State - INACTIVE

Ceres Wal-Mart project gets a twist

CERES — Wal-Mart's plans to build a supercenter off of Highway 99 could shake up the city's retail scene more than officials anticipated when the Arkansas company proposed the store three years ago.

Wal-Mart says it intends to shut its store at the intersection of Hatch and Mitchell roads when it opens the store at Service and Mitchell roads.

That's a concern for Ceres leaders, who don't want to see a vacant building at Hatch and Mitchell, one of the city's busiest intersections.

"I'm not excited to have our largest traveled and shopped area in town shut down for years and years" until a new tenant is located, Ceres Mayor Anthony Cannella said.

The new plan emerged as Wal-Mart released a 2,500-page environmental impact report describing its proposal for the site at Service and Mitchell. The document details a project called Mitchell Ranch Center, which includes the Wal-Mart and a few other retail options on the 26-acre site.

The report is expected to appear before the Planning Commission and City Council by the end of this year. It's a key hurdle Wal-Mart must clear before it can start construction.

Residents can read the report at Ceres' Web site and give officials feedback.

Ceres leaders long have wanted to develop land at Service and Mitchell into a retail site that could lure shoppers from Hughson, Modesto, Turlock and Keyes. The area runs along Highway 99 and sits close to northbound and southbound off- ramps and onramps.

The environmental study shows that neighbors and government agencies are concerned about increased traffic, noise and air pollution, especially because the proposed supercenter would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

An EIR analyzes the effects of construction projects, such as safety, traffic, noise, harm to wildlife, energy use and destruction of agricultural land. Mitchell Ranch Center's EIR took 2½ years to complete.

The EIR acknowledges that the shopping center could have negative effects on local businesses, roads and air quality.

The project calls for adding two traffic signals on Mitchell Road and widening Mitchell, Don Pedro and Service roads to accommodate the increase in cars and shoppers. Access would come from two driveways each on the three surrounding streets.

Neighbors include an apartment complex and houses north of the project off Don Pedro Road. To combat extra noise, officials plan to build 8-foot-tall noise barriers at the back of Wal-Mart and the other stores. Loading docks would sit below ground level.

The measures reduce noise, but the sound would still reach 42 and 63 decibels, according to the EIR. A vacuum clocks in at about 85 decibels.

"Also, my concern is for the 24-hour part of this. We all know that not too many good people hang out at Wal-Mart at 2 o'clock in the morning and most of them aren't in vehicles, so they're going to be walking through our neighborhoods," said resident Susan Borges at a public meeting in September 2007.

Cannella said those concerns would exist with whatever commercial development takes place on the site, not just for a Wal-Mart.

"I think traffic's more of an issue than noise for some people, but it's a zoned piece of property for development, so the issue is going to be there sooner or later," Cannella said.

More than 8,500 shoppers have signed cards supporting a new Wal-Mart, said Amelia Neufeld, Wal-Mart spokeswoman.

To see the project's draft EIR, visit www.ci.ceres.ca.us/40633.html. The public can e-mail comments about the plan to tom.westbrook@ci.ceres.ca.us or call 538-5778.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

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