Surrounded on three sides by the Clovis city limits and facing the prospect of annexation, folks in the Dry Creek Preserve decided it was time to get involved and help determine the future of their rural neighborhood.
Political activism is not exactly in the DNA of rural residents, who like to live where there are fewer rules and more elbow room. But about three years ago, after learning that the city of Clovis was thinking about annexing the 785-acre area, neighbors became activists.
They've been taking steps -- with the blessing of Clovis city officials -- to draw up a blueprint for the future of their unincorporated neighborhood that would require developers to maintain open spaces, build on big lots and forgo streetlights, sidewalks, curbs and gutters.
Their plan may ultimately be incorporated into the update of the Clovis General Plan, which guides development in the city and surrounding areas.
Dry Creek residents are trying to avoid the urbanization that inevitably comes with new-home developments, said Phil Ross, a Dry Creek Preserve committee member working on the community plan.
"We are what Clovis used to be," Ross said. "We feel a part of Clovis, but we don't feel a part of housing developments that have block walls and a backyard you can see six other houses from."
The last time they were politically active was 20 years ago, when residents requested that their rural area be kept out of plans for new city neighborhoods north of Herndon Avenue and south of Shepherd Avenue.
They felt secure in their rural lifestyle -- until Clovis city officials sent letters asking if they would consider annexation.
"It caused people to draw together again," said Dry Creek resident Dale Mitchell.
The area, which lies south of Shepherd Avenue in northeast Clovis and contains about 270 parcels and 1,500 residents, continues to be a target for developers.
For example, Granville Homes is proposing a 31-home development on 30 acres in an eastern section of Dry Creek Preserve.
Granville bought the site from a developer who planned to build 105 homes. Granville proposed building 60 homes, but then whittled back the project further after Dry Creek residents objected.
Because Dry Creek Preserve falls into Clovis' sphere of influence -- county areas that could be annexed by the city -- the City Council decides if the project can be built. Council members voted earlier this month against the plan because Granville wanted to keep the project in the county.
The city, which wants to have direct control over future growth areas, wants to annex the 30-acre area and, if agreements can be negotiated, all of Dry Creek Preserve.
Terms for the Granville project are being negotiated and the project could return to the council for reconsideration early next year.
To satisfy Dry Creek residents, the council is willing to consider granting exceptions to the usual requirements for infrastructure -- streetlights, sidewalks, curbs and gutters.
"Hopefully we have a project that creates a nice environment and makes some money," said Jeff Roberts, a vice president for Granville. "Nobody is totally enamored with it, but it's a middle ground that everybody will move toward."
The Granville project could set a pattern for the larger area. City officials say they would be willing to consider annexation of the entire Dry Creek Preserve while maintaining the area's rural traits.
"If they are annexed, it will be because we come to a series of standards they can live with and annexation would not be the bogeyman to them," said David Fey, Clovis' deputy city planner.
For the most part, Dry Creek residents would rather avoid annexation. Ross said residents see a benefit of staying in the county because rules are not as stringent and not as costly to follow.
Dry Creek residents decided to become actively involved again after watching the annexation and development of Harlan Ranch and surrounding areas, including the 500-acre Locan-Nees area. County officials had required the city to annex Locan-Nees if it wanted to annex and develop the 1,300-home Harlan Ranch.
During annexation, Locan-Nees residents spent months working on agreements with the city to let their neighborhood keep standards similar to a county neighborhood.
Dry Creek residents figured it was better to get involved earlier, even before possible annexation, so they formed a committee that holds meetings and gathers suggestions from residents about the future of their neighborhood. Committee members regularly attend the Clovis General Plan committee meetings.
Clovis officials view the committee members as representing Dry Creek Preserve. While the committee -- a loose-knit group that serves as a liaison with the city -- doesn't claim to represent everyone in the neighborhood, committee members believe they represent a majority of residents, Ross said.
The neighborhood was named by residents for the creek running along the area's west side.
It's unusual for residents to be so pro-active and develop their own neighborhood plan, said David Hosley, president of the Modesto-based Great Valley Center. "It's also important that the city is willing to work with them in finding something that works for the area and is true to the overall plan that works for Clovis."
County officials have little involvement in the project's approval, but Fresno County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian said she has been watching how the Dry Creek Preserve plans evolve for her constituents.
"I hope the city spends a lot of time meeting with the residents and taking their concerns seriously," she said. "When I think of the 'Clovis Way of Life,' I think of that area."
Clovis council members say they welcome involvement by Dry Creek residents in the planning process.
"We cannot just force our own will on that particular community," Council Member Bob Whalen said. "We need to listen to what those neighbors want to have around them. ... This has to be a collaborative effort."
The Granville project will likely be up for approval early next year.
The original plan was for the city to annex the Granville land as part of a larger 120-acre annexation, but Dry Creek Preserve residents said they did not want to be annexed.
Council Member Lynne Ashbeck then proposed that the city annex only the Granville site. Ashbeck said she does not often favor "piecemeal" development -- carving out small parcels that don't match a surrounding area -- but supports the Granville project.
She said Dry Creek Preserve residents will not be forced into annexation, but they will be a welcome addition if they choose to be.
"Having an area like that in Clovis is a great asset," she said. "I would endorse it being like it is today, and they can be in the city when the residents have enough comfort that they can keep the Dry Creek Preserve feel out there."
Ashbeck's proposal, while not perfect, appears to be a compromise that meets the goals of many residents, the developer and the city, Ross said.
Mitchell, who has lived in the Dry Creek area for 25 years, is familiar with development pressure.
During the housing boom earlier in the decade, he would often find real estate fliers on his gate asking about the availability of his land, which runs a quarter-mile with access to Sunnyside Avenue. Mitchell farms pecans and has 17 llamas roaming his 12-acre property.
"The neighbors were worried about us," said Mitchell, a retired state Fish and Game employee. "But I told them we were not going to be the first to leave."
Residents continue to meet with the Clovis General Plan update committee, and Mitchell expects that the basics of the Dry Creek Preserve community's plan will be ready in October.
By having residents involved in the planning processes, there are fewer surprises for the city, Mitchell said. "We were supportive of what Granville is trying to do," he said. "Rather than doing a NIMBY [not in my backyard] routine, we want to set this up to work for us."