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CVS proposal sent back to Planning Commission
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Nervous about allowing another corner drug store on a busy street corner, Ceres City Council members on Monday evening sent a proposal for a new CVS pharmacy back to the Planning Commission for a second time.

CVS has spent over a year planning to build a 16,813-square-foot CVS Pharmacy at the northwest corner of Hatch Road and Central Avenue. Proposed immediately west of the Walgreen's, the new CVS - featuring a double pharmacy drive-thru lane - would replace the 1970s-era CVS store at 1640 E. Hatch Road. Company officials say the move is needed to make the store profitable.

This is the second time the council has referred the project back to the commission. Last fall the council sent back the proposal after neighbors' lodged concerns about traffic impacts at the often logjammed intersection. At the time CVS hadn't expected to expand the width of Central Avenue north of Hatch Road. In December the commission approved (in a 4-1 vote) CVS' new design showing a 70-foot-long dedicated right-turn lane for southbound Central Avenue traffic. Planners also approved the project with access to CVS from Hatch Road, including left turns into the lot from eastbound Hatch Road.

Vice Mayor Ken Lane didn't feel the 70-foot turn lane on Central Avenue would be long enough, saying some motorists wanting to use the lane would be too far back because of the back-up for those wanting to go straight or make left turns. But Lane assured CVS representatives that he didn't want to see them leave Ceres.

"I have some concerns with the corner itself with it being congested already," said Lane.

Joe Muratore, a proponent of the project, reminded the council that a traffic study showed only 32 cars turned right onto Hatch Road from Central Avenue in a one-hour period. Extending the right turn lane length was not warranted, he said, but his company would agree to it.

"You have some concerned citizens," said Muratore, "but we also have others who aren't ... but we have to look at the data and I don't think it's as dire as the council's painting it here."

A number of previous opponents turned out in favor of the project. Tom Brooks and David Mendonca said they like the project because CVS has extended an offer to put curb, gutter and sidewalk on their side of Central Avenue.

Central Avenue residents Mary and Preciliano Martinez remain opposed to the project, fearing traffic concerns as well as annexation to the city forcing them to hook up to city services, such as water.

Eldon Brewster said Hatch Road is already too busy. "It's not a safe condition for that drug store to be put on that corner," he said.

Albert Avila, a previous opponent, said he now favors the project with dedicated right turn lane.

Rebecca Harrington suggested the council needs to consider what will happen to businesses neighboring the existing CVS store and the loss of an anchor tenant.

Vierra said he appreciated the proponents effort to mitigate traffic problems but stated any use on the corner would present traffic problems.

"I believe it would be a good project for Ceres," said Guillermo Ochoa, who favors allowing left turns from Hatch Road into the lot but not out.

"It would be beautiful to have a brand new CVS anywhere in Ceres... but in essence we have this square peg going in a round circle," said Durosette. "CVS, fantastic...but why do we have two right across from each other competing? ... It's right to have it in Ceres but is it right to put it right there?"

When Ochoa made a motion to approve CVS as proposed, Vierra seconded but the motion died in a 2-2 tie.

Durossette then put forth a motion to send the project back to the commission with a right turn pocket on Central Avenue extending the entire length of the CVS project as well as addressing concerns about the Martinez's concerns about annexation costs as well as calling for further traffic counts during afternoon hours to reflect school traffic.

If the council ultimately approves the project, CVS must win approve from the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for the annexation of seven parcels from the county to the city of Ceres. The seven parcels are part of a larger 51-acre county island in the area which (LAFCO) would like annexed to the city.

The project requires approval for a general plan amendment, a prezone from residential to Neighborhood Commercial and an architectural and site plan approval.