The Fresno Planning Commission approved permits for a first-of-its-kind Starbucks for southwest Fresno after councilmember Miguel Arias said the drive-thru was a danger to nearby school children.
The Fresno Planning Commission Wednesday rejected the appeal in a 6-0 vote Wednesday night.
There are only 50 “community store” Starbucks in the entire nation, said Jim Shehadey, developer for the West Creek Village at Church Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Starbucks typically puts those stores in the economically-distressed areas.
The Starbucks would be part of a master-planned residential and commercial center.
The more than 3,000-square-foot store — that would be the largest in Fresno — invites people to stay longer and mingle. Hiring for the store would also begin with people from the neighborhood.
Arias, who represents the area on the council, appealed permits for the construction, saying residents had reached out to him, objecting to the project’s location. The shopping center would be across the street from Gaston Middle School.
“Residents are concerned about the increase in traffic from the proposed parking lot that would pose a danger to parents and children crossing the street to school,” Arias wrote in the letter.
‘I Don’t Have Much Time for These Kinds of Games’: Hall
Debbie Darden, chair of the Golden Westside Planning Committee, said she is not opposed to the Starbucks, just to the location. When she approved the project in the District 3 Project Review Committee in June 2023, Darden said she thought it was going farther down the street at Jensen Avenue.
Shehadey said Starbucks chose the location. Having the Starbucks at that corner makes it walkable for neighbors as well as for students at the new West Fresno Center, the new satellite campus of Fresno City College.
During community meetings for the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan — when experts and community members came together to decide land use for the area — people had said they wanted fast-food-type restaurants, said Steven Martinez, development services coordinator with the city, during the meeting. Restaurants named such as In-N-Out, Starbucks, or Dutch Bros often come with drive-thrus, Martinez said.
Sylvesta Hall, a developer teaming with Shehadey, said he spent 12 years working on the project, working with former Fresno City Councilmember Oliver Baines and former Mayor Lee Brand.
“We’re not haphazardly putting anything in southwest Fresno,” Hall said.
Developers created routes for the drive-thru and traffic mitigation measures.
Mitigation measures for traffic dangers include reduced parking pedestrian ramps, pedestrian-designated walkways, wall barriers, and signage. Both Martin Luther King and Church would be widened. Sidewalks, curbs, and gutters would be added to the Starbucks site corner, which doesn’t have that infrastructure now.
Hall had been a committee member on the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan along with the appellants. Hall said they designed the project to match the specific plan. The West Creek project, approved by Fresno City Council in 2018, would add housing, commercial, and nonprofit projects on 116 acres.
“I don’t have much time for these kinds of games,” Hall said. “We have five, six, seven more years of building over there. We have a 345-unit affordable housing unit we have to build with Self-Help Enterprise, we have a 10-acre park that we have to finish building, we have a museum of tolerance and cultural preservation we’re building in the park, and we have a community-resilience center, a 37,000-square foot resilience center, you don’t think those things are going to bring traffic?”
Commissioner Criner Contemplated Recusing Himself
Planning commission members voted unanimously to approve the project, save Haley Wagner, who was not present. Commissioner David Criner said he thought about recusing himself, but the importance of the project to the community convicted him to take a vote. He said city staff answers regarding traffic flows answered many of the concerns about danger.
When the project was first announced in January 2023, Criner appeared in a video promoting the project.
“I chose to do so because this is a community that I think all of us care about, not to get overly religious, but I am a preacher, and my Bible does tell me, the Word that I study, that ‘that which you have done to the least of these, you have done unto me,’ and southwest Fresno, as (Planning Commissioner Peter Vang) said, has always been historically considered as the forgotten part of our city.”