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As many as four new businesses could move into the space currently occupied by Walmart when the big-box retailer moves into its new digs across the street.

The Lodi Site Plan and Architectural Review Committee voted 5-0 Wednesday night to allow Browman Development Company, Inc. of Walnut Creek to divide the 108,000-square-foot space at 2350 W. Kettleman Lane into as many as four spaces.

“What we’re trying to accomplish is do some facade improvements that will enhance the existing building,” Browman Development representative Darryl Browman said Wednesday night. “This enables us to secure the appropriate anchor tenants to fill that space once we move the Walmart.”

Browman said his firm is in negotiations with four potential tenants, though he declined to name them at the meeting.

He said he would prefer to see three anchor stores as large as 60,000-square-feet in size replace the Walmart. However, if Browman cannot find three larger anchors willing to move into the space, he said he would get four smaller tenants to move in.

Wednesday’s approval comes after the development firm revealed it was having difficulty finding a big-box retailer to occupy the space.

As part of the Walmart Supercenter approval in 2009, the existing space must be sold and have a new tenant in place before the Supercenter opens across the street in the planned Lodi Shopping Center.

If a new tenant can not be found, the existing building must be demolished 90 days after the Supercenter opens, according to Wednesday’s agenda.

“The applicants aren’t looking to tear the structure down, so what they’re proposing to do is divide the building into several tenant spaces,” City Planner Craig Hoffman said. “This gives them the flexibility to market the building in a way they aren’t currently able to do.”

Lodi resident Evelyn Ehlers lives behind the existing Walmart. She worries new tenants might ignore the rear of their spaces, allowing homeless residents to move in or criminal activities to occur close to her property.

“Right now, Walmart is a great neighbor,” she said. “I worry about having two new tenants, and the safety and security of what will be behind that building when all of this is finished.”

Browman told her his firm has the same concerns, and said only “high-quality” tenants will replace the Walmart.

He encouraged Ehlers, as well as any other concerned neighbors, to contact his firm with any questions or problems when the new tenants move in.

Later in the evening, SPARC members voted 5-0, and the Lodi Planning Commission voted 6-0 to approve the architecture and plans for 11 drive-thru businesses to be built in the Lodi Shopping Center.

“I think this is something that’s going to be a big addition to Lodi,” SPARC member Roger Stafford said. “I think it looks good.”

A 3,500-square-foot building will house a KFC, among other businesses, and front Kettleman Lane.

A similar-sized building along Lower Sacramento Road will be home to the McDonald’s currently located at 2312 W. Kettleman Lane. Other businesses will also share the McDonald’s building.

A third 9,800-square-foot building that will front Lower Sacramento Road will be home to a number of businesses, primarily a Buffalo Wild Wings, Hoffman said.

Many of the buildings in the project have the potential to house banks, other fast food restaurants, larger restaurants or retailers, according to Wednesday’s agenda.

Planning Commission Chairman Wendel Kiser raised concern that once the McDonald’s moves to the Lodi Shopping Center, its current location could be vacant for some time.

Hoffman said Farmer Boys, a fast food restaurant based in Perris that specializes in breakfast and burgers, is looking to move into the current McDonald’s location. The closest Farmer Boys is located in Ripon.

Planning Commission Vice Chairman Randy Heinitz echoed Stafford’s sentiments during the later meeting.

“This is a project that’s been a long time coming,” Vice Chairman Randy Heinitz said. “I know Lodi is ready for it, and Lodi is looking forward to it. It’s put together well.”

Planning commissioner Debbie Olson was absent from the meeting.

Contact reporter Wes Bowers at wesb@lodinews.com.

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