After nearly two years of delays, Ceres City Council was set to finally consider Monday’s appeal for the city’s approval of a shopping center south of the driving range at the River Oaks Golf Course. But the hearing was again postponed – for the eighth time.
City Council due to consider plans by Surjit Singh to develop his property on Hatch Road just above the net at River Oaks Golf Course was delayed for the seventh time on Monday.
Lawyers for both sides met on March 11, community development director Christopher Hoem said, and asked for the extension.
The hearing continued until April 25.
Golf course owners are appealing March 2020 Planning Commission approval for Singh to develop three retail commercial buildings of 3,500, 4,835 and 14,160 square feet on 2.16 acres at the south end of their practice.
The Singh project site is zoned from Mixed Use (MX)-2 through the Mitchell Road Specific Corridor Plan (MRCSP) which allows limited retail such as professional offices.
Singh also owns the Punjab Plaza on Central Avenue at Pine Street.
During the 2018 update of the general plan, Singh requested changes to the designation of the general plan. Singh’s land had a commercial recreation designation in the old general plan and requested that it be changed to community commercial. The Planning Commission and City Council have approved the change of designation of the General Plan from Recreational Commercial to Community Commercial.
If the council agrees with the commission, the modification of the MRCSP will make the designation of the General Plan and the MRCSP consistent.
Golf course owners Ken and Pam Thornberry and Robert Hall believe that a strip mall would expose the golf course to liability for errant golf balls traveling the net intended to catch the balls to hit cars or people. Some golfers are able to send balls over the net and some bounce off Hatch Road.
Singh obtained additional liability insurance which did not satisfy golf course owners. The commission required a deed restriction to ensure future owners operate under the same insurance coverage.
Golf course staff routinely pick up stray balls from Singh’s course each week. The Thornberrys are concerned that the course will lose its insurance if the development is approved and have hinted that the city could be held liable. They also balked at the idea that a 60-foot-tall net could block balls, saying it wouldn’t be tall enough.
The council was required to open the hearing and heard several opponents.
Ken Thornberry spoke and said the Planning Commission failed to take into account that disclosure laws require owners of properties adjacent to golf courses to be made aware of the potential for stray golf balls that could result in injury or property damage.
He also said residents who live along Golf Links Road are unanimously against Singh’s plan.
“The majority of Ceres citizens agree with our statements that the golf course is relevant to this community rather than a strip mall,” Thornberry said.
Candice Fernandes said she and her neighbors were strongly opposed to the zoning change. She said she and the residents of Golf Links Road have asked to meet each of the council members personally to discuss their opposition and concerns and “to get feedback”. She said they had met Mike Kline, Linda Ryno and James Casey but not yet Vice Mayor Bret Silveira or Mayor Javier Lopez.
“The owners understand that the issues between the developer and the golf course owners are related to liability and insurance, which are separate issues from the proposed zoning change that the owners oppose,” Fernandes told the advice.
She expressed fears that without meeting with the mayor and vice mayor first, they “won’t have enough time to genuinely and carefully consider our opposition and concerns before the April 25 public hearing.”
Fernandes continued: “I hope that is not the case as we, the owners of Golf Links Road, feel that the proposed zoning change would negatively impact our neighborhood community, our property values and create traffic implications for us, our guests and our service providers to name a few, as well as day-to-day golf activity.
Ryan Thornberry said the proposal was “unprecedented” and dared members to look at any golf course on Google Earth and find any development within 235-305 yards.
“What you’re trying to do is unprecedented,” Thornberry said.
John Warren, who does not live near the project site, is concerned about rezoning.
“Golf courses don’t mix well with strip malls,” said Warren, who thinks he should stay zoned as commercial.
Singh’s attorney, Dave Romano, said that despite the zoning issue, the golf course had liability issues with its net, but he hopes the issues can be resolved by April 25.
Robert Hall, one of the golf course’s co-owners, said the town’s rezoning choice was “short-sighted – you don’t put a development at the end of a driving range and then to compound the fact that the Planning Commission improves zoning at higher density was utterly ridiculous.
Silveira said he was not worried that he would not have enough time to collect all the information before April 25.
Previous rescheduled hearing dates were April 27, June 22, July 27, 2020; January 25, April 26, November 8, 2021; and February 14 of this year and Monday.