A mixed-use application to build a 145-unit, high-density apartment complex behind a commercial strip mall on busy Mitchell Road was narrowly approved in a 3-2 vote of the Ceres City Council on Monday.
The 9.7-acre project site is the large mostly vacant parcel opposite the Ceres Post Office on Mitchell Road. Currently only a house, metal warehouse and truck operation occupy the site south of Della Drive.
The same application for Dhillon Villas was nixed in a 4-1 vote of the previous City Council in 2019 out of concerns that additional residents on Mitchell Road would worsen traffic, and a desire to retain the entire site for commercial use. The 2019 council also had concerns about potential conflicting traffic movements within the project and the lack of delivery vehicle access to the rear of the commercial center fronting Mitchell Road.
In January the Ceres Planning Commission voted 3-2 to recommend that the council approve the project. In that meeting, Commissioner Dave Johnson expressed concerns about the ability of fire engines to access the rear of the complex in the event of emergencies.
To make the project happen, the council was required to amend the General Plan to allow residential on the parcel, as well as approve a Vesting Tentative Parcel Map and Conditional Use Permit.
Rupinder Dhillon of Tracy wants build the two retail commercial buildings closest to Mitchell Road while a 145-unit apartment complex would be constructed on the eastern half. However, it appears that the commercial wouldn’t be constructed until there is interest in businesses to lease space.
The proponents plan to build six three-story apartment buildings in a gated community setting behind the commercial center that would front Mitchell Road. Those two retail commercial buildings are proposed to be 15,230 and 13,782 square feet.
Of the 145 apartment units, 48 will be one-bedroom units, 84 will be two-bedroom units and 13 three-bedroom units. A total of 274 parking stalls are planned for residents’ parking.
Community Development Director Christopher Noem said that after Dhillon Villas was shot down four years ago, Dhillon studied the market and determined that the depth of his parcel is not likely to be developed in its entirety for retail uses without a major anchor – something difficult to attract in the present economy. All while there is great demand for apartments in Ceres, he added.
The apartment complex is intended to serve mid- to upper-level income renters.
Vice Mayor Bret Silveira was the most vocal about allowing the project to advance.
“I’ve been here most of my life,” said Silveira. “That’s been a dirt lot my whole life and my fear is it will continue a dirt lot until I’m not above the ground anymore.”
While saying that he sat and observed traffic at that location for 45 minutes and concluded traffic is a “very small concern,” Silveira added it wasn’t “enough to say this project shouldn’t be built because of it.”
“We have more open spaces within our city limits than any other town in Stanislaus County,” said Silveira. “Here we have somebody that’s willing to make a great project to fix that problem at no cost to the taxpayers of Ceres. This is a no-brainer for me.”
Also supporting the project were Mayor Javier Lopez and Councilwoman Rosalinda Vierra, who mentioned how her adult children weren’t able to find apartments to rent in Ceres and moved elsewhere.
Voting against the project were Councilmen Daniel Martinez and James Casey. Casey was particularly troubled that the council was asked to approve the project before the required traffic study is required due to the projection that it would generate an estimated 100 vehicle trips at peak hour. He suggested that a center median may have to be added down Mitchell Road.
Ceres resident John Warren said Ceres needs more housing but mentioned “how a very wise City Council did not approve this project for various reasons.” He agreed that a traffic study needed to be done first and predicted that new traffic signal light will be required to prevent dangerous left turns out of the facility.
Dave Pratt also appealed for the council to reject the project.
“This is a bad deal for that location; like I said, the traffic’s just going to get worse, unless you have a better traffic control, which means another light,” said Pratt.
Stockton attorney Bret Jolley – who led the 14-year fight against the Ceres Walmart Supercenter – defended the Dhillon Villas project.
“This project brings much needed housing to Ceres,” said Jolley, saying it would boost the city’s multi-family housing stock by 8 percent.
He also stated that there is no market demand to fill the entire nine acres with commercial. Jolley cited a 2019 study found that a mixed-use project would create less traffic impact than if it were to build out as completely commercial.