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May 15, 2013

DHS Planning Commission Approves KMart/Rio Ranch Plans

Commissioner Colarossi was absent from this meeting. The audio recording of this meeting is available here. There was a malfunction on the A/V system, which is the explanation for the long silence you will hear early in the meeting. Chair Sobotta decided to skip ahead to item 2 on the agenda, "Single-Family Architectural and Landscape Design Guidelines," until the glitch was fixed. The displays were necessary to show the powerpoint that the Planning Department had prepared, including illustrations of the elevations, plans, etc. for Rio Ranch Market.

The KMart building currently is 95,075 square feet. The plans are to reduce that to 67,783 s.f., leasing 29,328 s.f. to Rio Ranch Market (on a 35-year lease). Rio Ranch will get the north end of the building, turning the outdoor garden area into an outdoor dining area. The representative from KMart said there really is no market for garden supplies here. Well, I thought to myself, certainly not the way KMart marketed them. Rio Ranch will also build a 2,000 s.f. building at the back of the indoor garden department.

KMart acknowledges that it does not have the distribution network to support a full service supermarket inside its stores, the way Target and WalMart do. This, then, is their way to stay competitive. Downsize, turning the extra floor space over to successful supermarketers. They've done the same thing at one store in San Diego already. Besides eliminating the garden department, KMart will reduce hardware and revise their grocery inventory. Mostly they will focus on apparel.

KMart is beginning to focus more on satisfying its customers via emarketing. Go to mygofer.com (a Sears company), order something, and they can have it for you the next day at the Desert Hot Springs KMart, or so said the KMart rep. My question is "can I pick it up at the service desk?" or do I have to suffer through those slow checkout lines where the cashier will try to get me to sign up for a Sears card, and then the card scanner will fall off its mount.

Two commenters requested full CEQA reviews for this project. Only one of them tried to justify his request. He said that in the 20 years since KMart was built the population has increased a lot and traffic is far heavier at Two Bunch Palms and Palm Drive now. The new supermarket will mean even more traffic. Almost surprisingly, there are provisions in California law that protect developers from being unnecessarily subjected to CEQA review in some cases, and this is one of them. We've got a big retail building that is simply being divided so a different owner can come in and do retail. This is not enough to trigger an environmental review.

BTW, neither of those commenters stayed to the end of the meeting. I think any commenter that calls for additional environmental reviews should be required to stay until the end of the meeting so they can get just a taste of what endless government is really like.

So, if you're like everybody else in Desert Hot Springs the three questions at the top of your list are:

  • What are they going to do about that craptastic landscaping?
  • What are they going to about that craptastic parking lot (AKA, "Death Race 2013")?
  • What are they going to do about that craptastic facade?

The good news is that they will all get better. The bad news is they may not get better enough. Michael Bracken called this "incrementalism." I am happy with incrementalism, but I know many others in DHS who are not.


KMart Rio Ranch Landscaping Plan
The landscaping plan.

KMart Rio Ranch Landscaping Plan detail
More detail.

The perimeter landscaping will be completely redone. Of note, the city is requiring them to rip out those mesquite trees along Two Bunch Palms that they let go way too long. Now the trees lean with the wind and have split trunks. The city will require new trees there, either thornless mesquite or thornless palo verde. The original landscaping plan called for lush vegetation. Really?! I wonder if it ever existed and if someone got a photo of it. Nevertheless, that would not meet with MSWD's water efficiency standards today, so the new landscaping will be required to meet those guidelines.

The three landscaped boxes in front of Rio Ranch will be new. That will be the only landscaping added in this process. All of those suffering trees out there in their 6' by 6' diamonds in the parking lot will remain as is, except the dead ones will be replaced and the KMart representative absolutely promises this time that a functioning irrigation system will serve every tree out there.

Why not bigger diamonds, you ask. Why not a landscaped divider that would also reduce the likelihood of traffic cutting through the parking lot? We get ahead of ourselves, but the reason is that a 97,000 sf building requires 388 parking spaces, according to city standards, and they have exactly 388 parking spaces. I've never seen that before. Every other development comes in with at least a couple of extra spaces for negotiation.

Commissioner Romero asked if the planter box south of the KMart entrance would have plants put in it. The KMart rep wasn't sure about the existence of such a planter, but if there is such a thing, he assured her it would get live plants.


KMart Rio Ranch Parking
The original plan from 1991 showing the parking area that belongs to KMart (in green)
that will be shared with Rio Rancho. The other businesses in that shopping center (Walgreens, Starbucks, the businesses in that strip mall along the southern end) are NOT on property owned by KMart, so none of their issues (if any) can get dragged into this process.

They will reseal and restripe the entire parking lot, but make no other changes in it. Rio Ranch expects to draw a lot more customers than KMart and that will tend to fill up the parking lot, which we all know is never more than half full. More parked cars will make it less likely that people will cut through the parking lot in an attempt to avoid the light at Two Bunch & Palm, Rio Ranch says.

There was no discussion of any attempt to get KMart to mitigate the number of jaywalkers that cut across Palm Drive roughly in front of Starbucks. To be fair, any such proposal should involve all the property owners on both sides of Palm Drive there. If we can't get sharks with lasers on their heads to sit out in the median, then how about getting those businesses to subsidize a cop to sit out there and enforce the jaywalking laws?

To totally regrade the KMart parking lot in an attempt to reduce the slope from the level ADA parking area in front of KMart would cost in the neighborhood of $1 million and would be out of the question, both retailers said.

Store Facade

KMart Rio Ranch east facade
It will look something like this
, I think. The ALRC met three times on this project and I think we were shown the evolution through those steps, for reasons unclear to me. If this isn't the final design, it's pretty close. The important thing to note is the decorative stonework on the columns in front of Rio Ranch. Vice Chair Gerardi liked those and wanted them continued along to the south so that all of the columns looked like that. KMart and Rio Ranch said it was important for them to distinguish themselves from each other. Rio Ranch does not want to be thought of as a KMart supermarket (understandable), and KMart does not want to be thought of as Rio Ranch. A bigger objection from KMart was that the existing columns are mere plywood facades around a steel column. The plywood facades were not built to support the weight of decorative stone, so they would have to be torn out and completely redone just to put stone on them. This additional expense would make the project infeasible. (Have we ever heard that before?)

Other Issues

Rio Ranch wants a license to sell beer and wine. Alcohol sales will take up no more than 2.5% of the floor area. As usual, a finding of "public convenience or necessity" must be made by the City Council for this because of the existing "undue concentration" of them in that census tract. No new license can be issued, so Rio Ranch will have to acquire an existing license.

Alcohol sales will be permitted from 9 AM to 10 PM only. Individual beers may not be sold (6-pack minimum). Individual wine bottles must be at least 750 ml. Small wine drinks (wine coolers) must be in a 4-pack or larger. All beverages must be bagged into a clear plastic bag (which we know by now means those regular translucent shopping bags). And all the other usual police requirements for an alcohol license will be imposed.

The developers proposed a monument sign on Palm Drive that is larger than the sign ordinance would permit. The final decision on that will come at a later meeting. It would identify only KMart, Rio Ranch, Little Caesars and the KMart Pharmacy. They are allowed to have a monument sign on Two Bunch Palms Trail as well, but they don't want one there. The sign ordinance may permit some trading of sign areas to allow a bigger sign on Palm if none (or a smaller one) is erected on Two Bunch.

Michael Bracken says Rio Ranch will create at least 70 FTE jobs (about $2.1 million). He did not say if KMart will reduce their staff. The improvements will increase the assessed value of the property by about $2.5 million. Sales tax to the city will be about $50,000/year from Rio Ranch. If things work as planned, sales at KMart should increase, but Mr. Bracken didn't try to calculate that.

The property will be annexed into CFD 2010-1 to pay for street lighting and landscaping costs.

Two new trash enclosures will be built on the west side of the building.

AIPP provisions do apply.

There are two parking lot lights along Two Bunch Palms Trail that are in the city's right of way. Those will be moved to a location inside KMart property.

If all goes as planned, Rio Ranch will open in late 2013.


Vice Chair Gerardi moved for approval excluding the monument sign, and requiring KMart to submit an analysis of traffic and vehicle accidents in the parking lot 180 days after the certificate of occupancy is granted, and that the decorative stone be applied to all the columns across the entire eastern elevation. The motion got a second, but the second was retracted after discussion.

Another motion was made by Chair Sobotta. It was the same as Mr. Gerardi's motion, but without the provision about the stonework. That was approved 3-1 with Vice Chair Gerardi voting against.

After the vote Michael Bracken praised planning department staff, especially Armando Baldizzone, for moving this paperwork through City Hall in only 5 weeks.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | May 15, 2013 at 06:43 PM


If you mean, will Rio Ranch be completed and opened, the answer is probably so. Not long ago Mayor Matas said that some financial paperwork on the Sears/KMart side of things had been holding it up, and that's been resolved.

Posted by: Ron at Jun 27, 2016 7:11:30 AM

Is this still happening

Posted by: Jen at Jun 27, 2016 12:06:16 AM

Rio Ranch will not be a restaurant. It's a supermarket. It will also sell some prepared foods. The market is what it is. If DHS does not "need" a particular business, it will not succeed.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Sep 5, 2013 3:18:34 PM

I love Mexican food but does DHS really need another Mexican restaurant? How about an Applebees or Sizzler

Posted by: Steve at Sep 5, 2013 2:43:04 PM

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