Fresno is ready to grow, yet two councilmen feel a provision in the city’s blueprint is hindering developers from coming in. On Thursday (March 2), city council started the process to change the 2035 General Plan making it easier to build around the edges of the city. Some say that may help impoverished areas of town like southwest and southeast Fresno.
“I really see the next building boom happening in southeast (Fresno). I want to be prepared and have flexibility and options,” said one of the sponsors, councilman Luis Chavez. He partnered with Steve Brandau in the first step of what could be a long process.
As part of the 2035 General Plan passed in December 2014, the council agreed that for every acre developed on the edge of town, like southwest or southeast Fresno, a builder would have to buy a piece of ag land (also known as an easement) elsewhere. In other words, for every new home project or shopping center, the developer would need to purchase the same size land from a farmer to make sure that land is preserved as agricultural.
Specifically, the resolution introduced by Brandau and Chavez want to repeal policy RC-9-c, which states:
Farmland Preservation Program. In coordination with Farmland Preservation Program. regional partners or independently, establish a Farmland Preservation Program. When Prime Farmland, Unique Farmland, or Farmland of Statewide Importance is converted to urban uses outside City limits, this program would require that the developer of such a project permanently protect an equal amount of similar farmland elsewhere through easement.
One of the resolution’s supporters is Mike Prandini, president of the Building Industry Association located in Clovis. He says the provision dis-incentivized developers from building along the outskirts. He also says that ag mitigation provision increased costs to builders.
Councilman Oliver Baines disagrees with Prandini’s assessment. Baines told GV Wire that the ag mitigation is “one of the things that hold our general plan together.”
Another motivator for Chavez was to keep business in Fresno. “A lot of the development community moved over to Madera, Sanger, Kerman. Obviously, they are going to go where their business model fits. If we want to make Fresno business friendly, we need to accommodate for that.”
On Thursday, council passed the resolution 4-3 (Chavez, Brandau, Clint Olivier and Garry Bredfeld voting in favor).
During the debate, the head of the farm bureau cast an optimistic tone. “I do think there is not necessarily a one size fits all approach. I do think that it’s probably going to be potentially in one particular area one way, and in one particular part of the city, it may be something else,” Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen said, addressing council.
One speaker advocated for the ag mitigation in the General Plan. “Successful protection of critical farmlands occurs when cities embrace mitigation programs,” Mary Savala of the League of Women Voters said.
At one point at the insistence of city manager Bruce Rudd on behalf of Mayor Lee Brand, there was an attempt to delay striking the ag mitigation language. Baines, along with fellow councilman Paul Caprioglio and Esmeralda Soria felt that there was no urgency to change the language. They preferred a slower method of change with meetings and discussion groups. That effort, though, failed.
The plan will now go to city staff who are charged with devising exact language. It will have to be vetted through a number of commissions before eventually landing back at council. Some estimates have that at six months.