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Walmart Supercenter hearing set for Feb. 22
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Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center - with its anchor tenant of the Walmart Supercenter - will be considered by the Ceres Planning Commission on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 22.

The setting of a public hearing for 6 p.m. culminates years of waiting on behalf of the applicants, the city and other interested parties.

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 26-acre project to be constructed at the corner of Mitchell and Service roads. 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 will only get to weigh in on the project if the commission approval is appealed, said Senior Planner Tom Westbrook.

If approved, 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 24-hour 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.

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.

While Walmart has generated a healthy list of supporters who want the project passed, including the Ceres Unified School District, Ceres Kiwanis Club and Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children, there are some in the neighborhood who want to see the center blocked off from Don Pedro Road access to the north.

Others like Florence Cardenas want to see the Supercenter reoriented to face Mitchell Road - rather than Service Road - to get the rear loading docks from backing up to Don Pedro Road. A store spokeswoman said adequate measures are being taken to keep noise from the docks to a less than significant impact.

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 an economic impact study on the proposed 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.