The Amazon "FAT 1" distribution center in Fresno. Photo by Edward Smith
Written by Edward Smith
Fresno County Supervisors approved a feasibility study Tuesday to zone nearly 3,000 acres in south Fresno stretching from Fowler Avenue in the east to Highway 99 in the west for light industrial development.
The Fresno County Business and Industrial Campus would stretch north to south from North Avenue to American Avenue and from east to west from Fowler Avenue to Peach Avenue and the 99.
The move comes as brokers and developers have noted the near-zero vacancy for light industrial companies and neighborhood advocates ask for the environmental impacts of such projects to be weighed more thoroughly.
The action item would direct county officials to assess what infrastructure is available on the 2,940 acres of land largely zoned currently for agriculture as well as some heavy industrial.
The site was chosen for its proximity to existing water, sewer and roadway infrastructure, according to a Fresno County staff report. Additionally, some of the geographic area is eligible for Opportunity Zone investments, garnering federal tax breaks. Large parcels there would also be attractive for major logistics companies to supplement large distribution centers, such as Amazon’s expanding footprint in Fresno.
Demand has never been greater. Board Chair of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation and real estate broker Nick Audino said “vacancy is as close to zero as it can possibly get.”
Fresno County competes with Phoenix, Las Vegas, the northern San Joaquin Valley, Reno and Sacramento for these kinds of businesses. Audino also said considering the time it takes to get new land available for light industrial use, Fresno County is behind by a couple years.
Leland Parnagian, owner of G3 Development who brought North Point Business Park online with Amazon, said especially following the rise in online shopping after the pandemic, the supply of industrial buildings is supposed to increase nationwide by 3%. Keeping pace with this demand would require 2 million square feet to be built in the Fresno area. Over the past few years, Fresno has only brought 600,000 square feet a year online.
Todd Cook of Cook Land Company spoke at the supervisor’s meeting, saying land prices are artificially high because of the lack of space. He has lost tenants because he “can’t grow with them.”
Advocacy groups, however, want to ensure that as Fresno County moves toward approving land for industrial purposes, the environmental impacts on nearby communities are addressed.
Grecia Elenes with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability asked that the board not move forward with the agenda item out of concern for environmental impacts as well as the desire for jobs in the area with upward mobility.
Elenes noted that the most recent CalEnviroScreen study had ranked the area at the highest percentile for ozone, diesel emissions as well as dangerous particulate matter. CalEnviroScreen is a report published by the state analyzing existing environmental impacts on California Census tracts.
Advocates have spoken out against increased truck traffic near south Fresno because of the rise in distribution centers in the area.
Industrial real estate broker Ethan Smith with Newmark Pearson Commercial said that the creation of warehouse jobs does not inhibit the creation of other kinds of jobs. For many unskilled workers, he said jobs in distribution centers oftentimes lead to careers considering job opportunities with those companies.
He also said because of the lack of development, many jobs have been lost and gone to other communities.
“Approval of this item puts our county one step closer to being competitive and diverse in its economy for years to come,” said Parnagian.