Politics & Government

Clovis to take up retail center

Clovis City Council members say they expect to address a host of concerns about plans for a 500,000-square-foot shopping center when they discuss the project Monday night.

Worries about the hours of operation, traffic, air pollution, lighting and noise all have been raised by critics of the massive shopping development, which would include a 24-hour Wal-Mart.

On Monday, the City Council will give critics and supporters an opportunity to speak out -- and they also will consider whether to approve an environmental impact report, a crucial step before the project could move forward.

The shopping center is proposed on 40 acres along Herndon Avenue just south of Highway 168, between Clovis and Sunnyside avenues. It would include a Kohl's, Petco, Ross and Old Navy.

It is expected to attract about 19,000 vehicles a day -- which has prompted some residents to raise concerns about the effects of pollution and traffic.

Three weeks after about 125 residents showed up for a Planning Commission meeting to voice their concerns, the City Council will be asked on Monday to consider whether the center can stay open 24 hours a day, to determine the hours of Wal-Mart's tire and lube center, and to consider how tall signs at the center may be.

Mayor Bob Whalen said he has concerns about traffic and air quality. He also wants to learn more about a noise study that said the project would not need a sound wall.

Residents along Sunnyside Avenue, east of the development, are worried that noise from the development will be greater than the environmental document states. Whalen said the center's developers should want "to be a good neighbor" and should think about building a sound wall anyway.

Before making a decision about the project, Whalen said he wants to hear Monday's testimony. But he expects the City Council to place new conditions on the project.

"We will likely put some restrictions on the use or signage, and then it will be back to the shopping center to determine if they can have economic success with those restrictions," Whalen said.

Much of the debate has revolved around the proposal for 24-hour operations -- something that council members Harry Armstrong and Nathan Magsig identify as a source of concern.

"I think it's going to tax our safety services," Armstrong said.

Council Member Lynne Ashbeck also said she was concerned about the hours of operation.

Shopping center developer David Paynter said there already is a precedent in Clovis for businesses that operate 24 hours a day.

"They are allowing other grocery stores to do it, so I don't know why the Wal-Mart couldn't be 24 hours," he said.

Aaron Rios, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the proposed 24-hour operation is a response to Wal-Mart's shoppers.

"They want the freedom to be able to shop at their convenience," Rios said.

Despite Armstrong's concerns about crime, Rios said there is no evidence that Wal-Mart's presence increases crime.

Whalen said he was not as concerned about the store being open 24 hours, especially since two large supermarkets -- Winco and Food Maxx -- already are open in Clovis around the clock.

Armstrong said he has other reservations. For example, he said, the new Wal-Mart Supercenter could "cannibalize" an existing Wal-Mart at Shaw and Peach avenues, leaving an empty building if the company decides it no longer attracts enough business. The new Wal-Mart also might take business from other stores, possibly forcing them to close, he said.

In addition, Armstrong said he does not believe the environmental-impact report adequately addresses the effect of the project on roads, or the financial effect on other local businesses.

"I am not totally sold on everything in the [report], because a lot of it is wait-and-see and promises," he said.

Magsig said he will look at how the project fits into the city's general plan, its blueprint for future development.

"I haven't ruled out adding more conditions that staff has not listed yet," he said.

Paynter, the developer, said the development is a good fit for the proposed site next to a freeway and major thoroughfare.

"This is the right project in the right location," he said.

The developer already has been asked to make concessions. For example, recreational vehicles would be prohibited from parking in front of Wal-Mart, something the retail giant promotes at its stores.

And in a response to concerns raised during last month's Planning Commission meeting, city staff said that the developer will make road improvements to address traffic concerns.

The developer will contribute to such things as wider roads and extra turn lanes at Herndon and Sunnyside avenues, the off-ramp from Highway 168, and the Villa and Herndon avenues intersection.

The staff report also said the developer will work to address concerns about pollution by participating in programs to reduce overall emissions and by paying $278,000 into a San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District fund for use in clean-air projects.

Rios, the Wal-Mart spokesman, said tax revenue from the project -- estimated to be about $950,000 annually -- could be used to pay for more police.

"We know it's a great project," he said, "and once it's developed, it will have tremendous support and produce benefits to the city."