Update 4/07/2021, 6:30 p.m.:
While the item to rezone a light industrial area in southwest Fresno was on the agenda, the Planning Commission voted to delay with a 5-0 vote.
Will Tackett with the planning department said his staff has not had a chance to analyze three letters that came in yesterday. The letters came from two state agencies, the Strategic Growth Council, California Air Resources Board, and the Wester Center on Law and Poverty. All opposed the rezone.
There is no specific date when the item may return. This is the third time the commission has delayed hearing the potential rezone.
The next Planning Commission meeting is April 21.
Industrial interests say the city of Fresno got it wrong when officials rezoned a 93-acre area in southwest Fresno. Neighborhood advocates disagree, and are fighting to keep the zoning change in place.
The Fresno Planning Commission will hear both sides tonight and decide whether to rezone the area bounded by Highway 41 and Elm Avenue between Vine and Chester/Samson avenues from mixed neighborhood use to light industrial.
This would be a reversal of the 2017 Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, a planning document fought hard for by neighborhood advocates.
It’s a matter of respecting the community and its goals of environmental justice, opponents of changing the rezone said.
“We all deserve a new, vibrant, prosperous development in our city. When we consider expanding industry in our city, let’s consider the whole of our city and not limit our conversation to adding more industrial in southwest Fresno, an area that continues to suffer from decades of unfair planning practices,” Pastor B.T. Lewis said at a recent news conference, as reported by OMNE News.
John Kinsey, an attorney for several businesses in the area seeking the rezone, said they were never informed of the zoning change in the first place. He said the current neighborhood zoning makes no sense.
“It is unfathomable to me that a city would rezone property adjacent to the freeway where there are already people using the property to a different land use, specifically to residential. It doesn’t make sense in that particular area,” Kinsey said.
Clearly, the battle lines are drawn. Business interests on one side, and neighborhood advocates, environmental and social justice groups on the other.
“It is not enough to sloganize One Fresno. We must be One Fresno,” Lewis said, playing off of Mayor Jerry Dyer’s “One Fresno” philosophy.
Current Use vs. Future Harm
The area is mostly built out, with businesses such as Mid-Valley Disposal and Glaxo Smith Kline already there.
“All they want to do is continue to do what they’ve been doing for the last 15 years,” Kinsey said.
Several community groups and advocates say expanding upon what is already on site would be detrimental to health and the environment.
“We will not contribute to our own demise. We will not support policies and procedures and practices that limit our ability to live and breathe and work and enjoy the fruits of our labor,” Dr. Venise Curry of Concerned Citizens of Southwest Fresno said at a recent news conference.
West Fresno middle and elementary schools are a block away, as well as residential neighborhoods.
Kinsey says changing the land use is affecting current businesses with getting bank loans and preventing any new businesses from moving in.
That’s just fine, say social justice advocates.
“The argument of more jobs, regardless of the source, as the only solution, is not and has not been the answer for improving the Southwest Fresno community,” wrote community advocate groups Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability and Fresno Building Healthy Communities in a letter to the city.
Problems With Grandfathering
The letter also states that those businesses can essentially be grandfathered in to their current level of light industrial use.
Kinsey, the attorney representing several of the businesses, said that is not enough to operate light industrial businesses.
“Tenants won’t look at it at these properties because of the risk profile. And frankly, they’re going out of town. We’re losing a lot of business here to Visalia and other surrounding communities,” Kinsey said.
Councilman Miguel Arias, whose District 3 covers the area in question, said permits for things like replacing a rubber bumper in a truck loading area have been denied because of the zoning change. That could be considered intensifying use of the building.
Arias says he’s been working with both sides to solve the problem.
“(The community doesn’t) mind the businesses operating in perpetuity. They actually welcome it,” Arias said. “They want to make sure that heavy use does not arrive to that area, which right now none of those uses are heavy industrial.”
Several Businesses That Currently Occupy the Area
The Planning Commission initially discussed the rezone at its Feb. 3 meeting. After nearly 90 minutes of discussion, the commission delayed a decision, directing the applicants requesting the rezone to hold more community outreach on the issue.
Opponents of changing the rezone are encouraging the community to attend.
The meeting takes place tonight, via Zoom, starting at 6 p.m. The agenda, with the link to the meeting, can be found here.