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City tight-lipped on property negotiation
Council talking to land owner
The land at the southwest corner of Mitchell and Service roads is being eyed by city officials for a purchase. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

A triangle-shaped piece of vacant commercial property wedged between Mitchell Road and Highway 99 is apparently on the city's Christmas wish list. But officials aren't revealing much about why they are negotiating with the owner on a purchase price for the 18-acre site.

Under the Ralph M. Brown Act, California law allows government bodies to meet in private to discuss property acquisition and other confidential matters but must state if action was taken. The Ceres City Council met in closed session on Monday, Dec. 9 and came out of it to declare that no action had been taken.

"There's multiple options," said city of Ceres Deputy City Manager/City Engineer Toby Wells when asked why the city is considering the property. "It's complicated. There's ultimate right-of-way that's necessary that's related to the ultimate improvements of Service/Mitchell, the widening of Mitchell, the widening of Service and ultimately the Service/Mitchell interchange. So it's all part of one larger conversation."

Wells disclosed that Ralph Ogden & Associates, the owner of the parcel, still wants to develop the land for a commercial enterprise. In May 2008 Ogden received city approval to build a commercial development consisting of a 162-room, three-story Hampton Inn & Suites south of Service Road and a tentative parcel map to split16 acres into nine parcels at the southwest corner of Service and Mitchell roads. The approval laid the groundwork for the development of a huge chunk of the area known as the Southern Gateway.

Planners also approved development of six buildings totaling 25,955 square feet for a proposed restaurant, retail space and gas mart. Those buildings included a two restaurant pads - one at 5,500 square feet and the other at 5,000 square feet - that could suit sit-down operations; a 12-pump gas station/car wash; a 3,915 square foot McDonald's, a 2,800-square-foot drive-thru restaurant pad; 10,500 square feet of high-turnover restaurant space; and 5,500 square feet of retail space.
The land was never developed.

How would the financially strapped city pay for any property? Despite the fact that cities have lost their redevelopment agencies, the city of Ceres sold bonds in 2006 for redevelopment activities and $12 million is left that may be used.

"We can't spend it until the state gives us final clearance," Wells said. "That is hopeful to happen after the first of the year. The state is going to audit us and once they're done with the audit then those bond proceeds are eligible for the city to spend."

Wells commented that the city is "looking at a pretty unique opportunity" to "do a number of different things."