Westlake development west of Fresno sounds like a sure deal

The Fresno BeeDecember 12, 2013 

It appears all over but the shouting for a history-making master-planned community west of Highway 99 in Fresno.

The City Council on Thursday held a two-and-a-half-hour hearing on Westlake, a proposed 430-acre residential-commercial project from Granville Homes that has been in the works for more than a decade.

At issue are several staff recommendations, including certification of an environmental impact report and a rezone application.

About 25 people spoke to the council. A handful of critics said the project is little more than sprawl. The vast majority said the project is a long-overdue blessing to the fast-growing west-of-99 area.

The council took no action -- that will come next Thursday.

But judging by supportive comments from a majority of council members, the vote will be a formality.

"I really believe this will transform the west side of Fresno," Council Member Steve Brandau said.

Added Council Member Lee Brand: "Granville has an impressive track record of being responsible owners."

The project is bounded by Gettysburg, Garfield, Shields and Grantland avenues. It will have about 2,600 residential units, including single-family homes and apartments. There will be a 55-acre lake, nearly three miles of trails, an elementary school (in Central Unified School District) and about 300,000 square feet of commercial space.

The site is in the city's sphere of influence, an area not yet in the city limits but destined to be so. Granville Vice President Jeff Roberts said the company, with a positive council vote in its pocket, will move fast to get the site annexed.

Grading of the site could begin early next year. The time-frame for full buildout depends on market demand, but could be in 10 to 20 years. Westlake could be home to as many as 8,000 people.

The project's toughest grilling came in November when it went before the Planning Commission. Westlake passed that hurdle on a 3-2 vote.

Thursday's public comments -- pro and con -- had a perfunctory air about them, as if everyone already knew the council likes the project.

If so, that's because City Hall has sought something like Westlake for more than a decade. Granville Vice President Jeff Roberts and former city Planning Director Nick Yovino (a project supporter) gave a brief history of Westlake's genesis.

They described three key factors:

• The area west of 99 and north of Highway 180 has long been a growth area. But, unlike older Fresno neighborhoods, the region lacks a firm identity. The place seems to sprout nothing but nondescript housing projects and street-corner shopping centers.

• As far back as 1983, City Hall recognized that the Westlake site would someday transition from farm to urban.

• The city under every mayor since the 1950s has been desperate to spur downtown housing.

In late 2002, with the 2025 general plan completed, Roberts sat down with Yovino and his staff to talk about the future. The result was dual-track meeting of the minds.

Granville, with the considerable help of the Redevelopment Agency, would build downtown housing. The Cultural Arts District is now full of Granville projects.

And Granville would build a master-planned, mixed-use project in the west-of-99 area similar to the high-profile master-planned communities that dot north Fresno and cause so much political strife over "tale of two cities" charges.

Roberts said Granville began acquiring land for a master-planned project west of 99 in early 2003. He said the concept at the time didn't even have a name.

Now, Granville President Darius Assemi said, Westlake will be "our next destination project."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or ghostetter@fresnobee.com. Read his City Beat blog at fresnobee.com/city-beat.

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