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COVID-19 may be delaying OK’d projects
Whitmore towers stalled
The Whitmore Towers project has been temporarily stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For some time it has seemed like once a project is approved in Ceres it gets sucked into a black hole and never sees the light of day. But some of the more recent projects could be stymied because of uncertainties associated with COVID-19 pandemic.

The periodic government shutdowns of sections of the economy particularly have a chilling effect on plans for new eateries. Excitement spread in the community last year when the Ceres Planning Commission and City Council approved plans to build Whitmore Towers, a 7,280-square-foot retail building focused on eating establishments on the triangle-shaped lot across the street from Ceres High School.

“I’m excited about that project but they have not submitted any construction documents just yet,” said Ceres City Manager Tom Westbrook. “I don’t know why. With COVID, I think maybe some of these folks just don’t know what’s going to happen, especially if you’re having a lot of indoor dining type options you may want to rethink your plan to do more of a courtyard or patio and incorporate that into your project.”

Renee Ledbetter, an agent with EXIT Realty in Ceres, was helping Anthony Nowaid of the Calabasas based Metro Investment recruit tenants but the project has been on hold since COVID-19 resulted in life in America changing mid-March. But she confirmed that a month ago Nowaid stated that he will be resuming discussion with the developer.

If built, Whitmore Towers will occupy a high profile intersection in Ceres – the triangle-shaped lot opposite the Ceres High School administration building. The lot at Whitmore and Central avenues is 1.13 acres in size and was created years ago when Caltrans created the new Whitmore Avenue interchange with Highway 99. The project would specifically accommodate up to seven retail spaces with a variety of uses to serve residents and highway travelers. Nowaid proposed the building to be divided into three separate food-oriented tenant spaces with two outdoor seating areas – one on the roof – and a foyer that would accommodate the customers of those restaurant users. As proposed, one 4,300-square-foot sit-down restaurant would be created, along with a 1,200-sq.-ft. fast-food restaurant, and a 1,200-sq.-ft. ice cream shop.

The city also continues to wait for things to progress with the $16 million, 175-bed American Post-Acute Care Rehab Center proposed on Hatch Road. The city approved the project in 2009 but its development has become a long process and is now delayed by state bureaucracy.

City Manager Tom Westbrook said proponent Dr. Meetinder Rai is still awaiting approvals through the state Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) which is reviewing plans.

The project which was initially approved by the Ceres Planning Commission in 2009, and kept current in March 2017 and in December 2018.

“There was a dialysis off of Whitmore, Davita, they were in that process for a year, year and a half, too,” said Westbrook. “Every time you hear that word OSHPD (said like ‘Oshpod’), it’s going to take some time.”

Once the state approves the plans, the city can issue building permits and construction can start.

“There’s nothing on the city’s end that’s holding them up. They just have to get through that state approval.”

The facility will be designed for 24-hour care for those 60 years of age or older as well as those needing rehabilitation care. It will include physical therapy and occupational therapy rooms, two dining areas, two patio areas, and a total of 77 living units – 22 which will accommodate three beds and 54 being rooms for only two patients.

City officials estimated then that the facility would employ 130 of which 60 would be on day shifts.

Westbrook considers the facility a “good fit” for the Hatch Road block which already has several churches, a school, Davis Guest Home and doctor’s offices.

The city hasn’t heard from the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East which won approval in July 2019 to build a 7,539-square-foot church building at 1748 Evans Road. The facility is proposed for next to the Evanshire Mansion wedding event venue. A Conditional Use Permit (CUP) allows for the building of the Saint Gewargis Church and for it to operate the existing venue. 

Westbrook speculated that the church may be trying to raise funds for the project.

In other areas of Ceres, some developments are proceeding. Sam Khacho has filed a new application to create parcels on the east side of Mitchell Road just north of Rhode Road which will be earmarked for commercial developments. Westbrook said no buildings have been identified and that the application will likely go before the Planning Commission in March.

Khacho was waiting for the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center to begin development before advancing his project.

Officials are still waiting to see an application for building permits for a two-story mixed use building on Third Street opposite Whitmore Park. Proposed by Satwant Singh and Malkit Kaur Sanghera, the project was approved in March 2019. Westbrook believes plans are being drawn up for building permits.

There is no word about the status of Jas Plaza, a 4,500-square-foot, two-story building proposed for Whitmore Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets. Plans call for retail uses on the ground floor with a single-family residence on the second floor. The Planning Commission has kept the application valid with extensions for proponent Mohinder Kanda.

Darrell Ledbetter is seeking a time extension for his 20-unit multi-family residential project at 2800-2808 Blaker Road. The project was given its second one-year time extension for a previously approved development plan in November 2019. The project consists of two five-unit duplexes, two four-plex units and two single units for a total of 20 dwelling units. 

City officials have learned not to get too excited just because an application for a new project has been approved. Hopes were high when the Leer Building, an 8,250-square-foot office and retail building was approved in 2014 for the northwest corner of Park and Sixth streets. The project would have brought a professional addition to downtown but was later abandoned.