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Supercenter clears last hurdle
• Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center can start building
Walmart site.jpg
The city issued building permits last month to begin construction of the Walmart Supercenter at the northwest corner of Service and Mitchell roads. Now the company is awaiting Caltrans encroachment permit approval for two associated temporary signal lights.

After 13 and a half years of planning, environmental studies, countless public hearings, numerous legal challenges and court hearings, the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center and its anchor tenant of a Walmart Supercenter passed its final hurdle with quiet approval of a consent agenda item at Monday’s Ceres City Council meeting. The milestone of  the approval of the subdivision map and improvement agreement came with no fanfare – until now City Manager Tom Westbrook made mention of it.

“I’ve worked for the city for a very long time and one of the projects that I’ve been involved with from the day that it started back in April 2007 was the Walmart project,” said Westbrook. “This evening we took the step to approve the final map and the subdivision improvement agreement, the building permits have been issued for Walmart and that’s been a 13-and-a-half year journey. So as the city manager and as the former director of Community Development, I’m very excited that that process to achieve that goal (is over). I just think there are great things commercially on our horizon at the intersection of Service and Mitchell and having Walmart through the process is very exciting for me just because it’s taken such a long time to get to this point.”

Walmart is now free to start construction. Westbrook theorized that preparation and grading work could commence before inclement weather starts.

“I don’t know what their timeline is going to be but this is the last step in that process,” said Westbrook.

It’s unknown if there will be a groundbreaking ceremony.

The Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center project has taken the longest to develop in the city’s history, largely in part to an organized effort to halt its development using the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  A group calling themselves Citizens for Ceres threw a myriad of protests and legal roadblocks against the project for over a decade.

The 185,682-square-foot Supercenter will be the first building constructed in the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center, which was first proposed in 2007, at the northwest corner of Service and Mitchell roads. 

The shopping center includes plans for 10 other retail shops totaling 114,162 square feet, including three other major tenants and four smaller shops as well as a stand-alone retail building and two to three new restaurants.

The center was first proposed in 2007 by the Regency Group. The project was approved by the Ceres City Council in 2011 following a protracted fight through the environmental process and the Stanislaus County Superior Court led by Sherri Jacobson and attorney Bret Jolley. After council approval, Citizens for Ceres filed a lawsuit saying the environmental impact report for the Mitchell Ranch Center was “legally defective and should not have been certified by the city of Ceres.” A judge ruled that the assertion was nonsense given the years of environmental study.

In March 2018 Walmart submitted building plans and filed an application for a building permit.

Walmart plans to close the existing store at Hatch and Mitchell roads once the Supercenter is open. During the approval process, the City Council sought assurances from the corporation that every effort would be made to re-tenant the building for other retail or recreational uses.

It’s believed that the new store will incorporate its new store design which was inspired by airport wayfinding systems to direct large groups of people through the store more quickly. That design optimizes product layout, brings greater visibility to key items throughout the store, including dedicated in-store sections for electronics, toys, baby products and more. The new layout is supposed to be more efficient for shopping and emphasizes the use of a smartphone and the Walmart app to make the experience more streamlined.