and El Camino Real. Council members John Inks and Tom Means abstained.
The car wash would have been placed along the rear of the site, 23 feet from the nearest home. The placement "maximizes noise and disruption on the neighborhood," said Anne McLaughlin, who spoke for the appellants.
Some characterized the 2,600 square foot convenience store and similarly sized car wash as the equivalent of a "truck stop."
Mayor Mike Kasperzak noted the "sugar, salt and fat" content of the food that would be sold there. And several council members said there wasn't enough parking for the store, as the city counted gas pump island spaces to meet required number. The removal of four heritage trees was also a major concern.
"Truck stops work on I-5," said council member Laura Macias, referring to the interstate freeway. "This isn't I-5."
Some opponents referenced efforts to turn El Camino Real into a "Grand Boulevard," efforts that have led to comparisons with a famous street in Paris, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, with its wide sidewalks and large trees.
"Last time I was on the Champs-Élysées I did not see a mini-mart," said Mountain View Avenue resident John Clark, "I don't see how tearing down one gas station and building the equivalent to a truck stop is adding to that in any way."
He added that "If you want to add more jobs I suggest a hand car wash, not a mechanized car wash."
To address car wash noise, the owner promised to meet a 55 decibel limit the city enforces for stationary equipment, and would not have been allowed to open the car wash until it did. But neighbors said they saw no analysis that proved the car wash and its loudest components would meet that requirement. As neighbors watched, council members spent considerable time questioning the noise engineer and the noise study he conducted, paid for by the gas station owner and reviewed by a city consultant.
Bob Marshak, a mechanical engineer who said he lives right against the site of the proposed car wash, said there were "holes" in the study, such as how even at the same decibel level, "the human ear perceives noise differently at different frequencies. There's none of that in the study."
"Maybe there's a reason there's no other car washes like this located (in Mountain View), because it's not a good idea to put it right against a house," Marshak said.
Council member Bryant noted the owner's claim that car washes and convenience stores are increasingly part of the business model to keep gas stations profitable. "Selling the gas, that's not how money is made," she said.
"We're going to have an old station there that may or may not survive," Means said.
Council members declined to consider modifications to the project that the owner offered to propose just before the vote, though some said they would consider a reconfiguration of the project in the future.
Architect Ahmad Mohazab said he wished the neighbors had given their input earlier in the process at an outreach meeting six months ago at 2 p.m. on Jan 11, a Wednesday.
"I was ready to do anything I needed to do and no one came," he said. "They did get notice. We were all there waiting."
Resident Bruce England said there are already 10 car washes in the city and 26 drive-throughs, including pharmacies and restaurants. Citing health and environmental concerns, in February a majority of City Council members said they wanted to ban the construction of new drive-throughs on El Camino Real, killing a proposed Chik-Fil-A restaurant which may soon be built in Sunnyvale instead.