By Mike Allen
Image,left: Rendering of planned auto dealership project
November 4, 2023 (Santee) -- A long-vacant, rock strewn lot on Mission Gorge Road just west of Magnolia Avenue is slated to become the Santee Auto Center, following approval of the project by the City Council last week.
The 13.1 acre site at 10335 Mission Gorge Road once housed Santee Elementary School, which opened in 1891 and closed in 2003 due to declining enrollment. Santee-based Cameron Brothers Construction Co. plans to convert the site into two dealerships, one of which is Chevrolet.
The center includes two warehouse buildings of more than 33,000 square feet, an auto body shop, and car wash. It will have six entrances and 688 parking spaces, mostly for inventory and customer service.
“This will be Santee’s first car dealership,” said Cameron Brothers president Jim Moxham. That statement fails to acknowledge three existing car dealers in the city, including a large Toyota dealer off Fanita Drive.
Manny Sedano, chief executive of the Sedano Auto Group, said he spent some six years trying to convince Chevrolet to expand to Santee. “The people of Santee and East County need more options (to buy cars) closer to home,” he said.
Sedano currently operates five dealerships in the county, in San Diego, La Mesa and National City. In an email to ECM, Sedano said he launched his company in 2006 in Bakersfield, then purchased Chevrolet and Volkswagen dealerships in San Diego in 2016. A 1991 graduate of El Capitan High School in Lakeside, Sedano is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
Sedano said he intends to build the Chevrolet dealership on the first six acres while working on the second franchise and building a state-of-the-art collision center and car wash. He said he expects to have the Chevy dealership operational by late 2024. His firm has 350 employees; Sedano declined to specify annual revenues. According to Sedano, the new dealership will have 100 employees, with another 30 at the collision shop.
Speaking to the five-member council at the Oct. 25 meeting, Moxham said his firm acquired the site in 2020 after two other potential buyers fell out of escrow.
According to the Santee School District, the site’s former owner, the land was first sold to LPC West LLC in 2017 for $11.1 million. That plan called for housing and commercial uses including restaurants.
After that offer failed to close and was terminated, the district offered the land to the next highest bidder, Haagen Co., for $10.6 million.
When that bid was terminated in 2018, the district then completed the sale to Cameron Brothers in 2020 for $9,357,124.
The district said it used the proceeds from the sale to make improvements on its facilities including new roofs for schools.
Cameron initially planned to build a grocery store (Stater Brothers) and an LA Fitness gym on the site, but then the COVID-19 virus intervened and scuttled that concept, Moxham said.
Councilman Ronn Hall raised concerns about the project’s car wash generating excessive traffic off Mission Gorge Road that could cause problems. But chief planner Michael Coyne said traffic studies showed that shouldn’t happen.
Hall was also worried about noise from the rock crushing activity that would accompany the project’s grading phase. Again, he was assured by Coyne that the noise levels would be mitigated and short-lived.
Nobody, including residents surrounding the proposed project, spoke in opposition to it. One neighboring property owner told ECM that the business would be better than an apartment complex that would generate lots of traffic.
According to the city’s report on the project, the business is expected to generate 3,336 car trips daily including 196 at the peak a.m. hour, and 254 at the peak p.m. hour.
Hall said he expected “a little bit more opposition” to the auto center given that it’s surrounded by residential development. He was particularly concerned over the negative impacts from the car wash, which will serve both dealers as well as the public, and which he deemed “a little noisy.”
He said he and other councilmembers have worked to entice another dealer to the project, and named Toyota, Dodge Ram and Tesla among those that were contacted. So far, there are no takers.
All in all, Hall said the auto center would fill a long empty space in a key area of the city, which was something Santee has been trying to do for a long time. “lt sure beats a rock pile,” Hall concluded.
Photo, right: Vacant lot where auto dealership will be built.