Fresno Planning Commission tells Granville: Keep longer driveways

The Fresno BeeApril 2, 2014 

Darius Assemi

The humble suburban driveway could begin stripping some of the idealism from Fresno's high-density development dreams.

The Planning Commission on Wednesday rejected Granville Homes' request to reduce the minimum length of driveways on a portion of the builder's new housing project in northeast Fresno.

Staff said each driveway should be at least 18 feet long, in part for safety. Granville wants the option to go with eight-foot driveways, saying this will lead to bigger backyards on small lots and give high-density living a sporting chance to succeed.

Commission Chairwoman Jaime Holt said big houses almost certainly mean bigger families living in them.

"I think you're going to have a lot of parked cars," she said.

A longer driveway is key to keeping those parked cars from jutting into the public sidewalk, she said.

The vote was 4-1. Commissioner Luisa Medina voted no.

Granville President Darius Assemi after the hearing said he will try to appeal the decision to the City Council.

"If we want high density, then developers must be given the tools to do it," Assemi said.

Only the mayor or the council member representing the project site can take an appeal to the council. Council Member Lee Brand, who serves northeast Fresno, said he will carry Assemi's appeal forward.

"It's real easy to say you want high density," Brand said. "It's clear there will have to be compromises."

The commission for the most part embraced Assemi's project. The tiff was over driveways.

The project, a part of Copper River Ranch, has 134 single-family residential lots. There will be 49 in a gated community. The other 85 are on public streets.

Those 85 lots come in various sizes. Some are about 3,000 square feet in size. Granville plans to build homes of 1,600 to 2,200 square feet on the lots.

Such density -- perhaps 13 or 14 homes per acre -- is what Mayor Ashley Swearengin and community activists want from a 2035 general plan update that will come to the council this year.

Assemi's challenge is finding buyers in a metropolitan area with plenty of alternatives. One of his marketing challenges is the backyard, he said.

Assemi said there's a market for small lots in neighborhoods with amenities such as trails, green space and shopping. But to put a decent-sized house with a city-mandated 18-foot driveway on a 3,000 square-foot lot is to deliver a product with a backyard from two to five feet wide, he added.

If the city insists on 18-foot driveways, Assemi said, he may have to redraw the project with less density.

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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