Market forces may finally produce what regional planning couldn't -- higher-density developments in a region known for suburban sprawl.
But although city planners and developers say new subdivision plans will help preserve farmland and reduce pollution, residents say more crowded subdivisions will cause traffic and other urban problems.
The Clovis City Council will be thrust into the middle of that debate tonight.
The City Council will discuss four housing tracts with 841 homes on 153 acres. Under standard zoning -- about four homes per acre -- the tracts would have held about 600 homes.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Three tracts are proposed by Leo Wilson Homes and a fourth by McCaffrey Group. Three of the four are proposed near Ashlan and DeWolf avenues, south of Reagan Educational Center.
The new subdivisions are part of the Loma Vista section of southeast Clovis, which was designed with a mix of low- and higher-density housing. But the latest plans call for higher densities in some areas that originally were to have larger lots.
The city's Planning Commission backed the plan revisions because developers said that the market has changed and fewer people can afford to buy $400,000 homes on large lots -- homes that were popular during the building boom five years ago.
"The demand is just not there anymore," said Mike Prandini, chief executive officer with the Building Industry Association of Fresno and Madera Counties.
He said property acquisition, construction and infrastructure -- streets, sewers, water -- require smaller homes and lots to make developments pencil out.
Other factors contributing to the shift include state laws that demand higher densities to reduce urban sprawl, improve air quality and save farmland.
The San Joaquin Valley Blueprint, a road map for future Valley development, calls for an average of eight homes per acre in future tracts -- more than double the number that has been typical in the Valley.
The new homes will not sacrifice quality or size, said Dwight Kroll, Clovis planning director.
"Your loss is in private open space in the rear yard area," he said.
Loma Vista, he said, is designed with more trails and park space than other Clovis subdivisions, so residents will have additional open areas beyond their property lines.
But smaller homes and lot sizes aren't universally praised. In 2007, the 19-acre, 129-home Braden Court by McCaffrey Homes was approved by the council but opposed by neighbors on nearby larger lots.
It's not a matter of trying to save farmland or cut pollution, said Ann Berg, a resident who opposed the McCaffrey project in 2007.
"What we see the developers doing is a knee-jerk reaction trying to build something that will sell," said Berg, who plans to attend tonight's council meeting.
Karen McCaffrey, vice president of McCaffrey Homes, said about 25 homes have been sold at Braden Court in the last four months, about one-third of the first phase.
"The product line has been well-received," she said. "It seems to be appealing to first-time homebuyers, young families, single women and empty-nesters."
The homes range in size from 1,200 to 1,900 square feet with prices starting just under $200,000. Lot sizes average about 3,500 square feet.
The buyers are attracted, she said, by less yard work and the open space and parks in the Loma Vista area.
Berg said she also continues to worry about increased traffic that will flow through her neighborhood, which has about the same number of homes but on 40 acres.
Dale Drozen, who bought a large-lot home built by Wilson's company last year, opposes the new, small-lot tracts. He said he bought a larger lot home with the understanding that nearby homes would be similar. About 600 of the small-lot homes will be east of his neighborhood.
"We are being sacrificed because they want lower-priced lots," said Drozen.
He also is concerned about traffic from the higher density areas.
A proposed "urban center" about a mile north of Drozen's house was supposed to be the most densely populated part of the 3,300-acre Loma Vista area, which is planned for about 30,000 residents.
Drozen said foreclosures and short sales should be cleared off the market before new subdivisions are built.
"Who do you want to help in this downturn, the developer or the citizen?" he asked.
Forecasts show the housing market improving in about two years, about the time the new homes will get on the market, said Prandini of the Building Industry Association.
"Part of what is driving it is economic reality," he said. "It costs so much to develop land and homes and keep costs down, so you have to increase density."