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Supercenter approval Monday?
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Members of the Ceres City Council are expected Monday evening to give a green light to the Walmart Supercenter and its adjoining Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center.

The Ceres Planning Commission approved the project at Mitchell and Service roads in April but a group calling themselves Citizens for Ceres have filed an appeal challenging the project.

Walmart seeks approval to develop a 26-acre shopping center at the northwest corner of Mitchell and Service roads with a 185,668-square-foot Supercenter that will sell groceries. Opening a new Supercenter would result in a vacancy at its existing store at Hatch and Mitchell roads. Besides the Supercenter, plans call 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 appeal has prompted the council to hold a number of public hearings. At the last one on Aug. 22, the council wrestled with aspects of Walmart's plan to fill the existing Ceres Walmart store when it becomes abandoned for the new store. Council members Bret Durossette and Guillermo Ochoa were eager to approve the project but were blocked by Vice Mayor Ken Lane who held out for changes to the reuse plan. Lane's support is key to the project advancing since the appeal can only be rejected with a resolution which requires three votes. There's only three available to vote on the matter since one seat is vacant and Mayor Chris Vierra has recused himself due to a possible conflict of interest. Walmart does business with the firm that employs Vierra.

The Aug. 22 meeting ended with a continuance to Sept. 12 and appointing Lane to meet with Walmart representatives to forge a reuse or retenanting plan that the council would ultimately accept.

"I think we'll be okay," said Lane. "We came to an agreement with is fair for both sides."

Lane said the council "can't sit on this any more."

Lane said he was mostly interested in demanding Walmart or any future owner be held to a maintenance standard for the future abandoned Walmart store. Lane also said he was not concerned about conditioning Walmart to make the abandoned store available to competitors like Target, Winco or a Costco, saying "I want them to help market that property.... it doesn't force them to sell."

"This agreement is better than the other one. It holds them accountable be a good neighbor. Now they're not going to be forced to either put crap in there or they sell and they're off."

The soonest a Walmart Supercenter could open in Ceres would be 18 months, said Lane, but noted legal challenges are expected to drag the process out three or four years.