Atwater restarts SuperTarget

ATWATER -- Plans to restart construction on a proposed SuperTarget hit the bull's eye this week, but not without the city's vice mayor warning that court challenges may not be over.

After about a half-hour of comments from the public supporting the 47-acre shopping center and three minutes of opposition, the council unanimously approved a report Monday that is supposed to meet a court order that forced the city to review the project a second time.

The San Francisco-based attorney who fought the project said after the meeting that he wasn't sure what his next move, if any, will be.

The project was challenged earlier this year by a retired Save Mart employee and an attorney who lists the market's union as a client after the city increased the size of the Target building by 30,700 square feet so it could become a super center and sell groceries.

The modification added 642 square feet to the project on Commerce Avenue, though it never went before the council and public for comment and approval. A Merced County Superior Court judge ruled the city was wrong by not studying the change's effects and forced the city to review the plans again.

The standing-room-only meeting was marked by occasional shouts of support and applause. Some residents decried anti-competitive motives for the lawsuit because of Steve Hernandez' connection to Save Mart as a former assistant produce manager. An economic report for the city predicts that local grocery stores will lose about $6.9 million in business if a SuperTarget opens.

Other residents as well as the police and firefighters' union leaders urged the council to go forward because it will create more jobs, increase the city's revenue by about $2 million and give shoppers lower prices.

Hernandez sat in the back row and did not speak during the meeting. No one spoke against the project, though Hernandez' attorney, Mark Wolfe, said five residents gave him permission to use their names in opposing the SuperTarget.

Wolfe said he would have to review the city's vote before he decides what to do. While admitting that the public support is overwhelming, he said it's not the only factor the city must consider with super center projects, noting that Stockton and Turlock have banned superstores.

The SuperTarget is tentatively scheduled to open in October 2008.