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Planning gives green light to Mi Pueblo

POSTED May 6, 2011 10:17 p.m.

The Turlock Planning Commission on Thursday cleared the way for Mi Pueblo Food Center to open its newest store in Turlock, at the intersection of W. Main Street and S. Soderquist Road.

The 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 upgrading landscaping and storm drainage improvements to benefit the entire neighborhood.

But commissioners held off on approving development of the chain Mexican grocery store at their regularly scheduled meeting a month ago, due to concerns raised by neighbors regarding noise, trash and traffic. At that time, staff even held off from recommending a course of action on the Minor Discretionary Permit – unusual, as MDPs are normally handled at a staff level and do not come before the commission.

“I certainly don’t feel that we should apologize for being thorough,” Commissioner Soraya Fregosi said. “I realize developers are on a timeline, but I’d rather err on the side of being thorough rather than just to push things through.”

In the last month, the developer, New Urban Communities Partners met with neighbors and agreed to install a fence with shrubbery to prevent litter from blowing onto their property, install speed bumps in the parking lot, to hold any outdoor events as far away as possible from residential areas, and to reroute truck traffic away from the intersection of W. Main Street and Soderquist Road. Additionally, the developer agreed to phase in façade work in the center, so as not to affect the business of Alpha Poultry and Livestock Equipment Inc., a current tenant of the center.

Despite the concessions, neighbors don’t believe the changes went far enough.

“It is demeaning and insulting to us to know the developer, the city, and Mi Pueblo will profit greatly at our expense,” said Barbara Hedrick, who lives on S. Soderquist.

In addition to the agreed-to speed bumps, fence, special event plan and installation of no u-turn signs on Soderquist, the residents had requested residential parking-only signs on Soderquist, removal of the median on West Main Street, and installation of a stop sign at the intersection of High Street and Soderquist Road. Turlock staff said the residential parking signs would fall to the jurisdiction of Turlock Police, removing the median would reduce safety, creating more left-turns across a busy Main Street, that stop signs are to be used for efficiency and safety – not speed control.

Commissioners, however, believed common ground had been reached.

“They did what we asked,” Commissioner Jeff Hillberg said. “Not everybody’s going to be happy with the outcome, but they made some effort to make some changes.”

While he voted for the project, Commissioner Victor Pedroza did express concern about the impacts the store may have on competitors.

“I guess I’ve never been so torn about a decision before,” Pedroza said. “I see the benefits of the store, I see the benefits of revitalizing that community, but I also understand the concerns of the business owners in the community. ... I know it is a concern for you, and it will be a challenge in these economic times. “

Business is already slow at area Mexican grocers, according to La Rancherita Carniceria owner Jesse Gutierrez, and the addition of Mi Pueblo will only make it worse, he said. The current recession has forced a reduction staff from 30 to 12 employees.

“It’s going to be tough,” said Oscar Avila, store manager Cost Less.

Mi Pueblo representatives said, in their experience, the opening of a Mi Pueblo tended to improve business at nearby stores.

While the development has received Planning Commission approval, it could yet be appealed to the Turlock City Council. Appellants have 10 days from the date of the decision to file with the Turlock City Clerk.

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

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