A massive planned expansion of Monte Vista Crossings may be put on hold, after Turlock Planning Commissioners didn't bend to the will of developer Mark Hall Thursday evening.
Monte Vista Crossing's next stage of development, south of Kohl's and near the new Olive Garden, would be home to 12 new tenants, Hall said. Those new businesses are already lined up and ready to go, he said, with pads set to be ready for anchor stores by April 1.
But, for Hall, the entire development hinges on one condition which requires the new development to provide a connecting driveway with a small, undeveloped property along its eastern border.
The connecting driveway would require traffic to access the adjoining property through Monte Vista Crossings, with no driveway along Countryside Drive. Cars would be forced to drive through Monte Vista Crossings to reach the parcel.
“It's a multimillion dollar issue for us, and we're not going to move forward with this until we get it resolved,” Hall said.
The condition has been attached to the project since 2008, when plans were first filed. Hall Equities Group agreed to the condition at the time, and again in 2010 when a project extension occurred.
The concept behind the condition is simple, the city says: the more driveways along Countryside Drive, the more confusing and dangerous it is for drivers. Modern traffic flow patterns suggest it's better to have few entrances into shopping areas, and large, easy-to-navigate parking lots. So, from the start, the planning documents for northwest Turlock were written to require connectivity between commercial parcels.
“The plan was written around this idea that we're trying to limit future access to Countryside Drive and bring that circulation pattern into the shopping center,” said Turlock Planning Manager Debbie Whitmore.
And it simply doesn't make sense to force shoppers at the small parcel to exit to either Countryside Drive or Tuolumne Road, just to turn in to Monte Vista Crossing at the next driveway. Planners estimate as many as 17 vehicles an hour could be forced to make that out-of-the-way trip, at peak times.
But from a financial standpoint, the condition just doesn't make sense to Hall.
“There's just so many things wrong with this from our perspective,” Hall said.
When the condition was initially approved in 2008, Hall had an option to purchase the adjacent property. As such, the condition was of no concern. But that option has since expired, giving Hall no control over the parcel.
Shopping centers are delicate beasts, Hall said, with a careful mix of synergistic tenants. Businesses are carefully chosen to compliment each other, while not cannibalizing sales; lease agreements go as far as to mandate whether or not a shoe store can sell athletic shoes.
Allowing another parcel to connect with Monte Vista Crossings could throw off that balance, according to Hall.
“That degrades the value of our asset, potentially,” Hall said.
Making matters worse, the connectivity would allow others to become “free-riders,” Hall said, taking advantage of the infrastructure and parking built by Monte Vista Crossings.
“We've paid for all of that,” Hall said. “They're not contributing to that cost. They're not contributing to that maintenance.”
Brian Heron, a representative of the adjacent property's owner, says Hall's concerns are blown out of proportion. The size of the parcel would allow one pad, at most, he said, and the developer would create parking on-site.
“Nobody is trying to take over Hall Equity's project,” Heron said. “… We have one simple little pad, and all we are asking for is access.”
Heron also said he has yet to sit down and negotiate any sort of agreement with Hall, but that he would like to.
“This does not have to be, in our opinion, the Hatfields versus the McCoys,” Heron said.
Hall, on the other hand, has no interest in negotiating while the connectivity requirement is in place. He says that mandated access increases the value of the adjoining parcel, forcing him to negotiate from a compromised position.
And Hall says the mandated access is already costing him business. One prospective tenant broke off talks with Monte Vista Crossings, and is now discussing a move into the adjoining parcel, Hall said.
City Manager Roy Wasden tried to broker a peace agreement, taking the unprecedented step of approaching the dais as an audience member during Thursday's public hearing. He suggested that a decision be put off, giving both parties time to talk and the city a chance to come up with a better solution.
“This is a classic lose-lose,” Wasden said. “And I think we ought to be able to find a win-win. I want to see this project move forward, it's critical to the community.”
But Hall insisted on a vote, not a postponement, due to a tight development timeframe.
The Planning Commission, despite their opinions on Hall's economic arguments, unanimously voted against the appeal. The Turlock Planning Commission's votes are largely bound by pre-existing plans and regulations.
“It appears to me that our hands are relatively tied from a planning standpoint,” Planning Commission Chairman Mike Brem said.
Hall will next take his appeal to the Turlock City Council, which has more discretion in granting appeals.
After that, if need be, Hall said he will follow administrative and legal remedies. The process could take years, as Hall would likely allow his current planning application to expire and then file a new one as part of his strategy.
But time is of the essence for the development. With retailers keen to open their doors in time for holiday shopping, Hall has to have pads ready to go by April 1.
“If this is a 60-day process, I've got to tell my retailers this project is not going to happen in 2014,” Hall said.