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Supercenter on February Planning Commission agenda?
More delays.


The Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center and its Walmart Supercenter anchor tenant will likely not be placed before the Ceres Planning Commission until February at the soonest.

"It's rolling down the tracks," said Senior Planner Tom Westbrook, "they just decided to push until February."

Westbrook said the applicants asked for the delay, probably because of the holiday season.

The proposed 26-acre center for the northwest corner of Mitchell and Service roads has endured years of planning and study with the Supercenter having generated the greatest interest among the public.

The shopping center would bring to Ceres 299,830 square feet of new retail space - including two restaurant pads - with a Supercenter sized at 191,430 square feet. Originally the store was proposed to be 208,172 square feet, or 6 percent larger. By contrast, the existing Walmart store at Hatch and Mitchell is 124,043 square feet.

"Walmart updated its prototype to a smaller more efficient footprint to better serve the Ceres community," said Amelia Neufeld, Senior Manager of Public Affairs & Government Relations for the Walmart Corporation in Sacramento.

The store would devote 36,167 square feet to grocery sales, including fresh produce, seafood, bakery, meat, and deli. A 5,762 square foot outdoor garden area is planned and other services like a bank, vision center, and hair salon could be part of the store's appeal.

Ceres Planning Commissioners Gary Del Nero, Bob Kachel, Hugo Molina, Laurie Smith and Mike Kline will consider a conditional use permit and commercial subdivision application to allow the project to happen. Originally the Ceres City Council was to decide on the project since it was being proposed with a development agreement. Without a development agreement being sought, the council may only get to weigh in on the project if the commission approval is appealed.

Last year Walmart and media/outreach consultant River City Communications held a neighborhood meeting at nearby St. Jude's Catholic Church to speak about the project and answer concerns.

"At the end of the day the broad consensus was that it is an attractive project and a drastic improvement to the area," said Marko Mlikotin of River City Communications.

While Walmart has generated a respectable list of supporters for the project - generated by its customer base through a special website - there are some in the neighborhood who are not so enthusiastic. Craig Hunnel, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church located directly north of the project site, supports the project but has been a vocal critic about allowing access - both truck deliveries and customers - to the project through Don Pedro Avenue.

"No other WalMarts that I have seen are using a residential road to access their store," said Hunnel. He expressed concerns that traffic on Don Pedro will grow worse when Ceres Unified School District develops Lucas Elementary School on Don Pedro, directly across the street from the WalMart proposed store. "Trucks just simply will be a risk and hazard."

Neufeld said the city does not require an approved truck route for traffic to access the project on Don Pedro Avenue. She said the additions of a traffic signal at Mitchell and Don Pedro will make the intersection safer, including trucks which will have a protected left turn lanes from the northbound lanes.

Walmart expects to receive seven to nine semi-trailer trucks making deliveries per day to the back of the store and approximately eight to 10 small vendor trucks only 5 days week.

Neufeld, however, said that the draft Environmental Impact Report takes into consideration technical aspects, include traffic and blight analysis, based on a larger Walmart store and shopping center than is currently proposed.

Measures are being taken to shield the existing neighborhood from the back of the Supercenter, said Neufeld. A three-foot-high earthen berm will be raised up along Don Pedro Avenue behind the project's northern boundary with an eight-foot high wall atop of the berm. The wall increases in height to 10 feet at the area of the pallet and bale recycle enclosure. The wall is intended to arrest noise from operations, she said, but noted that trucks will not be idling beyond three minutes and that trucks will back up to a sealing dock to contain unloading noise,

The berm begins at the Mitchell Road driveway/entrance to the project, continues north, then wraps the corner at Don Pedro Avenue and continues approximately 25 feet west to the first driveway. It then picks up again on the west side of the driveway and runs continuously with the wall up to the next driveway at the western drive on Don Pedro.

Neufeld said the average distance from the back of the Supercenter to the homes on Don Pedro is approximately 200 feet. From the center of the loading docks to the nearest home is approximately 185 feet.

If the new shopping center is approved, Walmart will shift all 375 employees to the new location and add more. Neufeld said the center is expected to generate 205 news jobs, with 120 being created by the other stores and eateries to find a home in the center.

While the EIR on the project states that the center is likely to not spike sales tax revenues for the community - since some competing businesses could suffer - Walmart stands by a study that claims sales taxes spiked the same year or year after in all California communities where a new Supercenter has opened. Lon Hatamiya, a director of Navigant Consulting, said the Valley - historically the economic slowest section of the state - experienced strong city-wide taxable retail sales gains after the opening of a Supercenter. For example, Stockton saw an increase of $122.3 million, or 21.4 percent between the year before the opening of a Supercenter. In Dinuba, the number jumped $49.9 million, or 12.8 percent, while Hanford saw an $32.4 million increase in sales or 10 percent.