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City to rezone empty lands across from CHS
City wants empty land developed
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Vacant land north of Whitmore Avenue across the street from Ceres High School will be considefred for rezoning on Monday. The city would like to see it developed. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Several state-owned properties left over as surplus from the $41.9 million Whitmore Avenue interchange which was completed in 2011 are being sold.

To better market those vacant properties opposite Ceres High School, city officials are in the process of rezoning. The Ceres City Council will be holding a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 26 at the Ceres Community Center, 2701 Fourth Street.

The state owns the triangle piece directly across the street from the high school as well as the vacant land wedged in between the new frontage road and the northbound freeway onramp. The state also owns Lazy Wheels Mobilehome Park, which eventually will be abandoned.

Tom Westbrook, director of Community Development for the city of Ceres, said the state owns 11 properties in total which are zoned a number of different ways, including C-1 (Commercial), C-3 (Wholesale Commercial) and High-density residential. The city wants them to all be rezoned to Highway Commercial. Eventually some parcel lines will have to be reconfigured. Westbrook said that the triangle piece alone contains seven or eight parcels.

"I would expect retail commercial development," said Westbrook, "what that might look like I don't know."

The city believes development of the vacant parcels north of Whitmore Avenue near Highway 99 presents an opportunity to capture retail dollars from freeway travelers to broaden Ceres' tax base.

Gurdip Singh Ghac, owner of the Chevron station on the corner of Whitmore and Central avenues, told members of the Ceres Planning Commission in August of his concerns that development of the triangle piece would be a safety risk and suggested that it be made into a parking lot for Ceres High School.

Westbrook said Caltrans recently listed the Ceres properties for bids. At least one commercial broker stated his intent to submit a bid to purchase the properties.

Whoever ends up owning the land will be required to shut down the Lazy Wheels Mobile Home Park, which the city considers an eyesore. On Aug. 5, 2013 the Ceres Planning Commission approved an action to file a Notice of Nonconformance which limits the park's use to a window of five years. The park is a non-conforming use for the zoning but has been in existence for 66 years. The park, including the trailers and its residents, must be gone by August 2018 at the latest.

The city tried to buy the land with redevelopment agency funds but had to abandon those plans when the state robbed all cites of such funds. The city simply doesn't have the general fund revenues to afford the purchase for economic development purposes.