How should West Fresno grow? City Council seeks answers to old question

The Darling rendering plant in southwest Fresno has long drawn community opposition. How much industrial use should be allowed in West Fresno would be studied in a proposed specific plan for the area.
The Darling rendering plant in southwest Fresno has long drawn community opposition. How much industrial use should be allowed in West Fresno would be studied in a proposed specific plan for the area. Fresno Bee Staff Photo

A pair of long-awaited plans – one to guide planning and development in southwest Fresno, the other to serve as a playbook for park construction and maintenance – will take big steps forward if the Fresno City Council approves them on Thursday.

Council members will consider formally initiating a review process for a new Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, a proposed document to steer how more than 3,200 acres west of Highway 99 and south of Highway 180 – an area long known by residents as “West Fresno” – will be developed over the coming decades. As part of that process, the council is being asked to repeal the Edison Community Plan to allow for the future adoption of the larger plan in late 2017.

A 21-member steering committee of neighborhood residents, developers, land owners and business leaders in the area was appointed by City Councilman Oliver Baines, whose district encompasses southwest Fresno. For more than a year, that group has met to develop first a broad vision, and then a specific focus, on how the area should grow.

One of the committee members, Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce President Tate Hill, addressed the City Council two weeks ago on behalf of the committee and recounted his own experience serving on panels to generate ideas that, for years, went nowhere “after more than 50 years of disinvestment in the community.”

“One of the consistent frustrations is trying to understand why we couldn’t move the needle from the city’s highest concentration of poverty, the … highest saturation of liquor stores and environmental toxic sites, and disproportionately poorer air quality,” Hill told the council. “We realized it centered around land use and the lack of an actionable specific plan.”

Hill noted that the steering committee adopted rules requiring a 75 percent “super-majority” vote for any components in the plan. “We didn’t agree on everything,” he said. “But there was a strong majority that believe this is a strong, concise plan that is in the best interest of West Fresno.”

The plan calls for two “magnet cores” for development: one along Highway 180 and Marks Avenue geared toward retail, a major grocer, high-density housing and a medical facility; and a second near Jensen Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard for a possible community college, retail and a new park.

Sprinkled elsewhere throughout the area are several smaller “satellite” cores of complete neighborhoods, each with single-family housing, neighborhood-oriented retail and parks.

The steering committee’s proposal also includes one major departure from the city’s current General Plan: designating the land use of industrial properties in the area to less-intensive office zoning, “after much discussion,” said architect Bruce Brubaker of PlaceWorks Inc., a consulting firm assisting the city in the planning process. While the office zoning would bar further development of manufacturing or processing plants, it would allow many other commercial types of uses.

It’s one part of the plan that drew the dissent of at least one steering committee member, Debbie Darden. Chairwoman of the Golden Westside Planning Committee, Darden told the City Council on Nov. 17 that her organization disagreed with the majority.

“I am very aware of what the dismal zoning has caused, the many heavy industrial (and) environmentally polluting businesses next to our schools and homes,” Darden said. “This horrible injustice, however, should not be the reason we turn our backs on good, clean industries which could come into our community and benefit all our residents.”

The Fresno Planning Commission unanimously voted at its Nov. 2 meeting to recommend the plan to the City Council. If the council approves it, city staffers and consultants will begin work on a draft environmental impact report to be issued next spring, followed by possible approval by the Planning Commission in October and by the City Council in November.

Parks master plan

The City Council is also being asked to approve a Fresno Parks Vision 2050 plan as the first step in developing a citywide parks master plan. It represents the culmination of a process in which the city held community meetings and surveys to determine areas of greatest need, including identifying areas for capital improvements and maintenance.

If the council adopts the vision plan, a more detailed analysis will occur throughout the first half of 2017. A final master plan would go to the City Council for adoption next summer.

“Preliminary analysis shows gaps in the park system – neighborhoods in Fresno where facilities are limited or nonexistent,” according to the vision plan’s introductory statement. The ultimate goal of the master plan is to come up with ways to fill those gaps.

“Currently, only half of the Fresno population is within a half mile of a park, which means that roughly half of the population does not live within walking distance to a park,” the document states. “As the population continues to grow, that will become an even larger challenge for the current park system.”

Fresno City Council

▪ What: Fresno City Council meeting

▪ When: 9 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 1

▪ Where: Fresno City Hall, Council Chamber (second floor), 2600 Fresno Street, downtown Fresno