The “S” word is being used a lot these days in Fresno, and that’s a good thing. It’d be a healthy civic exercise for all of us to turn toward the Sierra every day upon arising, even if we can’t see the mountains, and chant: “No sprawl, no sprawl, no sprawl.”
It’s easy to take a pessimistic view of growth in Fresno County, with developers and the politicians they slather with campaign contributions constantly pushing for the short-term profits to be made in converting pristine land into housing developments, strip malls and, yes, health-sciences university campuses. Such leapfrog development does create jobs. Too often, however, the costs of such development in terms of infrastructure, traffic, pollution, loss of farmland and destruction of open spaces are conveniently left out of the equation.
But at least some people are trying to make a case against sprawl instead of accepting it as inevitable, like an unstoppable fungus.
Some local links to peruse:
TOO FAR OUT: Bee writer Kurtis Alexander looks at the City of Fresno’s attempt to convince the Assemi family to move its proposed Millerton Lake health-sciences university, planned for way out in the hinterlands far from hospitals and public transportation, to downtown. In a smartly planned county, such a large-scale project out in the middle of nowhere on prime open land simply wouldn’t be allowed. Proponents of the health-science campus say there isn’t any “room” to build it in Fresno, including downtown. Um, has anyone heard of a concept called multi-story buildings? They’re quite in fashion these days. [Bee]
SAROYAN VS. SHAGHOIAN: Bee columnist Joshua Tehee takes a look at another dimension to sprawl: the potential damage to downtown’s brand as a cultural destination with the advent of Clovis Unified’s beautiful new Shaghoian Hall. Though the hall was originally touted as a showcase for student performances with limited availability to outside groups — I wrote the original stories about its opening, and I remember asking that question — it’s quickly become a major rival to the Saroyan Theatre. (The appeal of the Shaghoian isn’t just its free parking; its smaller size works better for some types of performances.) The Fresno Grand Opera is staging almost all its performances at the Shaghoian now, and the Fresno Philharmonic is scheduling more performances there next season, though it also will still perform at the larger Saroyan. [Bee]
DOWNTOWN ADVOCATE: Mayor Ashley Swearengin is coming out swinging in her attempt to revitalize Fresno’s downtown and fighting against unbridled growth in unincorporated areas, Bee writer George Hostetter writes. A great city has a great urban center, she says, and sprawl is prohibitively expensive. Good for her. [Bee]
10-STORY BUILDING AT FRIANT ROAD: While the City of Fresno hopes to contain sprawl outside its borders, it’s confronting the issue within the city itself. Case in point: The Fresno Planning Commission recently approved a 10-story office building for Friant Road at Highway 41. The planning commission approved the project’s environmental study and conditional use permit after the project’s developer made additional concessions to reduce vehicle trips to the building, reports KVPR’s Joe Moore. It also approved an increase in the height limit on the development from six to 10 stories. Now the project goes before the City Council. Let’s be clear here: Multi-story buildings surrounded by acres of parking lots might be better at River Park than, say, Millerton Lake, but it’s still sprawl. Adding a 10-story building to the mix at Friant Road ups the ante for the area. Adding a building that size, along with the other mid-rise buildings already there, really starts making it look like a second, quasi-downtown. And that isn’t good. [KVPR]
DIFFERING VIEWS: I disagree with County Supervisor Henry Perea on the subject of the Millerton health sciences campus, but it’s interesting to see how he solicits opinions from his constituents on the topic via Facebook. Reading the many comments gives you an idea of where people are coming from. Some say developers have the absolute right to build projects anywhere they want. Others want smart planning. (Perea makes clear where he stands, chastising the city for trying to put a road block in front of the Millerton project, but he doesn’t address the hidden costs of leapfrog development, at least on this post.) Here are two comments that represent the opposing viewpoints:
At least people are talking about sprawl. It might not stop the health sciences campus from going in at Millerton. But perhaps the tide will start to change as more people realize that leapfrog development is a terrible way for a city and county to grow.