BARSTOW — An owner of two parcels in the Lenwood outlet mall area received some extra time to initiate plans for the development of two drive-through restaurants.

However, language had to be adjusted in the permit to deal with two unresolved issues. One is an outdoor freeway sign on the project site that has been unused for five years and is falling into disrepair. The extension of the dead-end Serrano Way was the other issue.

Ino Cruz of J&T Management Inc. went before the Planning Commission hoping for a new conditional use permit for the two restaurants. The original project recorded in 1996 called for the development of four parcels along Serrano Way, which currently is a dead-end street.

"What we have here is revisit of an older plan for a couple of restaurants that at one point in time the applicant has submitted conditional use permits for an Arco gas station and adjacent lots. However, at the time the only thing available was the Arco gas station. The conditional use permit for the restaurants has expired and is null and void," City Planner Mike Massimini said.

Parcel 2 became El Pollo Loco, according to the city staff report. In 2007, the applicant gained approval of a fueling station and two drive-through restaurants. However, the restaurants were never constructed and that portion of the permit had expired. Since that time, adjustments were made to increase the lot size of the fueling station, which reduced the size of one of the restaurants.

"We are asking that to be a year," the owner's representative told the commission when asked about the length of the permit. "Although we have some interest from several restaurants, it's going to take some time for us to finalize the contracts. We need to have agreements signed by them in order for us to start construction plans.

"Even though we are in a higher market development trend, these two parcels will be very difficult to market and find clients because of the location. We are in the back of where everything is, all the activity is. So we have been heavily marketing the properties. We have at least one candidate we can tie up, so we can build that project."

Economic Development and Planning Manager Gaither Loewenstein stressed the city needs to see some kind of construction commitment within six months for at least one of the restaurants.

"That sign has been there and empty for years. This application came about after enforcement was taken place by staff. Our concern is that, while we want restaurants to go in there, we also don't want this to be a stall tactic to remain out of compliance," Loewenstein said.

"From a staff perspective, I don't think it would be advisable to say well, you have a year to do nothing before we initiate enforcement activity on the sign."

Loewenstein also argued that while the city wants to see the restaurants developed, the view from the freeway is important as well.

"The Lenwood area is the most significant sales tax generator for the city of Barstow," he said. "We depend on that area looking like a high-quality retail area from the freeway for our very livelihood. And to the extent you allow nonconforming signs that are a blight on the community to persist, it looks like a blighted area and people won't get off the freeway."

The owner's representative said it will be difficult but accepted the city's position. He also expressed frustration in working with the previous owner of the Barstow Outlets in working out an agreement to extend Serrano Way to Mercantile Way.

Loewenstein said he has had some discussions with Barstow Outlets and believes there will be more cooperation.

"I share the applicant's concern that we got to find language that will not unduly delay their project while these negotiations are going on. I have some rather extensive revisions I would like to suggest," he said.

Mike Lamb can be reached at 760-957-0613 or mlamb@desertdispatch.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @mlambdispatch.com