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Traffic study among final details for auto mall, supermarket

August 22, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

Efforts are under way to iron out final details that could lead to the belated breaking of ground by Thanksgiving of an auto mall and grocery store along North Imperial Avenue near Cruickshank Drive in El Centro.

A meeting today in San Diego among city officials, the developer and state Department of Transportation officials will address the most important of those details, a traffic study.

The 32-acre development is expected to create 14 commercial lots. The center will consist of a mix of retail stores and the auto mall, including the new home of El Centro Motors, and a Food 4 Less grocery store. Construction is expected to occur in six phases and include two new streets.

Pedro Orso, Caltrans deputy district director for program project management, said besides the traffic study, the most important remaining issue is a so-called valuation between state highway land to be dedicated to left-turn lanes for the development and the value of improvements to the intersection of Imperial, or Highway 86, and Cruickshank.

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If the value of the rights-of-way is more than that of the improvements, the developer would have to pay the state the difference.

The consultant to determine that valuation will be chosen by today, according to an Aug. 17 letter from the city to Caltrans. The valuation information will be presented to the state on or before Sept. 22. Caltrans is expected to respond to the valuation by Sept. 12.

Regarding the traffic study, Orso also said Caltrans has yet to receive one that is adequate.

"We still don't have an approved, completed traffic study," he said, adding that drafts have been submitted but found lacking. "We still haven't agreed to the numbers yet."

Orso added the state has not seen project plans that would show exactly what is being proposed for the area and the intersection.

"We can't issue a permit without seeing the project plans for what's going to happen at that intersection," he said.

Meanwhile, if the project is not approved soon, certain economic incentives could evaporate.

Dennis Nesselhauf, co-owner of El Centro Motors, the local Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealer, said ground-breaking on the new facility must start by November in order to take advantage of certain manufacturing price incentives being offered.

He said the dealership's current location at Fourth and Main streets has insufficient space to provide the needed service to local residents' vehicles.

"We're just waiting for Caltrans to sign off on the permits so we can break ground," Nesselhauf said. "It's very frustrating."

El Centro Motors has a $7 million inventory on five lots spread over four acres that will move to a single, 15-acre parcel at the new site.

Construction of Northgate Plaza is about a year behind schedule. It was originally scheduled to begin last summer.

Separately, a $500,000 state community development block grant the city obtained for infrastructure work could revert back to the state if work has not begun by Thanksgiving, according to Oscar Rodriquez, El Centro economic development director.

"There is a six-month time frame on CDBG money," he said.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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