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Protest of retail near River Oaks delayed for ninth time
plaza development
A development dubbed the River Oaks Plaza proposed at the entrance to the River Oaks Golf Course was approved by the Ceres Planning Commission in March 2020. The project approval is being appealed to the City Council. If built, it would be just south of the golf course driving range.

After eight delays the Ceres City Council was scheduled on Monday to take up the matter of the appeal of a Ceres Planning Commission approval of a new commercial project near the River Oaks Golf Course driving range.

But it ended up being delayed for a ninth time with both the applicant and opponent agreeing on a continuance.

The council is expected to hear the matter on March 29, over two years after the Ceres Planning Commission voted 4-1 to rezone the 2.16-acre site south of the driving range and approve a tentative map and site plan for a proposed commercial development. Owners of the golf course, who feel the development of the neighboring property threatens the viability of the recreational facility, are appealing.

The protracted delays occurred because of COVID, an incomplete council for months and both sides privately negotiating. Previous hearing dates were on April 27, 2020, June 22, 2020, July 27, 2020, Jan. 25, 2021 and April 26 2021.

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

The site is currently zoned Mixed Use (MX)-2 through the Mitchell Road Corridor Specific Plan which allows limited commercial like professional offices. Singh – also the 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 it be changed to Community Commercial (CC). Both the Planning Commission and City Council approved the changing of the General Plan designation from Commercial Recreational to Community Commercial.

The council did hear from the public on Monday, at which time David Yonan, a neighbor of River Oaks, recounted a meeting years ago with city officials. He said he was supportive of the MX-2 zone allowing professional offices, provided that any development could occur as long as things worked out to the satisfaction of the golf course and not to its detriment. Yonan said he expects 24 doors opening to retail spaces at the proposed center and that he doesn’t support retail uses.

Yonan said there is a difference between “what is legal and what is right.”

A handful of residents living in custom homes next to the golf course use the Golf Links Road which the retail center would shoulder near Hatch Road.

Golf course owners Ken and Pam Thornberry and Robert Hall fear that a strip mall would attract crime and devalue the golf course. Their chief concern, however, is over errant golf balls sailing over the existing net intended to catch them. Some golfers are capable of sending balls over the netting with balls occasionally 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.

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 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.

On Monday John Warren voiced his opposition to the site being developed as retail.

“It doesn’t seem to fit the location,” Warren told the council.

Candice Fernandez, another neighbor, also agreed with Yonan.