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Hearing over proposed project next to River Oaks delayed to July 27
Plaza next to driving range
A development dubbed the River Oaks Plaza at the entrance to the River Oaks Golf Course was approved by the Ceres Planning Commission in March. The project must go before the City Council. If built, it would be just south of the golf course driving range.

Because of expected high interest, a public hearing over plans to develop a vacant parcel over the fence from River Oaks Golf Course’s driving range was delayed from Monday until July 27.

In March the Ceres Planning Commission voted 4-1 to rezone the property south of the driving range and approved a tentative map and site plan for a proposed commercial development. Owners of the golf course say the development of the neighboring property threatens the viability of the recreational facility.

The Ceres City Council will need to weigh in on an amendment to the MRCSP. That hearing will now be held next month.

City Manager Tom Westbrook said that the applicant and his representative know the importance of holding the hearing when council meetings are once again open to physical attendance of audience members rather than conduct it on Zoom. The city expects to have public be able to attend meeting in-person starting next month – subject to restrictions like social distancing and the wearing of masks.

“They didn’t feel that Zoom was going to be the appropriate method to take public testimony for that item,” said Westbrook. “Also, the applicant’s representative is concerned about COVID impact that may have so they wanted to make sure that it was pushed back far enough so that we could actually hold an open session in the Council Chambers.”

There are no guarantees that the state won’t change restrictions in coming weeks and months. Westbrook said it’s possible that the hearing may have to be postponed again.

Vice Mayor Linda Ryno said the Community Center was likely big enough to accommodate a socially distanced – and possibly masked – crowd but that an overflow area could be set up via closed circuit TV in the large assembly room.

“We can’t keep holding off important things like this because of Zoom and if we have the ability to open the meeting think we should try that.”

Councilman Bret Durossette suggested holding the July 27 meeting in the largest room in the center because of the large turnout expected to weigh in on both sides.

Owners of the golf course have been protesting Surjit Singh’s proposal to build a commercial strip mall on 2.16 acres over the net from their driving range near Hatch Road. Singh plans to develop three retail commercial buildings sized at 3,500, 4,835 and 14,160 square feet.

The project site is zoned from Mixed Use (MX)-2 through the Mitchell Road Corridor Specific Plan which allows limited commercial like professional offices. Singh owner the Punjab Plaza at Central Avenue at Pine Street elected to request an amendment of the MRCSP designation to Community Commercial (CC) to allow more of a wider range of commercial uses.

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 former General Plan and 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 over errant golf balls being hit over the existing net intended to catch the balls. Some golfers are capable of sending balls over the netting with occasionally balls 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 Community Development Director Tom 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 enough.

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