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Mi Pueblo hits bumps in road to Turlock

Planning tells grocery chain to work out problems with neighborhood first

POSTED April 8, 2011 10:35 p.m.

A large, new Mexican grocery store planned for the intersection of W. Main Street and S. Soderquist Road will be delayed at least a month, as Turlock Planning Commissioners on Thursday held off on approving the development due to neighbors’ concerns.

“I think there are some issues that need some time and consideration before going forward with this,” said Planning Commission Chair Mike Brem.

Mi Pueblo Food Center, a 36,000 square foot full-service Mexican grocery store, would offer a carniceria, fresh produce, bakeries with fresh goods throughout the day, a hot Mexican deli with seating area, a tortelleria, and a customer service center with check cashing, utility payments and money transfers. The development would remodel 104,000 square feet of retail which previously housed a Dollar City and a furniture store, while offering new and upgraded landscaping and storm drainage improvements to benefit the entire neighborhood.

Mi Pueblo Food Center was founded in East San Jose by Mexican immigrant Juvenal Chaves in 1991. Since then, the chain has grown to include 20 stores – including two in Modesto and one in Atwater – and now retains approximately 3,000 employees.

The chain is known for its warm, festive, family-friendly environment, according to Perla Rodriguez, vice president of public affairs for Mi Pueblo Food Center. As part of its commitment to customer service, the store offers a complementary shuttle ride home from the store, which Rodriguez says is valuable to mothers or seniors who need to shop but don’t drive.

“It’s part of that extraordinary dedication to customer service,” Rodriguez said. “... We think every customer is worth it.”

Additionally, the chain prides itself on cleanliness, with onsite janitors at all times, and safety, with full-time security.

Traditionally, projects like Mi Pueblo would be approved via Minor Discretionary Permits, which do not require Planning Commission approval. But the matter was raised to require commission approval after concerns were raised by members of the community.

“There are outstanding concerns and issues raised by residential neighbors, at least one neighbor, and the property owner to the south which must be addressed,” said Rose Stilo, Turlock planner.

 

Potential impacts forced delay

The concerns primarily deal with a potentially negative impact to the neighborhood, and traffic flow questioned by commissioners.

The development would increase vehicle trips along Soderquist Road from approximately 500 trips per day to more than 7,000 trips per day, according to a traffic impact report commissioned by the developers. The increase is sizable, city staff noted, but does not reduce service levels below general plan requirements.

Residents questioned what the weather conditions were at the time of the traffic analysis, concerned it may have affected the traffic findings. They also questioned why the analysis didn’t mention what they consider degraded roadways in the area.

Developer Reed Onate, with NUCP, termed the concerns “a little bewildering” as professional traffic analysis is usually considered adequate to show the project would not harm traffic patterns.

“When consultants come up with numbers, they’re coming up with numbers,” said Planning chair Brem. “They don’t have to live in that neighborhood. That’s one thing we have to be mindful of.”

Commissioners questioned the route of truck traffic, which would turn right from W. Main Street onto Soderquist Road, potentially making a difficult turn and breaking down already damaged roads.

Residents also asked for new stop signs, a way to prevent illegal u-turns onto their property, noise mitigation and increased pedestrian safety measures.

Residents just to the east of the proposed development took particular issue with litter which they say would blow onto their property. They asked developers to install a large fence to keep trash away.

Developers offered to plant thicker shrubbery along the east edge of the property to act as a net, and to have landscapers blow leaves away from the residential area.

“I’m not asking everybody to do everything,” Brem said. “Just take a look at what is reasonable.”

Onate pushed for Mi Pueblo’s approval, stating the developer would hold annual meetings with residents, follow city noise ordinances, and do whatever needed to get passed by the Planning Commission on Thursday. Reed said his company is “under the gun” to get Mi Pueblo into the shopping center.

“As I stated, our preference is to move ahead. We do have obligations with Mi Pueblo to get them in there,” Reed said.

The neighboring Turlock Unified School District expressed no concerns with the project. An issue is outstanding with the southern neighbor regarding a truck loading dock, but Onate said the issue would be worked out, and a condition of approval would have prevented the project from drawing permits before an agreement was reached.

But commissioners said they would feel better with a firm conclusion on neighbors’ concerns and the truck dock prior to making any decisions. The commissioners will again consider allowing the Mi Pueblo Food Center on May 5.

 

Questions about store’s impact on other grocers remains

Planning Commissioner Victor Pedroza questioned if Turlock should be adding additional grocery stores, given the commission’s recent decision to continue a ban on big box grocery stores and reports stating the city has more grocery stores than the current level of demand.

 “My first impression was wow, it’s a real nice store,” Pedroza said. “... But based on what I saw in your store today, every one of those stores will be impacted.”

The sentiment was echoed by Jesse Gutierrez, owner of the La Rancherita Mexican grocery store which is adjacent to the proposed Mi Pueblo development.

“They’re monopolizing the business,” Gutierrez said. “ ... We’re not making it, we’re barely making it. It’s running us out of business, right across the street.”

Rodriguez said Mi Pueblo does not have direct statistics on its affect on smaller stores, but anecdotally has not seen competitors close when its stores open. Instead, it’s seen those stores improve, Rodriguez said, becoming cleaner, offering specials and better everyday prices.

“Mi Pueblo brings quality to the neighborhood, and it raises everyone’s game and everyone’s opportunity to do better,” Rodriguez said. “... Mi Pueblo will never be the small store. We’re going to focus on being the best we can be, and in the end of the day the customer will choose.”

Chairman Brem, along with other commissioners, agreed with Rodriguez that the city can only worry so much about protecting other businesses. Also, the 37,000 square foot Mi Pueblo would be much smaller than the 65,000 square foot grocery stores inside of Walmart Supercenters.

 “I acknowledge we have a report that talked about the number of grocery stores in Turlock, yet we don’t hold the same standards to gas stations or fast food,” Brem said. “Any other business we don’t say, ‘we’ve got enough.’ If somebody wants to move into town because they have a better way to provide a service to the people, that’s what they do.”

Rodriguez also said that Mi Pueblo can grow the business in Turlock, attracting additional shoppers, as the stores are regional magnets. Shoppers will drive upwards of 30 miles to shop at a Mi Pueblo, she said, a sentiment echoed by members of the audience, including JoLynn DiGrazia of Westside Ministries.

DeGrazia said she drives to the Crows Landing Mi Pueblo to shop already, because of the products available only there. She said bringing the store to Turlock would help shoppers and also create jobs for those who desperately need them.

“For me, it’s a no brainer,” DiGrazia said. “It will have a terrific impact, not just job-wise, but in continuing to get fresh produce to those who need it. In a neighborhood with 78 percent of kids below the poverty line, it will bring pride to the neighborhood.”

 

Large potential economic impacts

 The full-service supermarket would bring about 125 jobs to the City of Turlock, most of those full-time positions offering benefits. Mi Pueblo Food Center would hire locally, with most employees coming from within a five to 10 mile radius of the store. Additionally, the chain offers numerous opportunities to move up to management, Rodriguez said, and offers training programs and scholarship programs for employees and their children. Last year, the chain offered over $120,000 in college scholarships, and also supported the Red Cross, St. Jude’s Children’s Research, and other charities with over $300,000 in charitable support.

Rodriguez also emphasized the effect of Mi Pueblo in revitalizing communities and shopping centers, bringing numerous new businesses in by increasing foot traffic. In other cities, companies like Jamba Juice and Panda Express have co-located with Mi Pueblo, she said.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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