For years, Belmont Avenue east of Blackstone Avenue has been a hub of small businesses including automotive and light industrial shops, used-car lots, and liquor and convenience stores. But wholesale changes in 2016 to Fresno’s land-use zoning and development rules emphasizing a new style development has put the pinch on business and property owners along Belmont.
On Thursday, the Fresno City Council unanimously voted to start the process of revising the rules to allay concerns of owners whose longstanding businesses no longer fit in the mixed-use zoning – with commercial projects on the ground floor and residential housing on upper floors – that characterize the city’s plans.
“Anytime you take the 34th largest city in the country and rezone it, there are going to be some bumps in the road,” said Fresno City Councilman Clint Olivier, who proposed expanding the types of uses that can be allowed along Belmont Avenue between Blackstone and Peach avenues – effectively restoring the existing types of businesses otherwise excluded by the neighborhood mixed-use zoning. “Occasionally there are hiccups … and sometimes a shotgun approach doesn’t work.”
Mel Erickson, who owns a quarter-acre lot that was home to a tire shop on Belmont near Cedar Avenue, said he tried last year to sell the property to a company that makes decorative ironwork. “We found a buyer, everything was finalized on the loan, we went into escrow, but then my Realtor checked to see that the zoning had not changed,” Erickson told the council. “But it had been changed, so we lost the sale. We’re just sitting there, and we can’t even rent it.”
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Erickson’s Realtor, his nephew Fred Williams, said he has fielded other calls from would-be buyers, but none have been willing to enter a purchase contract because of the new mixed-use zoning. “This is a business area and we have to get back to that,” he said.
Businesses in operation when the development code was adopted are “grandfathered” in, but the new rules are in effect if there’s a change of ownership or proposed change in use of the property.
The Fresno Chamber of Commerce supported Olivier’s proposal to expand the allowable business uses. “This affects a whole lot of minority-owned businesses and a whole lot of small businesses,” Alonzo said. “A zoning issue is something that can derail a small business.”
Dan Zack, assistant director of Fresno’s planning department, acknowledged that “the changes were pretty widespread that we made” to the zoning ordinance. “There’s some fine tuning that needs to happen to really get it right.”
Zack said his department is already working on solutions that could come back to the City Council as early as March to address concerns not only along Belmont Avenue, but in other parts of the city as well.
“For Belmont, (the changes) would allow a much wider range of uses than currently allowed,” Zack said. “A lot of the auto-oriented uses out there now would be allowed, sometimes by right without permits.” The rules, he added, would be broadened “to allow as much of the character of businesses out there as possible.”