After a one-week delay, the Fresno City Council is expected Thursday to initiate an environmental analysis for a land-use plan covering southwest Fresno, one of the most impoverished areas of the city.
The proposed Southwest Fresno Specific Plan would 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 in coming decades.
A 21-member steering committee formed by City Councilman Oliver Baines, whose district encompasses the area, wrestled with myriad issues for more than a year at a series of meetings and workshops before issuing its recommendation earlier this fall.
A favorable vote Thursday would authorize city staff members and consultants to begin work on a draft environmental impact report to be issued next spring, followed by possible approval by the Fresno Planning Commission and City Council next fall. In addition to gaining a “supermajority” 75 percent approval by the steering committee, the proposed plan was unanimously approved last month by the Planning Commission.
“The community supports the plan as it is,” said steering committee member Ashley Werner, an attorney with Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability, a neighborhood advocacy group. “It came out of an 18-month process of community engagement.”
One key feature of the plan is the elimination of industrial zoning for new development in West Fresno. It wouldn’t affect existing industrial businesses that have for years been the source of noise, traffic, odor and pollution complaints from neighbors. But, Werner said, “the plan for the first time would stop new industrial development in West Fresno, and that’s something the residents have been asking for for decades.”
Instead, industrial zoning would be replanned for less-intensive office zoning – a decision the committee made “after much discussion,” said consulting architect Bruce Brubaker of PlaceWorks Inc. While the office zoning would bar further development of manufacturing or processing plants, it would allow many other commercial uses.
The community has spoken loud and clear for a vision that does not include industrial development (in West Fresno).
Ashley Werner, attorney with Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability
Baines raised some worry among advocates last week when he asked for the vote to be delayed. He said the postponement was for “a couple of minor tweaks to discuss with residents and stakeholders,” but he did not specify details at that time.
“We are concerned that the City Council support the plan as is,” Werner said. “The community has spoken loud and clear for a vision that does not include industrial development.” If existing industrial businesses ever close, Werner said the plan would require they be replaced with non-industrial land use.
More broadly, 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 stores and a park.
Sprinkled elsewhere throughout the area are several smaller “satellite” cores of complete neighborhoods, each with single-family housing, neighborhood-oriented retail and parks.
Census tracts within the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan area are among the poorest in the city, with poverty rates ranging from more than 35 percent to almost 60 percent, according to 2014 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
If the council approves it Thursday, the next stage would be the preparation of an administrative draft of the Southwest Specific Plan, during which the city’s staff and consultants would conduct an analysis to assess the plan’s potential environmental effects on the city.
A draft environmental impact report would be expected in April or May, followed by a public comment period on both the environmental report and the plan itself.
A final version of the environmental report and the plan would likely be released in September, followed by public hearings before the Fresno Planning Commission and Fresno City Council in October and final votes to certify the environmental report and adopt the plan in November.
If you go
The Fresno City Council meets at 9 a.m. Thursday in the second-floor council chamber at Fresno City Hall, 2600 Fresno St. The meeting is open to the public. Among other items on the agenda are:
- An application to annex about 20 acres at Cherry and Central avenues in south Fresno into the Fresno city limits.
- A proposal to increase fees paid by developers to offset the financial demands that new homes and commercial projects place on streets, traffic signals, fire and police protection and park facilities citywide.
- Introduction of a bill to launch an interior inspection program for rental housing in Fresno as part of efforts to crack down on substandard housing.
- Expanding the city’s smoking ban in public buildings to include a prohibition on the use of e-cigarettes in public areas at Fresno Yosemite International Airport and Fresno Chandler Executive Airport.