New lawsuit wants more review of Chaffee Zoo expansion

The Fresno BeeJanuary 8, 2014 

JRW ZOO 5

Scott Barton, director of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, speaks during groundbreaking ceremonies for the new African Adventure exhibit in Roeding Park.

JOHN WALKER — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

Fresno Chaffee Zoo's African Adventure project could face more delays because Fresno city officials did not give proper time for public comments about proposed changes to entrances in the Roeding Park master plan, a lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit, filed last month by Friends of Roeding Park lawyer Richard Harriman, said the decision not to use Golden State Boulevard and Olive Avenue as future entrances to the park and to continue using entries at Olive and Belmont avenues will reduce parking and significantly change traffic patterns.

The lawsuit contends the city violated state environmental law by failing to allow sufficient public comment on the changed plan.

The city provided "six days notice to petitioners and the public of the intent to amend the master plans for the park and the zoo ... to review a 302-page document and to prepare for the hearing by the City Council on Nov. 7, 2013," said the lawsuit.

Friends of Roeding Park wants the city to overturn approval of the park entryways decision and prepare a supplemental environmental impact report for additional public comment.

Harriman, whose clients lost a court battle to block zoo expansion, said he would decline comment until after settlement talks conclude.

If no settlement is reached, Friends of Roeding Park will seek a temporary restraining order that could stop construction work at the zoo until a proper environmental review is done.

Work on African Adventure will soon get under way. It will add 13 acres now outside Chaffee Zoo's current boundaries in Roeding Park. The project will take 19 months to complete and will add African elephants, lions, cheetahs and meerkats.

Zoo officials maintain that there was no need for additional environmental study, however.

The entrance change was approved in an addendum to the environmental document that evaluated traffic and parking needs, said John Kinsey, lawyer for the Fresno Chaffee Zoo Corp., the nonprofit that operates the zoo.

The city had proposed adding a Golden State Boulevard entrance, but high-speed railroad plans eliminated that idea, he said.

"Golden State Boulevard, as it exists today, is not going to be there if the high-speed rail project is built," Kinsey said. "We had to come up with another option for some minor elements of the master plan and move the Golden State entrance to Belmont."

By moving the Golden State entrance, some parking was lost, but "we will still be well within the number of parking spaces we need," Kinsey said.

The legal question is whether the entrance change creates "new or significant impacts or worsening of significant impacts," he said.

The environmental document in the addendum contains a traffic and parking analysis that concludes a supplemental environmental report was not needed.

"It confirms that there were not going to be any major changes and no new significant impacts," Kinsey said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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