Colton gas station owner furious over trees removed on his own property for a Starbucks

COLTON, Calif. (KABC) -- A lot of people might be excited about a Starbucks Coffee store about to open nearby, but not the owner of a gas station in Colton, who is right next door.

"I was kind of worried about what they were going to do," said Ahmed Radwan, who owns the Shell gas station on Iowa Avenue along Interstate 215. "How were they going to build it?"

Radwan said his frustration started when the contractor put up a green fence to protect the construction zone. Radwan said the fence encroached on an easement that's been on record since 1958, allowing two different access points to the gas station.

He said with only one access point now available, many of the large semitrucks that would gas up at his station are going elsewhere.

"Now, those trucks cannot make a U-turn. They cannot back up because there are cars behind them, so I lost that business," Radwan said.

He added his sales are down about 35 percent. But Radwan said what happened on Valentine's Day, made him apoplectic.

Around 8:15 a.m., construction crews came onto his property and cut down some of his palm trees, he said. Surveillance video showed workers removing two trees.

"This is trespassing. This is private property," Radwan said. "They have no right to come in and cut down my trees."

His store manager called police, who showed up to talk with the construction workers, according to Radwan. Colton police could not confirm what the officer said to the workers, but they left the property without cutting down any more trees.

But they weren't gone for long.

"They came back. Sneaking at 4:15 in the morning!" Radwan said.

Surveillance video showed a worker on Radwan's property. Radwan said a total of five trees were illegally removed.

"I call it dirty work," he said. "They come in, sneaking, cutting palm trees on the neighbor's premises."

Radwan sent an email to the owner of the future Starbucks property a few hours after the first trees were cut down. The owner, Peter Smirniotakis, responded by email.

"...We have determined through a property line survey, that some of your property's irrigation lines, sprinkler lines and an estimated four queen palm trees are encroaching on to my property," part of the email said. "Generally these items would not be a matter of concern. Unfortunately, they are exactly where a retaining wall is to be built and are scheduled for removal by the contractor ASAP."

In a brief phone call with Eyewitness News, Smirniotakis did not say much.

"There is no property dispute," he said. "It's all getting figured out, and I'll call you back later."

Smirniotakis then hung up the phone.

Colton Mayor Richard De La Rosa said the city is trying to figure out whether the easement Radwan is referring to is still in effect.

"The property owner (Smirniotakis) does not believe there is an easement," said De La Rosa, who also said he's trying to get both owners to sit down and work out the dispute.

Starbucks was not immediately able to respond to questions.
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