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Hatch Road project review delayed again
• Public hearing delayed sixth time – this time for a full council
River Oaks project
A development dubbed the River Oaks Plaza at the entrance to the River Oaks Golf Course was approved by the Ceres Planning Commission in July 2020. The project approval is being appealed to the City Council. If built, it would be just south of the golf course driving range.

Plans to develop a Hatch Road site located just over the netting from the River Oaks Golf Course driving range are being delayed once again.

Owners of the golf course are protesting the building of the commercial strip mall on 2.16 acres at the south end of their driving range near Hatch Road. 

On Monday the Ceres City Council was scheduled to consider plans of Surjit Singh to develop his property but the matter was postponed until Nov. 8. This was the sixth time the matter has been scheduled for public hearing and later postponed. Both the applicant and appellant have requested the delay. Previous hearing dates which were delayed were April 27, 2020, June 22, 2020, July 27, 2020 and Jan. 25, 2021.

The latest delay stemmed from a lack of a full City Council. Senior Planner James Michaels said the District 1 council seat vacancy will be filled by an Aug. 31 special election with the new member installed on Oct. 11. The Nov. 8 council meeting will be the second meeting with the full council.

Eric Capron, a Modesto attorney for River Oaks, sent an April 20 email to City Attorney Tom Hallinan saying “I do want to document our position that these continuances hurt ROGC’s ability to make improvements while this issue is unresolved and that we believe this should be the last continuance to November.”

The Ceres Planning Commission voted 4-1 in March 2020 to approve plans to develop three retail commercial buildings sized at 3,500, 4,835 and 14,160 square feet. The City Council has the final say.

The council did open a public hearing at which time Ceres resident Gene Yeakley said “I don’t believe it’s appropriate to have it there, I mean, we’ve got enough congestion and problems in Ceres already.” He suggested the owner find another location or find another use for the property.

Citizen John Warren asked what type of commercial buildings and businesses were being proposed and was told they will be constructed as a “shell building.” City Manager Tom Westbrook said they could be filled by a single business per building or multiple businesses.

The project site is zoned from Mixed Use (MX)-2 through the Mitchell Road Corridor Specific Plan which allows limited commercial such as professional offices.

Singh also owns the Punjab Plaza at Central Avenue at Pine Street.

During the 2018 update of the General Plan, Singh was one of a handful of property owners who requested General Plan designation changes. Singh’s land had a Commercial Recreational designation in the old General Plan and the asked that it be changed to Community Commercial. The Planning Commission and City Council approved the changing of the General Plan designation from Commercial Recreational to Community Commercial. 

If the council follows in the commission’s footsteps, the MRCSP amendment will make the General Plan designation and the MRCSP consistent.

Golf course owners Ken and Pam Thornberry and Robert Hall are fearful that a strip mall would generally attract crime and devalue the golf course and residences within the course. Their chief concern is that errant golf balls sailing over the net intended to catch the balls, will strike cars or people. Some golfers are capable of sending balls over the net with some bouncing onto Hatch Road.

Singh has secured additional liability insurance coverage which has not satisfied golf course owners. The commission required a deed restriction to make sure future owners operate under the same insurance coverage, said Westbrook.

The golf course staff routinely picks up errant balls in Singh’s lot each week. The Thornberrys fear the course will lose its insurance if the development is approved and hinted the city could be setting itself up for liability. They have 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 tall enough.

A petition signed by approximately 300 persons – many of them golfers – was presented at the Planning Commission hearing last year urging the city to reject Singh’s request.

Commissioners Laurie Smith, Bob Kachel, Gary Del Nero and Bret Silveria supported the rezoning effort but Dave Johnson did not.