Rolling: Lodi's Boxcar project gets initial OK

Aug. 25—A much-anticipated commercial project eyed for Downtown Lodi has received its first green light to ground breaking.

The Lodi Site Plan and Architectural Review Committee voted 3-0 on Wednesday to approve design specifications for the Boxcar project, planned for the corner of Lodi Avenue and Sacramento Street.

Architect John Vierra, representing property owner Kip Bennett, is proposing a one- and two-story project similar to a food court using repurposed shipping containers as the primary design element.

The shipping containers will be eatery spaces — including bistros to coffee shops, beer and wine tasting venues — with some being stacked to provide a second level to the project.

There will also be a canopy covering a portion of the site, a restroom building, and a barrel tower, as well as a play area for children, an arcade in one of the spaces, and maybe even a water feature.

Vierra told the committee that while some of the tenants will have spaces for eating inside the converted containers, much of the dining will occur in an outdoor area under the canopy.

Commission chair Mitch Slater said he was concerned about the canopy, given the kind of weather Lodi is susceptible to in the fall and winter months.

"November through February are the coldest months of the year in Lodi," Slater said. "I don't see a place where one could sit without getting soaked. Is there a plan to just shut (the site) down when we have very inclement weather?"

Slater also worried that the open spaces between containers could create wind tunnels, which could blow rain water under any canopies during those months.

But Vierra said while a western entry gate could create a wind tunnel, the western side of the project, where the prevailing winds might occur, was very well protected from the elements. He also noted that the covered canopy area, where visitors will be encouraged to sit and eat, was located in another area of the project, away from any potential drafts.

Stockton resident William Maxwell also had concerns with the project.

Maxwell owns the 29-space parking lot located on the southwest corner of Walnut and Sacramento streets, currently used by the Valley Strong Credit Union.

Because the city was not requiring Vierra to design parking spaces specifically for the Boxcar, Maxwell wanted to know where patrons would park.

"My view is if (the site) is successful, their clients will all park in my lot," Maxwell said. "My current tenant is not going to be particularly happy about that, nor will I. I hate the fact our culture is so auto-centric, but I just foresee problems."

Slater encouraged Vierra and his applicant to reach out to Maxwell and discuss a parking plan after the meeting.

Boxcar was initially planned for the corner of Lockeford and Church streets a decade ago, but Vierra's client acquired the current location about six months after approval, and felt it would be an ideal site for the project.

Because of the 10-year delay, the committee asked Vierra if the project would actually be completed.

Vierra said yes.

"My client has been eyeing this property for a very long time and has been in negotiations with the previous owner for a span of a couple years to acquire this," he said. "I think he always wanted this one to be in this location."

Vierra hopes to break ground on the project sometime next year, and the first phase of construction will include creating 12 vendor uses, with the potential to expand up to 24 in the second phase.

Vendors could include retail as well as eateries and tasting rooms, but wining and dining will be the focus of the first phase.

Patrons of Boxcar would purchase food and drinks, then eat in a shared dining area, like an upscale food court. Hours of operation would end at 10 p.m.

"I wish you would do this quickly," committee member Roger Stafford said. "Because some of us aren't going to be around to enjoy it if you don't do it quickly."

Committee member Trent Diehl was absent from Wednesday's meeting.