The Orange County Board of Supervisors approved an agreement with a Huntington Beach car dealer Tuesday to move ahead with potentially developing an automobile storage lot at the site of a former landfill on Gothard Street.
Surf City Auto Group, which operates Huntington Beach Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, plans to store about 1,200 cars on the 11-acre parcel at 18111 Gothard — just south of the Central Park Sports Complex. As the landlord, the county stands to collect up to $250,000 in rent in the first year of the lease, with that figure increasing by 2.5% annually during the initial 10-year term.
“Working with the county has been delightful and surprisingly easy,” said dealership President Pete Shaver. “We were able to work to put together a good plan that worked for the county and our business.”
The need to store overflow inventory from his Beach Boulevard dealership caused Shaver to look for creative alternatives.
“The cost of land is insane and, with the advent of the internet, there is complete transparency on cost,” he said.
Surf City Auto Group was one of two bidders that responded to a March 2018 request for proposals regarding the property. A five-member committee of public and private sector experts disqualified the other competitor, arguing it didn’t meet the minimum requirements, according to a county staff report that did not identify the unsuccessful bidder.
The former landfill, which the county operated from 1947 to 1962, has been eyed recently for other uses. Last year, Huntington Beach officials successfully lobbied to kill a planned homeless shelter there, saying contamination left by the landfill operation made it unsafe.
Under the approved contract, Surf City Auto Group is able to write off up to $4,166 per month, totaling $50,000 a year, from its rent for eligible upgrades to the property, including chain-link fencing, lighting, gravel and stormwater improvements. Shaver said there would be no car washing or vehicle maintenance done on the site.
Before the planned storage lot can move forward, the dealership must present preliminary plans for all of its proposed property improvements, including grading, parking, site circulation, drainage and utilities. Construction can’t start until Surf City Auto Group gets the necessary clearances from the county and the city of Huntington Beach.
Construction would require the removal of about eight acres of coastal sage scrub, which is recognized by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife as environmentally sensitive habitat. In light of that, the property might need to be surveyed for coastal California gnatcatchers, which are a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
In August, the Board of Supervisors is expected to review a plan that would restore 4.88 acres of coastal sage scrub in Crystal Cove State Park to mitigate the loss of habitat on Gothard. The restoration is expected to cost $500,000 to $750,000 over 10 years, with funding coming from the storage lot’s rent.
Garry Brown, executive director of Costa Mesa-based Orange County Coastkeeper, said such plans usually restore an acre for every one lost to development.
“We would prefer to see more restoration of coastal sage,” Brown wrote in an email. “Crystal Cove doesn’t appear to need more restoration of coastal sage. There are other areas in Huntington Beach that might benefit more.”
If the car storage lot secures all the necessary approvals, the county would still be responsible for maintaining the landfill gas collection system and making sure any emissions fall within state standards.
“Although the county values the potential for revenue by developing projects on closed sites, the county’s first and foremost commitment is to comply with all applicable regulatory requirements for closed landfills,” county staff wrote in a report.