Bad for Business: How Wrightwoods’ Temperamental Septic Systems Hinder Small Businesses

PHOTO: Leandra Moreno-Prince - NewsPlus

This building on Park Dr currently houses three office spaces, one retail shop, one empty space for rent, and a single septic system to share.

An Economic Development meeting took place on Friday, July 14th, in the Wrightwood Community Building to discuss the multitude of closed businesses and empty buildings in the downtown village. The glaring problem was apparent at the meeting, where approximately 50 residents, business owners, and community organizers were in attendance. The meeting was conducted by Secretary Pamela Wright of the Wrightwood Property Owners Association and touched on several topics, including tourism and community collaboration. But even more of a concern was the infrastructure problems, most notably, septic issues.

In a rural community, septic systems are common. In Wrightwood, they also provide the added benefit of watering the trees where leach lines slowly drain the filtered water back into the ground. However, septic can also be highly problematic for businesses. Some residents in attendance claimed it was the main reason large corporations could not develop in Wrightwood. While septic may keep the big chains at bay, it can also hinder small businesses.

Amanda is the owner of Big Foot Coffee Co. and has been selling specialty lattes and coffee beans at the Wrightwood Framers Market. For almost two years she’s been working towards opening her own cafe next to the Wrightwood Artisans Boutique & Cedar Lodge but last month she decided to step away from the project after discovering that the septic system needed to be entirely updated in order to operate as a restaurant. Although Big Foot Coffee will continue to sell at the farmers market, the dream of opening a permanent coffee shop location will have to be put on hold for now.

Longtime Wrightwood property manager and realtor Randy Ward agrees that the fickle septic systems are a huge problem, and it’s a factor he takes into consideration when renting to businesses. Ward manages the space on the corner of Park and Evergreen that once housed a bike shop. He confirmed the application process has become selective, saying, “People come wanting to open smoke shops, restaurants, and salons, but none of them are acceptable. There’s one septic tank for the entire building. Never going to happen when a business has to be open to the public.” The building on Park Dr. currently houses three office spaces (including Randy Wards Realty office) and one retail shop (Whole Life Soaps). Many community members fear the downtown area won’t have more places to shop if they all become offices. However, Ward assures that he’s leaning towards renting it as a retail space as long as it meets his criteria.“Totally open to any space for retail. Just a nice quiet business. Not kid-friendly, but family-friendly,” said Ward.

The Wrightwood CSD is well aware of the septic issues and has been dealing with its own bathroom problems. This is especially prominent during the winter months when public restrooms between the Community Building and Vivian Null Park are closed, and portable bathrooms are set up in the parking lot. This prevents the septic system from being overwhelmed by the influx of visitors coming to play in the snow. The WCSD, along with guidance from prominent community organizers, has decided it’s time to actively start looking into more viable options for their public restrooms but now have to navigate the complex regulations of state water boards, county laws, as well as environmental entities. It will be no small feat, but the CSD is well-equipped to tackle the issue and find a solution. Their connections with government officials have already led to huge developmental improvements, including the recent Park Drive re-pavement project announcement. The SBC Board of Supervisors passed the $829,819 project on Tuesday, June 24th. While the re-pavement of Park Drive is expected to begin in the Fall, new roads and ramps are just a small step in the larger span of helping Wrightwood thrive.

Many more issues still affect economic development, prompting the WPOA to host a follow-up meeting on Monday, July 24th, to hear public comments and conduct surveys. They hope to start developing committees that will look into beautification, community outreach, tourism, etc. If you missed the meetings and are interested in serving on a committee, you can attend the WPOA meetings on the 2nd Wednesday of the month at 6:00 pm in the Community Building or follow them on Facebook at Wwpoa Village Vibe for updates on future round tables.

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