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ARCO, car wash interested in pair of vacant Citrus Heights restaurants

The former Marie Callender’s restaurant on Sunrise Boulevard has sat vacant since closing in 2019. // CH Sentinel

By Mike Hazlip—
The vacant China Buffet building and former Marie Callender’s restaurant on Sunrise Boulevard are both being eyed for future use by ARCO as well as a car wash, but such auto-centered uses in that area would be banned by the city under a proposal working its way through the planning process.

In an advisory email sent out Friday, Aug. 26, the Sunrise MarketPlace business improvement district said the city’s proposed ban came after property owners had worked to secure new tenants. “The City would prefer to encourage restaurant/entertainment uses in the District,” the district said.

Sunrise Marketplace Executive Director Kathilynn Carpenter confirmed in an email that Waterfly Car Wash is interested in the China Buffet building and ARCO is eyeing the former Marie Callender’s building. Both sites remain vacant, since China Buffet closed in 2018, and Marie Callender’s closed in 2019.

Emails sent to the property owner of China Buffet and a representative of Waterfly on Tuesday were not responded to by press time Thursday morning.

The owner of the former China Buffet building told Carpenter he is “close to signing a lease” with the car wash. The property owner has not been able to secure a dining or entertainment related business for the property.

While the business district has not taken a position on the city’s proposed ban on new auto-centric uses in the commercial areas near Sunrise Mall, the district’s email cited concerns with a gas station and said the city “should work with the property owners to secure desirable businesses for these buildings, including providing incentives for uses such as tap rooms and brew pubs.”

“These two buildings require significant retrofitting or demolition, and are consistent targets for property vandalism, abandoned vehicles, and homeless living in their cars and RVs,” the business district’s email noted last week. “Whether it sells alcohol or not, a gas station will be an attractive magnet for our transient population. Both property owners have tried for several years to secure a new tenant.”

Neighboring El Tapitio restaurant general manager Hector Alcazar called the idea of a car wash “crazy,” in an interview with The Sentinel Tuesday.

“I don’t think the city is going to be approving something like that,” he said. “They have to really, really look at it very careful.”

Alcazar said a car wash could negatively affect his business, but was unsure about a gas station further away at the former Marie Callender’s property. He said he made an offer on the China Buffet property to expand the parking for El Tapitio, but could not come to an agreement with the owner.

An employee at Boston’s Pizza who could not be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media referred all questions to the location’s owner, but did say restaurants typically thrive when in close proximity to other eateries.

Sunrise MarketPlace’s governing board has not taken a position on the city’s proposed ban, but Carpenter said the city will be providing more information to the board during an upcoming Sept. 8 meeting.

In a Frequently Asked Questions page on the city’s website, the city says its proposed zoning overlay was drafted to encourage sit-down dining and entertainment.

“Recently, demand for auto-oriented uses has hit a new high, generating significant interest to convert existing vacant restaurants or add new construction in the Sunrise MarketPlace area for gas stations and car washes,” the city says on its FAQ page. “The overlay zone would restrict uses like this that encourage cut-through traffic to preserve remaining available real estate for uses that support neighborhood vibrancy.”

A timeline for the city’s proposed ban, called a “zoning overlay,” has not been released. It would only affect the commercial areas near Sunrise Mall, on Greenback Lane and Sunrise Boulevard. Proposed text of the overlay ordinance is still listed as “coming soon” on the city’s website.

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