By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Applebee's interest in Ceres on hold
Applebee's is interested in Ceres.

There won't be an Applebee's, however, any time soon. Not until the legal challenge of the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center and anchor tenant Walmart is resolved in the court system.

That could be two years, said City Attorney Michael Lyions.

Both the Ceres Planning Commission and the Ceres City Council have given approval for the construction of the shopping center at the northwest corner of Mitchell and Service roads. However, the project was fought by a special-interest group calling themselves "Citizens for Ceres," which has hired an attorney to fight its construction. The same group failed to convince the two city bodies of decision makers that the project would be detrimental to the economy of Ceres, and to the health and welfare of the neighborhood.

On Feb. 14 Ronald Caselli of Applebee's corporate headquarters in San Jose offered support of Mitchell Ranch in a letter to the city. "In addition to our support, we would also like to express interest in opening an Applebee's Family Restaurant at the same location, and feel like Walmart, we also could make positive contributions to the local community," wrote Caselli.

Applebee's is interested in the site because of its visibility to Highway 99. The chain declined an offer to come to a city owned site at Mitchell and Fowler years ago because it was not readily visible from Highway 99.

The 185,668-square-foot Walmart Supercenter is proposed as the anchor store of the proposed shopping center. The center will serve as a southern gateway project to include 10 other retail shops of an additional 114,162 square feet of retail space, including three other major tenants and four smaller shops as well as a stand-alone retail building and two to three new restaurants.

The first hearing date has been set for March 23 in Citizens' challenge of Walmart. Lyions said Meyers Nave of Oakland -the city's legal firm being paid by Walmart - and attorney Brett Jolley for "Citizens" are locking horns over the content of the "administrative record" for which the court will use to decide who prevails. According to Lyions, the record is "already huge" but that Citizens insist on the inclusion of all e-mails between city staff and attorneys regarding the Supercenter project.

"Not all emails are public record," said Lyions, who added that "attorney-client privilege" is a factor in many of the emails.

Then there is the matter of including what's relevant.

"The process of going through emails is very time consuming," suggesting that Jolley's intent was further delaying construction of the project.

"It's a way of stalling," commented Lyions.

The courts will intervene if the two parties cannot settle on the content of the record.

Lyions said if Judge Hurl Johnson rules in the city's favor, it's likely Jolley will appeal the decision to the appellate court.

Specifically, the lawsuit faults the city's Environmental Impact Report on the project for not adequately addressing any potential urban decay resulting for the new center. Proponents of the center long argued that the EIR has addressed those concerns and noted that the term blight is different than one used in redevelopment agencies.

The project faced extensive environmental review for years, and was scrutinized at multiple public hearings. Ceres city Senior Planner Tom Westbrook has expressed his confidence in the thoroughness of the EIR. He said the process was so lengthy precisely because the city was careful to address all issues to comply with California Environmental Quality Act. Last year attorney Miriam Montesinos argued that the project has faced considerable review "forwards and backwards" since it was first proposed by Regency Centers of Florida in 2007.