The Friant Corridor Study, which has drawn the ire of environmental groups that want the area between the northern edge of Fresno and the town of Friant to remain undeveloped, was placed in limbo Tuesday by Fresno County supervisors.
The term used for the report’s future was “set aside,” coined by board Chairman Buddy Mendes. It doesn’t mean approval and it doesn’t mean rejection, he said.
The vote was 5-0 and may mean there could be some useful ideas in the study, but “it’s a very incomplete report,” said Mendes. “It didn’t address the water problem there.”
Water is not available in the study area without overdrafting aquifers and it would require surface water allocations from local agencies to serve any new development.
The $120,000 Friant Corridor Study was paid for in large part by development interests to explore constraints and possibilities for future growth in the 5,346-acre area. The study was twice rejected by the Fresno County Planning Commission.
The land is primarily in agriculture, ranching and river habitat.
The study has been opposed by the League of Women Voters, the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, and the Audubon Society, as well as other groups.
Fresno County officials point out that the study proposes no land-use changes. The project’s authors, the engineering firm Quad Knopf, noted six “opportunity sites” along the corridor covering 301 acres, roughly 6 percent of the study area. Those uses were described as expansion of the Lost Lake Recreation Area, kayak and canoe rentals, recreational fields and potential restaurants and convenience stores.
Water was called out as part of the reason for doing this study and it really wasn’t addressed in the study itself, so we think that it’s sort of the fatal flaw.
Sharon Weaver, executive director of the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust
The remainder of the acreage should not be considered for development now, the study indicates.
“It was not intended to be a comprehensive, exhaustive study,” said Bernard Jimenez, deputy planning director.
He said the study had a limited scope and budget, $120,000 total, which isn’t enough to pay for environmental documents and large-scale water studies.
The lack of details on such important issues as water were among “critical errors and omissions,” said Sharon Weaver, executive director of the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust. She encouraged supervisors to reject the study.
“Water was called out as part of the reason for doing this study and it really wasn’t addressed in the study itself, so we think that it’s sort of the fatal flaw,” she said.
She also said traffic and transportation along Friant Road weren’t addressed.
Kirk Anderson, a 40-year resident living in the study area, said he also didn’t understand why water wasn’t evaluated. He told supervisors he has had to drill three new wells on his property in the time he has lived there.
Accept the study for what it is, a concept on the what ifs and the possibilities for this corridor that has always been envisioned as a gateway to recreation.
Dennis Bacopulos, Friant Ranch representative
The best way to ensure the area is preserved is by prohibiting development, he said, but the study process appears to be an effort to get a “toe in the door” to start development.
“I think the entire corridor between the bluffs should be kept for ag, riparian habitat and parkway. There should not be hotels, motels and restaurants,” he said. “That corridor should become a jewel that Fresno brags about (to show) what a wonderful place this is to live.”
But Dennis Bacopulos, representative for the 2,270-home Friant Ranch, which is north of the study area and among those who funded the study, said opponents shouldn’t worry about the area being paved over tomorrow. Friant Ranch was approved 12 years ago and hasn’t moved dirt because of environmental lawsuits and other regulatory issues, he said.
“Accept the study for what it is: a concept on the what-ifs and the possibilities for this corridor that has always been envisioned as a gateway to recreation,” he said.
In seeking middle ground, Supervisor Andreas Borgeas said the board should never shy away from discussions on such sensitive issues and that the study was shortchanged because of financial constraints. But he also noted that many of the “inflamed opinions” on the matter are not all grounded in fact.
“The Planning Commission said to throw it away, but I am not certain that’s the right thing to do because there are some elements in this that can be useful,” he said. “On the flip side, to accept it would also be a wrong course of action.”