The Fresno City Council voted unanimously Thursday to approve a centerpiece of Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s plan for reviving downtown — a $2.6 million contract to draw up two land-use plans.
The vote sets in motion a three-year process that could remap a wide swath of central Fresno in what Swearengin’s downtown czar termed an effort to throw out decades of unworkable rules for building and development.
“The conclusion that we have come to is that we need to start over,” said Craig Scharton, director of the city’s Downtown and Community Revitalization Department.
For example, Scharton said, current land use and zoning rules make it almost impossible to open a sidewalk cafe, and difficult to do “mixed use” projects with stores on the ground floor and apartments upstairs.
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The new plans, largely expected to be paid for with federal grants, will address everything from building designs to what activities can take place inside, Scharton said.
One voice of support came from Allen Goodman, a Fresno County Planning Commission member, who said writing a new land use plan was a key to reviving downtown Clovis beginning when Goodman was city manager there in the 1970s and early 1980s.
“I can recall the days when you could shoot a cannon down Pollasky and never fear hitting anything,” Goodman said. “Now that isn’t the case.”
The contract calls for a consortium led by Pasadena architects Moule & Polyzoides to draw up a Fulton Corridor Specific Plan and Downtown Neighborhoods Community Plan.
One of the Pasadena firm’s principals, Stefanos Polyzoides, told the council that the firm had done dozens of similar downtown plans in other cities, including San Antonio, Texas, and the Southern California city of Santa Ana. He said reviving downtown Fresno was not an impossible task despite its decades of decline.
“It can be done and it will be done if we put in place a framework that allows this kind of change,” he said.