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Fig Garden high-density housing a collision of ideas, reality about 2035 general plan

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Fig Garden high-density housing a collision of ideas, reality about 2035 general plan

A plan brought forward by Granville Homes offers some insight into how the Fresno Planning Commission is handling the 2035 plan.

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Here’s my personal story to help explain Fresno’s 2035 general plan.

My wife and I and our three children made a big decision in 1994. We were living in a two-bedroom, one-bath California bungalow on Popular Avenue, south of Fresno City College. The house was too small. So, we bought a bigger house on a bigger lot on San Ramon Avenue, on the north side of Fig Garden Financial Center.

We loved our old house. We loved our new house (still do).

We had been in the San Ramon house for only a few weeks when we decided to have a yard sale. Our thinking: Get rid of some of the old stuff, earn a few bucks, buy some new stuff.

We had lived on Poplar for 11 years. It was a working class neighborhood, which suited us just fine since Mary and I come from working class backgrounds. The Tower District-Van Ness Village-City College area back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s had its unsavory characters and scary moments. But they were relatively few and, for the most part, of no lasting consequence.

Our new neighborhood on San Ramon was different. For starters, it was pricier. The houses, as I’ve said, were bigger. Fig Garden Village has more options than Van Ness Village.

The Hostetters were movin’ on up. Mary and I were proud of our new start in life.

So, we were having our yard sale. People were showing up. More than a few were buying. The merchandise was flying off the shelves, so to speak.

That’s when an elderly man shuffled up the driveway. He was a tall guy, with a dignified bearing. We would later learn that he lived in the neighborhood, near the corner of San Jose and Colonial avenues.

The man spoke to Mary. He didn’t have anything in his hand.

“Are you in charge here?”

“Yes,” Mary said.

“Well, I hope you don’t plan on having a lot of yard sales. We don’t do that here.”

Ah, yes, a piece of inner-city Fresno’s riff-raff, better known as the George Hostetters, had invaded one of the city’s tonier neighborhoods.

Mary told him to hit the road.

Now, the man had a point. The perpetual yard sale does drag down a neighborhood. And newcomers do have a duty to adhere to the standards of proper behavior that evolve in a stable community of like-minded residents.

Twenty-three years have gone by. The Hostetters in this neighborhood no longer are the threatening foreigners. We’ve adapted to our neighborhood’s ways. And perhaps in a tiny way we’ve changed the neighborhood for the better, or at least done our share to keep things on an even keel.

In essence, we paid the price over 23 years to accomplish what that old man feared would never happen. The Hostetters fit in.

This little tale is topical because the Fresno Planning Commission on Wednesday held a hearing on the challenges of combining a dynamic general plan with “fitting in.”

The basic issue was a proposed 13-unit planned residential development on 1.1 acres at the corner of Colonial and San Jose, about a three-minute walk from my house. Granville Homes, the developer, needed a conditional use permit to get things started – hence the company’s appearance before the Planning Commission.

I’ve already written twice about this project, so I won’t bore you with details. It’s enough to say that many of my neighbors (all of whom are much more delightful and tolerant than that old man, whose fate is a mystery to me) have consistently opposed the project even as Granville tweaked it to address their concerns.

I am among those who have questioned whether the project as currently designed truly serves the neighborhood’s well-being and the general plan’s intent.

The issues are many: Single story vs. two stories, renter vs. owner-occupied, parking, density, trees, traffic, to name a few.

The commissioners’ four-part vote was rather complex. Bottom line: The project was rejected. The commission’s majority said the Granville plan was real good, but came up just a little short of “fitting in” with the neighborhood’s established patterns.

I watched from the audience. I, along with my neighbors, was pleased with the outcome.

The Granville project almost certainly will head next to the City Council, where the real land-use power resides.

But the commissioners on Wednesday also spoke frankly to my neighbors and me. The Granville proposal is an infill project. The 2035 general plan is the law of the city. The general plan is a product of the democratic process. The general plan puts a high priority on infill projects as well as stable neighborhoods.

I took the commissioners’ comments to mean: My neighbors and I are unwise to think we can consistently thwart the will of the people as expressed in the general plan. Something’s going to get built on that empty lot at Colonial and San Jose, and it probably will happen sooner rather than later.

I’d prefer if that “something” were single-story rather than two-story.

But, to tell you the truth, it’s not a life-or-death issue for the Hostetters. The newcomers soon to be living at Colonial and San Jose (in a Granville project, I hope) most likely will do what George and Mary Hostetter did in 1994.

They’ll learn to fit in. That’s the beauty of the 2035 general plan, human nature and the American experiment.

I just hope that first yard sale has Hardy Boys mysteries – cheap.

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George Hostetter

George Hostetter is a contributor to CVObserver and advisor to The Collegian, the student newspaper of Fresno State.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Nancy Flynn

    April 20, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    Just before the Fig Garden neighbors appeared before the commission, the Sunnyside group appeared before the commission to voice their concerns because developers where ‘at it again’ trying to coax homeowners to accept a large apartment complex in the middle of a single home family neighborhood. Same story… proposed ‘infill’ wasn’t seen by homeowners as something the neighborhood needed. The real news here is that all of this talk about infill/sustainable development/smart growth/local visioning etc. is a reflection of the United Nation’s Social engineering platform that is spreading around the world and, yes, right here in Fresno. Stacking people up, increasing density and otherwise injecting the ‘vision’ of a ‘complete neighborhood’ into an already stable family neighborhood in the name of a ‘good general plan’ is probably the reason the commissioners said that there would be other difficult situations read: homeowner’s protesting this kind of social engineering) Crime is rampant in California neighborhoods because of the passage of Prop. 47, 57 and AB 109 so ‘infilling’ and engineering a General Plan from on high is only going to result in more homeowners showing up at Planning Commission and City Council meetings.

  2. Jodi Fitzpatrick

    April 20, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    Thanks for covering this, George. There was a lot of talk last night about the General Plan being a product of democracy, usually as an excuse to justify a plan none of the commissioners were wild about. I don’t feel the General Plan was adequately advertised, disclosed or covered by the press as it was created. Understandably, as it’s incredibly difficult to understand. What I”m struck by when I read the front page list of contributors, I see no architects, engineers, contractors or designers that I recognize. The General Plan is about reshaping the city. That is done with buildings/structures. Yet the very people who are trained to create the architecture and know what it costs to insure the new is a good fit with the old were pretty completely left out of the process. I think if Fresnans had known what was in the General Plan and what kind of density and height limits it allows, you would have seen a hellofalotta democracy, and a very different General Plan. We still may…. Great ending!

    • Nancy Flynn

      April 21, 2017 at 11:11 am

      Amen Jody. There is great passion here in Sunnyside when it comes to protecting the integrity of this part of Fresno that is known as being ‘The Secret Garden’ The issue in Sunnyside is that the entire area was inundated with a massive number of apartments PRIOR to any revisiting of The General Plan. The result is that ‘we’ are living with the consequences of an overabundance of blighted, run down, crime infested high density living arrangements that continue to affect the peace and safety of a neighborhood that has been established for decades. Times have changed in Sunnyside….and not for the better. This translates to the fact that folks here get cranky when a developer, city staff or commissioners presume to tell us what is best for us when ‘they’ do not live here. How ironic is it that we are now being told what a ‘complete neighborhood’ is? Neighbors here in Sunnyside understand that ‘infill’ is code for high density and more problems none of which are a ‘good fit.’ Yep, there is one ‘hellofalotta’ democracy surfacing over here in the S.E. (surely one of the most neglected parts of Fresburg when it comes to development)

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