Dirk Poeschel might as well have been on a suicide mission.
The planning consultant had the unenviable task of trying to convince hundreds from a northwest Fresno neighborhood that a new apartment complex in their residential area was a good idea.
The crowd wasn’t buying it, and the end result is Poeschel’s clients — Robert Lattanzio and Lou Amendola — need to go back to the drawing board.
“That’s kind of expected. People don’t like change. Sometimes regardless of the facts or studies you present to them, they have a hard time accepting them. That’s how it is,” Poeschel said after the meeting.
Contentious Community Meeting
“This has been zoned a certain way for a reason. And, that is an agreement with the neighborhoods.” — Resident Vicki Allen-Westburg
The Thursday night meeting at Forkner Elementary School was the first step for developers to rezone a 10-acre piece of land from office space to multifamily units. They proposed two- and three-story buildings, with a fitness center and covered parking.
Based on the objections made by the attendees, things will change.
The empty plot of land sits between the school and Herndon Avenue. Poeschel noted that it had been zoned for 40 years as office space, with no developers willing to build there.
The neighbors made many of the arguments heard when new development is proposed: increased traffic and parking, the effect on schools and home prices, the potential of “undesirables” moving in.
Poeschel was in damage control mode from the start. He quashed a rumor right away that the apartments would be Section 8. He said they would sell at market rate, and be gated with an average rent of $2,000.
Vicki Allen-Westburg, an educator, served as the de factor neighborhood organizer. She said she supports development, but not rezoning of this parcel.
“This has been zoned a certain way for a reason. And, that is an agreement with the neighborhoods,” Allen-Westburg said.
She would prefer to see the space used for low-density, one-story homes.
Others in the meeting expressed hostility toward Poeschel and the proposal. Some shouted him down from the start. “We are here to say no. Why waste our time?” said one resident.
“I want smart growth. And that means you come to the neighborhood and you make sure you are conforming to what the neighbors want.” — Councilman Mike Karbassi
Fresno City Councilman Mike Karbassi addressed the audience. Only a week on the job, Karbassi told the developers to listen and work with the people. As it stands, Karbassi said, the project’s lack of neighborhood support is “unacceptable.”
“I want smart growth. And that means you come to the neighborhood and you make sure you are conforming to what the neighbors want,” Karbassi said.
Without that, he said a rezone wouldn’t happen. Poeschel said that he appreciated Karbassi’s words.
“He was doing us a favor. We have to go back and think about how we change the project and make it acceptable,” Poeschel said.
Poeschel says in his experience, opposition dies down when changes are made.
What About Housing?
“There is a whole segment of the community that are really good people, just don’t want to own a home. If the prevalent attitude here is … that means you couldn’t live in this neighborhood. I don’t think that’s is fair, and I don’t think that’s what the law intended.” — Planning consultant Dirk Poeschel
The issue also underscored the difficulty of building multifamily housing not only Fresno but throughout many parts of California. State officials, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have cited NIMBY — or Not in My Backyard — attitudes as contributing to California’s housing shortage.
“Things happen when you have apartments,” resident Max Soler said at the meeting. “I don’t want that happening in my neighborhood.”
Allen-Westburg said there is a difference between owners and renters.
“I think homeowners have a different attitude about their home. They are investing in something. It’s a monetary cost … Apartments have less than that. People aren’t as invested. They are easier to come and go,” she said.
Poeschel said there are people who don’t want the hassle of home-ownership.
“There is a whole segment of the community that are really good people, just don’t want to own a home. If the prevalent attitude here is … that means you couldn’t live in this neighborhood. I don’t think that’s is fair, and I don’t think that’s what the law intended,” Poeschel said.
Karbassi said he doesn’t see the need to rezone the land into housing right now.
“If anything, it’s going to really upset the people that live here and are directly impacted by it too,” Karbassi said.