Politics & Government

Clovis cautious on retail proposal

Clovis officials are telling City Council members that the city's environmental documents are solid and that they can vote tonight on a shopping center anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Council members received documentation 31/2 inches thick from city staff and environmental consultants Friday that detailed the adequacy of the city's environmental reports.

The 4-year-old proposal sparked six hours of testimony and debate at a council meeting last month.

But council members polled last week said they still want to hear from more people before they vote.

Wal-Mart Supercenter is the anchor of a proposed 492,000-square-foot shopping center between Highway 168 and Herndon Avenue.

Council members will be asked to approve an environmental impact report to allow the shopping center, which includes a Kohl's, Petco, Ross and Old Navy.

The shopping center is proposed on 40 acres along Herndon between Clovis and Sunnyside avenues. The land is zoned for a large commercial center.

More than 250 residents showed up at the council meeting last month, many opposed to Wal-Mart because of concerns including noise, light, traffic and air pollution. Besides hearing citizen complaints then, the council also heard from police officials opposed to Wal-Mart's request to be open 24 hours.

Developer David Paynter says he has answers for many of the complaints voiced last month:

Paynter said he will help pay for more than 700 feet of masonry noise wall along Sunnyside Avenue.

Paynter will pay a share of traffic improvements to Herndon and Sunnyside avenues, along Highway 168 and for the intersection of Villa and Herndon avenues.

Paynter will pay $278,000 into a San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District fund for clean-air projects.

"We've brought a quality project to the property, and I believe it's in the best interest of the community as a whole and it's in the best interest of the city for it to go forward," Paynter said.

Lawyer questions project

But, a letter filed by a lawyer representing Clovis Crossroads shopping center said the city failed to meet some state guidelines in its environmental document. The Crossroads, at Bullard and Minnewawa avenues, is anchored by a Save Mart supermarket.

Lawyer Natalie Weber said the city should reopen its comment period because the shopping center's cumulative size -- including an established, adjacent commercial area -- will be more than 500,000 square feet.

That is the state threshold that requires the city to assess water supply for the shopping center.

David Fey, deputy city planner for Clovis, said the city updated its water-management plan two years ago and water management is referenced in the environmental report.

He said the 500,000-square-foot threshold for water supply was put into law because many communities were approving shopping centers on their edges in places where they were not linked to the water purveyor and the community.

But the city of Clovis is the purveyor in this situation.

Fey also said the adjacent 10-year-old shopping area is not part of the project being considered tonight.

Another issue brought up in Weber's letter is the lack of public health information about ailments that could be caused by added pollution.

But Fey said: "We stand by the air quality impact section of the report. No new information or perspective was provided" in Weber's letter.

To reopen the comment period and make changes to the environmental report would cause about a four-month delay, Fey said.

Council members' concerns

City Council members say they cannot vote against a particular store but can consider whether something is wrong with the zoning or environmental impacts.

Council Member Harry Armstrong said he worries whether Wal-Mart will close its existing Clovis store. Wal-Mart has purchased the Shaw Avenue store, and officials say they'll keep it open, but Armstrong said he is not convinced.

"There are so many things with this that kind of bothers me because I don't think they are going to keep the old Wal-Mart open for more than a couple years," he said.

While he has not made a decision, Armstrong said he will not be swayed by $950,000 in annual sales tax revenue an economist has estimated the city will reap from the project.

Other council members said they did not think the Wal-Mart should be allowed to stay open 24 hours.

Council Member Nathan Magsig said, "I am going to be asking about the need for operating 24 hours, who they are serving and why it's necessary."

He said he wants to be sure the project's impacts are reduced as much as possible.

"This is not about whether Wal-Mart is good or bad, it's about whether the environmental report is solid and if the project conforms with the city's general plan," Magsig said. "I haven't ruled out adding more conditions."

Council Member Lynne Ashbeck said she is against a 24-hour store, too, but does not rule out a condition that could allow the store to eventually be open 24 hours if it's managed to city standards.

Curtailing the hours, she said, is "one thing I can use to manage the impact" on neighbors.

She said letters and e-mails she has received are in favor of a shopping center, but split on Wal-Mart as the anchor tenant.

Council Member Jose Flores said the issue for him is proper land use, not Wal-Mart. He also said he will consider the findings of police when making a decision about operating hours.

Mayor Bob Whalen said the council needs to weigh property rights against environmental impacts.

"The development does appear to be consistent with the highway commercial zoning and, at this point, it's whether the environmental impacts are too much," he said. "On the hours of operation, I will be listening closely to what the police have to say."