After 12 years of exhaustive environmental reviews and numerous legal roadblocks, Walmart representatives strolled into Ceres City Hall Thursday to pick up building permits for the Walmart Supercenter.
“They haven’t given us any dates on when they
potentially want to start,” said Tom Westbrook, director of the city of Ceres’ Community Development Department. “They’re going to probably have a groundbreaking ceremony, I
mean, gosh after 12 years of processing and lawsuits I’m sure they’re going to
want to celebrate that fact.”
Generally a big construction project will first require a permit for construction water to wet down the site before dirt is moved.
In March 2018 the company submitted building plans and filed an application for a building permit for construction of a new Walmart Supercenter – nearly 11 years after the project was originally proposed in 2007. The delays were caused by an opposition group which ultimately ran out the clock in their legal challenges.
Westbrook said Caltrans is expected to this week approve encroachment permits for two new temporary signal lights at the Mitchell/Highway 99 interchange necessary for the project.
“That’s the last thing they’re waiting for,” said Westbrook. “I think they’re supposed to have it this week.”
The temporary signals – to be installed at Walmart’s expense – will be placed where the southbound Highway 99 off-ramp meets the Mitchell Road on-ramp and on the northbound off-ramp at Mitchell Road. The temporary signals will be removed once the city builds a new interchange at Service Road and modifies the Mitchell Road interchange configuration.
Westbrook said the temporary signals will likely be in place for four or five years until the new interchange is finished in 2021 to 2023.
The Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center and anchor tenant of the Walmart Supercenter was delayed for over a decade because of legal challenges lodged by a group named “Citizens for Ceres.” The City Council approved the center in 2011 but the opposition group, led by Sherri Jacobson and attorney Bret Jolley, dragged a protracted fight through the environmental process and the Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Only the Supercenter itself is currently proposed for construction. Once construction starts, the 185,682-square-foot Supercenter could be open within nine months to a year, Westbrook estimated.
Besides the Walmart Supercenter, plans call for 10 other retail shops totaling 114,162 square feet, including three other major tenants and four smaller shops as well as a stand-alone retail building and two to three new restaurants.
The city expects the remainder of the center to develop as companies express interest in leases. Westbrook said he is unaware of any new interest in the center but in the past Applebee’s has expressed interest in locating in the center.
Infrastructure for the shopping center will include transition lanes to turn in and out of the project along the eastern and southern boundaries. A new traffic signal light will be installed midblock on Mitchell Road between Don Pedro and Service roads, to allow safer entry into the center.
Once the Supercenter is constructed the current Walmart at Hatch and Mitchell will be closed and marketed for another use. City officials expect the building to be offered for non-competing businesses, possibly split into two or more spaces.
Owners of adjacent empty parcels have been anxiously awaiting the development of Mitchell Ranch since it will serve as a magnet for development of their properties. Westbrook said there is renewed interest to develop the Gateway Center, which is the triangle piece of ground sandwiched between Service and Mitchell roads and Highway 99. The commercial center, as proposed by Ralph Ogden & Associates, was approved in 2008. At that time it included a three-story Hampton Inn & Suites and a tentative parcel map to split 16 acres into nine parcels for six buildings totaling 25,955 square feet. Uses were to include a restaurant, retail space and gas mart. However, the project was halted upon the heels of the recession. With the change of the market, Westbrook is uncertain if hotels are a part of the concept.
Sam Khacho, owner of 10 acres on the east side of Mitchell Road near Rhode Road, has been watching for Walmart to become a reality “before they really start moving forward,” said Westbrook.