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Environment

Infill Is Key To Fresno's New General Plan, But It's Also Controversial

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Heather Heinks
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City of Fresno General Plan Update

The Fresno City Council is scheduled to hear public comments on the city’s new 2035 general plan in meeting at the Convention Center this evening. The move is the last step before a vote next week on the document that will chart the city’s growth for decades to come.

City planning director Jennifer Clark says the new General Plan attempts to answer a question that has perplexed city leaders for decades:

Clark: "How do we reinvest in our established neighborhoods and make sure that they have the same access to amenities and services that newer neighborhoods have?"

Clark hopes the answer will be found in something called infill development, building new homes and apartments older neighborhoods like downtown or along the future bus rapid transit lines on Blackstone and Kings Canyon. The plan calls for roughly half of the city's future growth to be infill, while allowing the other half to come on the fringe, as long as it's within the city's existing sphere of influence. That's in contrast to previous plans which until now have always pushed the sphere further outward into the county.

Clark also hope the focus on growing inward will help save the city money, by geographically focusing dollars spent on infrastructure and city services, instead of spreading them thin. 

Clark: "As we have understood the financial consequences of growing out geographically, we know that we can add value to our neighborhoods and to our city by focusing our investments in very strategic ways."
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Credit Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

But the plan's emphasis on infill has also proven to be controversial. In a compromise reached earlier this year between the city and local housing developers, even development in northwest Fresno could now qualify as infill, as long as the land is already within the city limits. That has drawn opposition from smart growth advocates like Ashley Werener with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

Werner: "While there's kind of a general espousal of the importance of infill and recognition of the need to control growth, there's actually nothing in the plan that changes our growth patterns, other than maintaining the existing sphere of influence boundary."

And Werner says that boundary is so large it will allow the city to continue to expand outward for decades to come, with no guarantees that infill will happen in the near term. 

Werner: "There's a huge amount of land in that sphere of influence that's undeveloped."

Werner also says the plan doesn't place restrictions on when and how that land could be developed.

But it's not just community activists who have problems with the plan. Members of the local building industry say the focus on infill is misplaced and should be weakened, claiming local housing shoppers want new homes in new neighborhoods, not in older parts of town. 

The city council will get the final say, likely at its meeting next Thursday. The public hearing tonight on the plan starts at 5:00 PM at the Convention Center's New Exhibit Hall.