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Walmart delayed until Aug. 22
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Walmart company officials won a postponement of Monday's public hearing on an appeal of the approval of the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center and anchor tenant of the Walmart Supercenter.

The council will hear the matter on Monday, Aug. 22 at 5:30 p.m.

Walmart asked for a continuance of the hearing in order to complete a sales strategy for the existing store should it be abandoned for the larger Supercenter. The council must sign approve the strategy - before building permits may be issued - in the interest of minimizing the vacancy at one of the most well traveled intersections in Ceres.

A group calling themselves Citizens for Ceres is appealing the April 11 Ceres Planning Commission approval of the 26-acre shopping center at the northwest corner of Service and Mitchell roads. The group has found fault with virtually every aspect of the project and hired attorney Brett Jolley of Stockton who regularly fights the giant retailer's expansion in California.

Walmart seeks approval to develop the shopping center at the city's southern gateway with a 185,668-square-foot Supercenter that would sell groceries. Opening a new Supercenter would result in a vacancy at its existing store at Hatch and Mitchell roads. Besides the Walmart 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 project's most vocal opponent, Sherri Jacobson took an opportunity Monday to blast Walmart's list of potential retailers to fill a potentially abandoned store. She suggested that Walmart was dangling big names of stores which would have no interest in Ceres.

Walmart officials said they have retenanted closed stores with retailers that include Kohl's, PetCo, OSH, Ross, Pier 1 Imports, Petsmart, Sears, Lowe's, Dick's Sporting Goods, Bed Bath & Beyond, Hobby Lobby, Marshalls, Macy's, Office Depot, Fry's, Jo-Ann, BevMo!, Dillards, T.J. Maxx and Cost Plus World Market.

"As for a Macy's or a Dillard's, or even a Petco, anyone in the retail business is laughing at those suggestions," said Jacobson.

"Perhaps Walmart is having difficulty formulating its sales strategy plan," said Jacobson, "because they have no intention to rent, sell or lease their property to any retailer that will actually benefit Ceres with more tax dollars and competition."

Mayor Chris Vierra stopped her and suggested the council was interested in learning if she protested the continuance. She answered no. However, opponent Rick Rushton opposed a continuance despite the fact that a larger audience that was expected did not show up.

After the meeting, Mayor Vierra said he was surprised to hear Jacobson's comments in light of comments made at previous meetings that Ceres should pursue more upscale retailers than Walmart.

Walmart representative Amelia Neufeld said Jacobson's portrayal as Ceres having a "dire retail environment" was "unfortunate." She also noted that the existing Walmart building - which is 132,000 square feet in size - would likely be parsed into two, three or four smaller shops.

"We believe Ceres has a positive retail environment," said Neufeld. "That's why we are seeking a brand-new Walmart shopping center in Ceres that will create approximately 205 new jobs at full build-out."

City Attorney Mike Lyions said the city cannot legally force Walmart to offer the building to specific retailers.

The council originally continued the hearing to May 23 to look into councilmembers' concerns, such as if the project can be modified to limit truck access from Service Road instead of Don Pedro Road; and whether the city can develop "teeth" if Walmart fails to find a tenant for its existing building if it remains vacant too long. Vice Mayor Ken Lane also wondered about the completeness of the economic impact component of the EIR.