A mixed use 145-unit three-story apartment complex and strip commercial project for Mitchell Road south of Della Drive was rejected in a 4-1 vote of the Ceres City Council Tuesday evening, May 28.
The Dhillon Villas project was proposed for the vacant lot on the east side of Mitchell Road, opposite the Stanislaus County Institute of Learning/Tactical Character Academy. Last month the Ceres Planning Commission voted 3-2 in support of the General Plan amendment required to allow the project.
Councilmembers expressed a range of concerns about the 9.7-acre project, including impacts to Mitchell Road, conflicting traffic movements inside and outside the project and the lack of delivery vehicle access to the rear of the commercial center. Only Councilman Bret Durossette supported the project.
Tom Westbrook, director of Community Development for the city, cites staff support of the project, citing how Ceres hasn’t built any apartments in about 15 years. He said there would be half the traffic generated by a mixed use of residential and commercial than the commercial. Westbrook also noted that the apartments were proposed for market rates, meaning not subsidized or low income housing. He said a quick check of the largest apartment complexes in Ceres showed vacancies of zero at 100 units; two vacancies for a 200 plus unit complex; and three vacancies for a facility with over 300 units.
“So essentially they’re all full, that might demonstrate a little bit of need,” said Westbrook. Rents are also high in Ceres, with $1,300 to $1,450 per month for two-bedroom units, he said.
Westbrook explained that the project was proposed with a pool, gym, yoga studio, central mail facility. Parking was designed to exceed city standards.
The council generally expressed concern that access to the apartments would have been through two access points through the commercial center. Linda Ryno suggested the conflicts with traffic in and out of the new project would end up tangling in Mitchell Road’s transition lane with traffic jockeying for position from Burger King, Della Drive and the post office across the street.
“It gets pretty ugly on Mitchell,” she said.
City Engineer Daniel Padilla said the city has the option of building a median to designate right-in and right-out only access at the complex.
Westbrook said a traffic formula suggested that the average daily weekday trips generated by the property going all commercial would be an estimated 4,400 while the proposed mix use generated 2,250.
He also told the council that 10 percent of the city’s acreage is in multiple family dwellings.
“I think we have – I tried counting – 10 fast-food restaurants on Mitchell currently,” said Councilman Bret Durossette. “We have four car washes on Mitchell, we have three bars, we have five car lots and here we here we have an opportunity to infill something that’s been vacant forever … and I would just hate to see us lose out on an opportunity to have a very nice development.”
Councilman Channce Condit, who voted against even holding the public hearing on the project, made it clear his opposition.
“There is a need for housing in Ceres; I just don’t believe that the need is on Mitchell Road,” said Condit. “Ceres is very limited with available land for commercial usage. Mitchell Road is really our city’s only open space left in close proximity to Highway 99 and, in my opinion, is our last hope to compete with Turlock and Modesto, their commercial corridors along the highway. Every single square foot counts and it should be dedicated commercial use solely.”
He then asked what kind of demand the new projects would put on police and fire. Police Chief Rick Collins said that depends on how well they are managed and Fire Chief Kevin Wise said little risk for fire.
Condit then expressed concern on how the apartments would look years down the road.
On behalf of the applicant, Max Garcia of GDR Engineering of Ceres explained that the owner of the project has been unable to market 102,000 square feet of commercial uses for the property since 2016. He said there is less of a demand for retailers given how Americans’ shopping habits have focused to online sales and that the project may remain vacant for many years.
The Mitchell Road Corridor Specific Plan has an MX-1 (Mixed Use) designation of the property which allows high-density residential however the General Plan calls for commercial and wouldn’t allow the apartments without a change.
The retail buildings of 29,000 square feet were proposed to be closest to Mitchell Road.
A number of residents spoke against the project.
“It’s going to be a nightmare,” said Lee Brandt of left turns out the project. He also cited fears that pedestrians will run across Mitchell Road from the apartments. “I think you should leave it commercial.”
Pat Cousins, who lives outside the city, spoke against the project, citing how traffic around the post office is chaotic.
Although the project was designed for parking that exceeds the quantity the city calls for, John Warren said there wasn’t enough for two adults and visitors.
“This is probably not the spot for that type of density,” said Warren.
Dave Pratt said he felt the city should concentrate on providing more low-income apartment rather than market rate apartments proposed for this project. He also didn’t feel the project was right for already busy Mitchell Road.
Shawna Moore complained that sometimes it takes her 42 minutes to travel down from the Modesto Airport down Mitchell Road to Highway 99.
“You can’t move the traffic that we have here in Ceres right now,” said Moore. “How are you going to 145 units of people … in a place that’s already congested?”
By the end of the discussion it was apparent from member comments that the project was in trouble.
“I have some issue with the delivery trucks not accessing either the back side of the building or on the front side of the building,” said Mayor Chris Vierra. “That tends not to work real well when you’re trying to bring a big semi in with product.”
He commented that it was a “great project, I just am hesitant to rezone our commercial areas along a major corridor ours. Again, nothing against providing apartment complexes but I’m not sure this is the right location for it.”
Westbrook said he feels the parcel hasn’t developed because of the focus on developing the area along Mitchell Road between Service Road and the freeway.
Knowing that he risked a lack of support, Councilman Bret Durossette made a motion to approve the General Plan amendment. His motion would have died for a lack of a second but Condit – insisting many times for a roll call vote – offered up a second. Condit’s second when he didn’t support the project confused Mayor Chris Vierra and later the city clerk. The vote was 4-1 against the project.