When Granville Homes first proposed an 18-unit infill development in our quiet, historic Fig Garden neighborhood, we property owners blamed this horrible new City of Fresno 2030 General Plan, which had rezoned much of the central city for much higher densities.
But over the year we’ve opposed this project, we discovered it’s because the project doesn’t conform to the General Plan or the Development Code that’s the problem. This non-conformity is also what caused the Planning Commission to deny the project, twice.
The City Council, however, voted unanimously on May 25 to allow the project on the corner of North Colonial and West San Ramon avenues to proceed.
Local property owners object to the plan for many reasons. Two-story in a one-story neighborhood creates privacy problems. Twenty-four foot attached townhouses rising only 10 feet from the curb pose a safety hazard for a street corner that’s tight and tricky as it is, even vacant.
Architecture that’s lovely at Copper River clashes with the existing, well-preserved 60-year-old ranch and midcentury homes. And the real rub? Although Granville calls the project a single-family planned-unit development (PUD), it declares in its application its intention to own and rent all the units for the foreseeable future. An apartment complex by another name.
Under the new code, the one-acre property is zoned RS-5 Residential Single Family - Medium Density, meaning the developer may “by right” build 12 units on it. Granville wanted 18, which required a rezone. When they dropped to 16, but still not 12, we discovered that city planning was counting the street easements (the area from the curb to the crown of the road) as part of the acreage.
The development code, accepted planning practice – and common sense – agree that if you can’t build in the street, you shouldn’t be able to count it. With increased density being a smoking hot issue with most neighborhoods, allowing an expansion beyond the code and accepted planning practice seems an unwise choice. One that if continued, is likely to cause city representatives much grief.
In its vote, the City Council approved a grab bag of code modifications that are in fact variances, but misleadingly packaged in the application as a conditional use permit. Reduced lot sizes, reduced setbacks and reduced street frontage all flaut the requirements put in place to ensure a project is dense but not overcrowded, that it integrates with the existing neighborhood and that the land is used efficiently.
It’s customary planning practice that modifications are meant for unusual situations, where an oddly-shaped lot, uneven ground or bizarre easement would prevent the property owner from realizing the investment’s full potential, often the case on infill properties. The parcel at Colonial and San Jose is a perfectly level rectangle. There is no compelling reason to allow any modifications here. None.
Especially ones that seem for the sheer purpose of cramming as much square footage onto the lot as possible. The result is a project with an incompatible scale, volume and aesthetics that it would not have, had the General Plan guidelines been met through enforcement of the development code by our planning department.
But how the council’s vote most affects Fresno is the precedent of granting PUD status to an entity that intends to own and rent all the homes for the foreseeable future. This effectively rezones the property as multifamily without proper legal procedure and removes the extra site requirements for parking, trash and emergency services that a multifamily property requires.
Last week our neighborhood received a meeting invitation from another developer regarding an acre-and- a-half parcel 100 yards to the east of Granville’s. Should the “single-owner PUD” precedent hold, we will effectively have two multifamily properties a stone’s throw apart in a neighborhood zoned for single-family owner-occupied homes, a zoning designation that may soon mean nothing in this town.
Our neighborhood is about to sustain heavy damage to its “sense of place,” a term the General Plan mentions repeatedly as the unique architectural characteristics that make us Fresno, and draw dynamic people to our city. Still, we converts to the General Plan agree that it works, but only if planning does the job we taxpayers pay it to do.
Jodi Fitzpatrick is a third-generation Fresnan and founder of Pax Domus, Inc., a design/build company that specializes in modern, carbon-neutral homes with age-in- place features and flexible floorplans for multigenerational living. Connect with her at www.paxdomus.com, Instagram, on Twitter @paxdomus and www.facebook.com/paxdomus.inc.