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Golf course owners protest strip mall near driving range
• Application yet to be filed
River Oaks site
Surjit Singh owns the 2.7-acre site sandwiched between the River Oaks Golf Course driving range and Hatch Road and wants to build a commercial center on it. However golf course operators are protesting, saying errant golf balls will present a liability issue for them.

Owners of the River Oaks Golf Course jumped in front of a pending application to build a commercial strip mall at the south end of their driving range near Hatch Road and let the Ceres City Council know last week that they are opposed.

The project is being designed but not plans have not been submitted to the city. The applicant, Surjit Singh, has been communicating with city planning staff about his plans to develop two acres. The project, which involves a rezoning from Mixed Use (MX)-2 (which allows commercial) to Commercial, must be heard by the Ceres Planning Commission before it reaches the council. City Manager Toby Wells said the matter is probably three months from consideration.

Singh, owner of Punjab Plaza in Ceres, is poised to file an application to build on his 2.5 acres adjacent to the driving range. Golf course co-owner Pam Thornberry opined that the property should remain set aside as community recreation. She also expressed fears that a strip mall would generally attract crime and devalue the golf course and residences within the course.

Thornberry expressed greatest concern about errant balls hitting those on the other side of a tall net intended to catch the balls.

“Did you really just expect us to take the liability and go along with your program?” Thornberry leveled at the council.

She stated that the proposed center is incompatible with the recreational uses around the site, including Ceres River Bluff Regional Park to the east of the golf course and event center property. Thornberry asked if the city wanted another Punjab Plaza at the entrance of a nice recreational venue.

“There is a law regarding assumption of risk … which says if you build around a golf course you accept the assumption of risk for errant balls,” said Thornberry. “The plan change in zoning challenges assumption of risk and puts innocent bystanders – those without knowledge of the golf course being nearby – at risk. The current plans for this development and parking are at the end of our driving range – right in the line of fire. Every golfer that uses our driving range is out there to improve their drive; they hit the balls as hard and as far as they can, many times over the net. That’s the problem with errant balls.”

She said her staff picks up errant balls in that lot every week.

“Many times we find these balls next to Hatch Road. We have a net. We have tall trees and still these balls become errant. What is to stop these balls from hitting a person, a car or a building?”

Thornberry said the course will lose its insurance if the development is approved and hinted the city could be setting itself up for liability from what starts on her property.

Wells later said that one could argue that the liability exists today with balls striking pedestrians or cars as they pass through the vicinity.

Ken Thornberry spoke and predicted that approval will place the matter in court. He also balked at the suggestion of City Engineer Daniel Padilla that a 60-foot-tall net might block the balls, saying it won’t be enough.

Robert Hall, a partner in River Oaks, said he’s seen Singh’s plans and they are attractive but suggested Singh’s other developments are run down.

“I was taken aback when I saw the condition of the Punjab center,” said Hall. “That’s not something I’d want to see in front of the golf course.”

Mayor Chris Vierra told the owners that the council didn’t even have the project before it and couldn’t comment on the matter because it wasn’t on the agenda.