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Council: Not so fast on taller buildings near Highway 99
Gateway drone shot
The Ceres Gateway Center commercial shopping center is under construction along Highway 99 between Service and Mitchell roads and a hotel company is interested in building here. The problem is they want to build a hotel taller than the city's current 35-foot limit and the City Council isn't too sure it wants a building at an estimated 45-50 feet off the ground, claiming it might block freeway views of the Walmart Supercenter and future stores. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

In March the Ceres Planning Commission responded favorably to a Zoning Ordinance change that would allow buildings taller than the limit set in the Mitchell Road Corridor Specific Plan (MRCSP). But on Monday the City Council voted 2-3 to reject the idea.

After the vote, members agreed to revisit the matter on May 9 given that a new hotel project is on the line.

City staff proposed that the Planning Commission have the authority to approve the construction of buildings taller than the 35-foot-high limit on properties zoned Regional Commercial, or RC. The action was requested in response to interest in building a four-story hotel in the Ceres Gateway Center near Highway 99. That hotel could be as tall as 45 or 50 feet, said Senior Planner James Michaels.

“The commission made a recommendation to Council to approve the text amendment by a 4-0 vote and made this recommendation on the basis that the amendment assists in maximizing the southern portion of the corridor area that encourages employment generating uses like a hotel to open here in Ceres that may not otherwise exist if the current height restriction remains in place,” said Michaels. 

The exception would not apply to Community Commercial (CC) zones of Mitchell Road. It would have allowed taller buildings in the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center, Ceres Gateway Center, northeast corner of Mitchell and Service and the SamBella Plaza at the southeast corner of Mitchell and Rhode Road.

In March Planning Commissioner Bob Kachel said the change made sense given how other communities – such as neighbor Turlock – allow hotels of at least four stories or higher.

Gene Yeakley, a Ceres resident, wanted a height limit defined and fears taller buildings might affect aesthetics in Ceres.

John Warren said the council, not the commission, should have the say over building height and said he would hate to see a tall building constructed across the street or next to St. Jude’s Catholic Church which is in the RC zone.

John Osgood wondered if a 45-foot-tall building would affect the freeway visibility of other businesses developing in the area.

Councilwoman Linda Ryno said that scenario might trigger requests for taller signs.

Vice Mayor Bret Silveira said when he served on the commission, permission was granted for taller signs that would grant signs similar to those found at Monte Vista Crossings in Turlock. 

Silveira motioned to approve the first reading and introduction of the text amendment, which was struck down by Kline, Ryno and James Casey.

That prompted Community Development Director Christopher Hoem to ask if the council could define a height limit, such as 50 feet, to be considered.

Councilman Mike Kline said he wants to further explore the issue and see the aesthetics of taller buildings in Turlock. He also expressed fears that a tall hotel might obscure freeway travelers from seeing other businesses, such as the new Walmart Supercenter.

Silveira asked the “no” voting members if their objection was based on no defined height limit or the commission having control.

Kline reiterated his concerns over the placement of a taller hotel blocking other business signs in the future. 

When the others were silent, Silveira sternly told them, “Just no with no explanation? Because I think the city needs some guidance. If it’s ‘no,’ then what is the next move? Because I think we all agree that a hotel on that side of town is needed.”

Ryno said she had explained her concerns, prompting Silveira to ask, “So what would you like for them to do now then? Not put a hotel there? What’s the direction to city staff now?”

City Attorney Alex Terrazas suggested putting off the hearing until staff can study the matter with more specifics. The council will revisit the matter on May 9.