Does a five-story affordable housing unit proposed in central Fresno reach too high?
Residential neighbors in the area near Shaw and Blackstone avenues say they don’t have a problem with affordable housing itself. But they are worried that the design of the building and the number of proposed units is not a good fit.
The proposed $50 million project is currently in the planning stages. The 2.26 acre, 128-unit building would be located at the southeast corner of Shaw and Glenn avenues, just west of Blackstone Avenue. The vacant parcel is used each year as seasonal Christmas tree lot.
The builder says the planned project, near one of Fresno’s busiest intersections, meets the city’s desire for infill development and provides easy access to public transportation.
But, the size of the building has residents concerned.
“It’s five stories. It’s huge and it butts right up against residential areas,” Suzanne Crosina-Sahm, a resident of the Old Fig Garden neighborhood said. “It’s way out of scale for that neighborhood.”
Jessica Hoff Berzac, the principal for developer UPholding, Inc., says they are listening to neighbor concerns.
“It’s our responsibility, certainly, to listen to every supportive comment and concern comment and try merge them into something that we can hopefully, eventually all feel good about,” Hoff Berzac said.
Health Center, Other Amenities Planned
UPholdings said the project — known as The Glenn — would feature a 10,000 square foot first-floor health center, community space and residential amenities such as laundry rooms, a fitness center and playground.
The plan is for 64 one bedroom apartment at $787 per moth rent; 32 two- and three-bedroom apartments at $844 and $1,100 respectively.
Because it is affordable housing, renters would need to make no more than 60% of Fresno County’s average median income, which is $70,700 for a family of four.
Community space will include a 1,450 square foot fenced-in play area, 1,260 square feet of green space, and a fifth-floor roof deck.
Zoned “By Right”
While the proposal lay at the heart of the city’s busy Blackstone/Shaw retail district, single family homes populate a county island to the south and west.
The currently vacant property is zoned for a mixed use project “by right” — which means the developer does not need approval from the planning commission or city council as long as it meets building code standards.
UPholding will lease the land, owned by Erganian Properties, for 65 years.
“We are at the mercy of the developer to listen to us and to be a good neighbor,” Crosina-Sahm said. “They say that they want to be a good neighbor and hopefully they will be.”
Groundbreaking in 2023
According to a timeline developers shared in a community meeting on Feb. 18, construction could start by Spring 2023, with occupants moving in by the Fall of 2024.
Customarily, affordable housing projects require outside funds. The developer plans to apply to the state Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities program this year.
If successful, the city would receive $10 million from the program, as well, for infrastructure improvements in the Shaw and Blackstone area.
“The entire program is based on greenhouse gas reductions. The grant is structured for transit oriented development projects that will reduce carbon footprints or improve public transit opportunities, even give people access to free bus passes,” Hoff Berzac said.
The Glenn would be UPHolding’s seventh housing project either in planning, construction or already occupied in the Central Valley. The list includes the recently-renovated Crossroads Village (formerly the Smuggler’s Inn hotel) at Blackstone and Dakota avenues.
Neighbors Okay with Smaller Development
“It’s going to drastically reduce the unit count, which I think would probably make the project so that it would not be competitive for the funding.” — UPholding principal Jessica Hoff Berzac
Crosina-Sahms said this is not a “Not in My Backyard” issue.
“We have absolutely no problem with low income housing. If it was a reasonably sized project, that would be not be a problem. If it was a two-story or even three-story, we would not have a problem with it,” she said.
The Glenn would be located next to the eastern edge of the Old Fig Garden Neighborhood, a county island within the city of Fresno. The residents are represented by Supervisor Steve Brandau.
“A five story building next to single-story residential (homes) is just pretty much a clash,” Brandau said.
Hoff Berzac said reducing The Glenn to two or three stories is unlikely.
“It’s going to drastically reduce the unit count, which I think would probably make the project so that it would not be competitive for the funding,” Hoff Berzac said. “The funding for it specifically is looking at those greenhouse gas emissions, which have to do with the carbon footprint. They’re looking to see that we’re reducing that.”
UPHolding has also conducted “significant” shadow studies to evaluate how the project would integrate with the existing neighborhood, Hoff Berzac said.
“We don’t want to create a situation where people feel like they’re having someone looking in their backyard,” she said.
Possible mitigation measures include landscaping, fending and the angle of the windows.
Opponents Circulate Petition
Opponents have circulated an online petition. As of Monday afternoon, more than 850 people have signed.
Specific complaints include neighborhood congestion, a lack of on-site parking — developers plan one space each for the 128 units — and noise and light pollution.
The current design is for one entrance, just on Glenn Avenue.
“What we’re really concerned about is the impact of the traffic. People will be coming and going down Glenn (Avenue), cutting through our neighborhood streets where there’s kids playing outside,” Crosina-Sahm said. “They just aren’t designed for that. They weren’t designed to be major thoroughfares.”
“We’ll look at everything and work with the traffic engineers,” Hoff Berzac said.
Crosina-Sahm wishes the project would be closer to the corner of Shaw and Blackstone. It’s a idea shared by Brandau.
“I’m not even opposed to this building. But I think it should be on the actual corner of Shaw and Blackstone. Putting it on Shaw and Glenn creates another layer of problems,” Brandau said.
Hoff Berzac said they have received several comments in support as well. She thinks many who signed the petition may have been influenced by early reports that there were fewer parking spots planned for residents than the project actually includes.
“I’m hopeful that by continuing to share facts from (the) unknown, that we can hopefully kind of continue engaging with people that are opposed and finding a place in the middle,” Hoff Berzac said.
“I think there’s growing pains for any community that’s experiencing some sort of new development going on in close proximity.” — Councilman Tyler Maxwell
Fresno City Councilman Tyler Maxwell, whose district includes the project site, supports the development.
“That’s the future of the Blackstone corridors. We’re starting to see more high density development right now,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell said the project will make the city more transit and pedestrian friendly. He points to The Link, a new mixed-use project under construction at Blackstone and McKinley as an example.
Addressing concerns about light pollution a five-story building may cause, Maxwell said issues have not panned out in other similar developments.
“I think that’s a common concern for folks that are not used to having that shared development next to them. In my experience, that’s rarely ever played out to be a substantial issue or nuisance after the development is completed,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell would not call the opposition “NIMBYism.”
“I think there’s growing pains for any community that’s experiencing some sort of new development going on in close proximity,” Maxwell said. “It’s not that their concerns are not valid, but the issues that they’re concerned about rarely ever turn out to be anything substantial once the project is completed.”
Both Maxwell and Hoff Berzac said Mayor Jerry Dyer supports the project.
Another Fresno Project Opposed for Similar Reasons
The Glenn isn’t the only project that is receiving pushback because of its height.
At a city planning commission last week, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Friends of Calwa, and Fresno Building Healthy Communities opposed a mixed-use project at the corner of Maple and Jensen avenues in southeast Fresno.
Among the objections — quality of life concerns over a gas station and a four-story apartment complex.
“The community expressed clear opposition to the addition of a gas station and liquor license and voiced objection to the four-story multi-family housing component of the project due to concerns with privacy for adjacent property owners, increased traffic, noise, and pollution. Adding a four-story multi-family housing unit will exacerbate our neighborhood infrastructure,” the groups wrote in a letter to the planning commission.
The commission approved the project 5-0. It now goes to the Fresno City Council.
An LCJA spokesman said the organization is not involved in the debate around The Glenn project.