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Will The Area West Of Highway 99 Continue To Be “Forgotten Fresno?”

Fresno City Hall

Will The Area West Of Highway 99 Continue To Be “Forgotten Fresno?”

The Fresno City Council will review the widening of Polk Avenue West of the 99, which could be another step in addressing the overall infrastructure challenges in the area.

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The City Council on Thursday, December 6th,  will review a seemingly routine matter that actually sends an important message to Fresno.

The neighborhoods west of Highway 99 aren’t forgotten at City Hall.

A key meeting last week among community leaders, West of 99 residents and city officials sent the same signal.

The matter before the council is a request from Public Works to spend another $29,330 for the preparation of construction documents to widen a portion of Polk Avenue.

The city last year got a federal grant to widen Polk, located on the west side of 99.

Says the current staff report to the council:

“Polk Avenue currently exists as a two-lane roadway lacking curbs, gutters, sidewalks and drainage facilities. Bottlenecks exist between the newer, fully improved subdivisions and older areas that developed in the County. In accordance with the 2035 General Plan, Polk Avenue is to ultimately be constructed as a four-lane divided arterial between Shaw Avenue and Belmont Avenue as development occurs west of State Route 99.”

The city signed last year a deal with Blair, Church, & Flynn Consulting Engineers to begin designing the Polk project, focusing at this point on the Shaw Avenue to Gettysburg Avenue stretch. City officials now want to expand the firm’s scope of work. In particular, city officials want the expanded design work to include a HAWK-type pedestrian crossing. (HAWK, I understand from research on the Internet, stands for High-Intensity Activated crossWalK beacon. Long story short – HAWK sounds like a blessing to pedestrians and busy motorists alike.)

The extra money will come from New Growth Area Street Impact Fees, and therefore will not impact the general fund.

Clearly, the widening of Polk Avenue is another step toward fixing the overall infrastructure challenges of the West of 99 area. Reporters tend to concentrate on the long-running problems of the Veterans Boulevard project and the Highway 99-Shaw Avenue-Golden State Boulevard-Union Pacific Railroad tracks knot. But those two are only pieces of the puzzle.

Part of the problem is that the West of 99 area has seen 30-plus years of growth without a smart development plan in place. That is changing as we speak. The crafting of the West Area Specific Plan project has been moving forward for the past 15 months. The Plan’s Steering Committee, composed in part of concerned neighborhood residents, unveiled last week a draft list of the community’s guiding development principles.

Here are five examples:

  1. “Attract desired and needed large-scale and small-scale retail establishments to serve the needs of the West Area community. Such establishments include grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants other than fast food places, department stores, boutiques, and convenience stores.”
  2. “Discourage the expansion of undesirable retail establishments such as liquor stores, tobacco and vapor stores, short-term loan and pawn shops, and adult stores.”
  3. “Encourage the development of housing to accommodate multi-generational households.”
  4. “Discourage the expansion of detach-single-family starter homes.”
  5. “Provide a complete, safe, and well-maintained roadway network that allows for efficient and smooth access from the West Area to other sections of the city and region.”

The Steering Committee, City Planner Rodney Horton (who is overseeing much of the community outreach effort for DARM) and West of 99 residents still have a lot to do. Their hope is to complete the draft specific plan by next February and the Environmental Impact Report by December 2019. The goal is to have the City Council adopt the West Area Specific Plan by spring 2020.

Maybe by then the final chunk of cash will have been found to make Veterans Boulevard a reality. And the notion of a “forgotten” Fresno can be buried forever.

Mayor Brand in an emailed statement to CVObserver said:

“Since day one, my Administration is committed to properly planning for development within the City of Fresno, specifically within the West Area. A few days ago, City staff released the draft land use map and guiding principles after months of community meetings and public input. Both of these items will lay the groundwork for the West Area Specific Plan, which will refine the vision of the West Area as provided in the General Plan, and properly guide future growth and development.

“I urge members of the community to continue to offer their thoughts and opinions on the future of the West Area as the process moves forward. My Administration continues to be committed toward erasing the stigma of the West Area being considered as ‘Forgotten Fresno,’ and this planning process will be the first of many steps toward doing that.”

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George Hostetter

George Hostetter is a contributor to CVObserver.

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