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Walmart moves forward
Design of center is the next phase
The proposed Walmart Supercenter. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

The legal fight that prevented Walmart from proceeding with development of the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center for years caused city officials to worry about whether Walmart wanted to proceed with the project once there was a resolution. But city officials confirmed on Monday that Walmart will be meeting with the city on Thursday to outline development plans and schedules.

"They have given us indication they're moving full speed ahead on the design," said City Manager Toby Wells. "We don't have any idea yet on timing yet."

Walmart is now cleared to proceed with construction of the 26-acre shopping center for the area west of Mitchell Road, stretching between Don Pedro to Service roads, now that the battle waged by "Citizens for Ceres" is over. The group, led by Sheri Jacobson, lost its second and final court fight to block construction of the center and its anchor tenant, Walmart Supercenter.

As predicted, the California State Supreme Court did not single out the earlier court case for review. It had until Dec. 4 to do so and did not. That means Walmart has cleared all legal hurdles relating to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) standards.

The remitter was issued on Monday, Dec. 5 to close the appellate court decision.

Remaining to be decided is whether or not "Citizens for Ceres" will have to pay back the city of Ceres and Walmart some $47,000 for the cost of coming up with documents that were required in the administrative record during "Citizens" court challenge. The matter goes back to the Stanislaus County Superior Court for hearing after the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Fresno ruled suggested that "Citizens" should pay the cost and not Walmart as founded by the Modesto court.

Walmart has indicated for years that once the Supercenter is open that they will close the existing store at Hatch and Mitchell roads which has been operating since 1993. The corporation will then proceed to market the property for a new tenant. It's believed any new tenant would not be in direct competition with Walmart.

When the Zody's or Sears Outlet building on Hatch Road became empty the store was parsed into three spaces that now house 99 Cents Only, Big 5 Sporting Goods and Factory 2-U. When the Staples building across the street was vacated after a few years it became the new home to Ross Dress for Less which opened up this year.

The Walmart Supercenter building itself is large - 185,668 square feet - but the center also includes:
• Major retailer #2 - 28,000 square feet;

• Major retailer #3 - 13,500 square feet;

• Major retailer #4 - 14,000 square feet;

• Shop #1 - 12,200 square feet;

• Shop #2 - 11,700 square feet;

• Shop #3 - 7,000 square feet;

• Shop #4 - 8,500 square feet;

• Retail pad A - 3,250 square feet;

• Restaurant pad A - 3,250 square feet;

• Restaurant pad B - 3,000 square feet;

• Restaurant pad C - 4,000 square feet.

Grand total = 299,830 square feet.

City officials believe the center could attract restaurants offered elsewhere, such as Chili's, Applebee's or Red Robbin. In 2012 Ronald Caselli of Applebee's corporate headquarters in San Jose offered support of Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center in a letter to the city. "In addition to our support, we would also like to express interest in opening an Applebee's Family Restaurant at the same location, and feel like Walmart, we also could make positive contributions to the local community," wrote Caselli.

The economic analyst in the EIR, Bay Area Economics (BAE) concluded that the center, at build-out, would result in sales tax revenue of $34 million annually, an increase of about $327,000 extra each year to the city of Ceres.

Jacobson and members of her group have fought the project since its inception, beginning with claims that the development of the vacant lot would rob wildlife of its habitat and protesting removal of a dilapidated building on the site. She and members of her group have lodged protests over planned store hours, architectural renderings, impacts on traffic, crime and air quality, plans to re-tenanting of the old store and claims that the new center would cause economic blight citywide.