Car Wash Battle Splashes Away in Woodland Park

Several Issues Raised Over Major PUD Change Near Walmart

 Trevor Phipps

Woodland Park elected leaders, and observers of their regular meetings, just can’t catch a break these days in the hope of more concise, shorter sessions.

During a recent meeting in mid-August, the agenda was small, but the council pow-wow still managed to span over three hours, killing a TMJ News prediction of a brief public hearing.

The biggest issue of the evening was the change of a planned urban development (PUD) near Walmart to include a large automatic car wash.

Verbal sparks ignited when a resident and owner of other car washes in the city raised some questions about the proposed project. Members of the council also drilled the applicant with questions surrounding the plans for the car wash.

On the meeting agenda was a public hearing to consider Ordinance No. 1457 that would change the allowed use of Lot 4 in the Walmart area from “Eating/Drinking Place, Eat-In and Drive-Through” to also allow a car wash. The change was approved by the planning commission and the city staff recommended approval.

However, the council members and a resident raised several concerns with the information provided. In the end, the council voted unanimously to postpone a vote on the item until the next session so that the they get more information.

The request to change the PUD was submitted by a family–owned car wash company that operates automatic car washes across Colorado and in other states. The Champion Express Car Wash plans to be an automatic car wash that offers memberships to its customers.

Water usage was one of the first issues brought up. The amount of traffic per day was also put into question.

Councilmember Robert Zuluaga noted the car wash is proposing to use a water recycling system, but if it malfunctions the fresh water usage can go up significantly. If the recycling system goes down, the car wash could use 95 gallons per car or over 8 million gallons per year.

He asked that if the city has any plans to require the car wash business to shut down, if the recycling system is not working. Zuluaga said it’s a huge concern if that much city water is used during a time where citizens are under water restrictions.

Utilities Director Kip Wiley said that it all depends on how many cars go through the car wash. But he said the city has other car washes, and they have never had an issue with not being able to give them enough water.

“I can just go off of numbers we have from current car washes and the data they have given me,” Wiley said. “I don’t have anything in place that says that if their recycling system goes down they can’t wash cars. I believe we can serve this with the water we have.”

Mayor Hilary LaBarre asked Wiley how the water usage of a car wash compares to the usage of a drive through and dine-in establishment. Wiley said that the usage would be similar to a restaurant that on average uses between 25,000 and 52,000 gallons per month.

Resident Dan Taylor (who currently owns multiple car washes in the city) spoke during public comment. He stressed that much new information has come forth since  the planning commission gave the green light for the new car wash proposal.

In conducting his own  research, Taylor discovered that other Champion Express Car Wash businesses in other Colorado cities  were using a lot more water than what was proposed. “Our McDonald’s in town is using approximately 30,000 gallons per month,” Taylor stated. “The Champion Car Washes that I checked on in Alamosa and Canon City, were using approximately 10 times that. Their average when their reclaiming system was working was 321,000 gallons per month.”

Taylor also accused the proponents of the new car wash business of  changing their numbers since their initial proposal. “These car washes with a wash club generally wash on average 400 to 500 cars per day,” Taylor said. “So, their claim of a maximum of 250 is on the low side. It’s now coming up from what they initially said. They initially came in and told planning commission that it was 240 cars per day on the very peak days and now they are saying that’s an average day.”

Taylor said that the building they are using has a capacity of serving more than 1,000 cars per day. He said it didn’t make sense that a developer would spend $5 million on a car wash that was going to do 25 percent of the business of their other locations in Canon City and Alamosa.

The representative of the property owner Harman Property Management said that they have provided information to show the expected traffic and water usage numbers. He also said that they use the same system for all of their car washes, but that doesn’t mean the market is going to allow for more than what they have projected.

In their deliberations on this issue, the council cited  concerns over water usage, and if they had the ability to put a stipulation on the business’ water reclamation system to assure it is operational at all times.  The council voted to take the Fifth and delay a decision until their first meeting in September to give them time to seek legal advice from their attorney.