published on May 9, 2016 - 12:58 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

“There’s a lot of discussion right now about urban sprawl,” said Supervisor Henry R. Perea, who led the charge to commission the Friant Corridor feasibility study when he chaired the board in May 2013.

At Tuesday’s meeting, several community groups as well as a number of county residents are expected to urge the Board of Supervisors to reject the Friant Corridor study, which the county planning commission has already done twice.

The study area, which encompasses 5,346 acres of the San Joaquin River bottom and adjacent hills between Fresno and Friant, is under increasing pressure to urbanize.

“We have several thousand building permits already in play in different stages of development in that area,” Perea said this week. “Back when we commissioned the study, I thought it was time to do a deeper dive and try to determine where we should and shouldn’t develop in that area.”

The $120,000 study, which was privately funded by 12 contributors who reportedly identified themselves as developers or landowners, concludes that the most suitable land uses for the area are those that exist today — agriculture and passive recreation.

But it also recommends adding new supportive commercial uses such as a convenience store, restaurants and overnight lodging.

Visalia-based Quad Knopf wrote the 377-page feasibility study, which was revised in March 2016 following its rejection by the county planning commission.

Called a “basic opportunity and constraints study,” the document identifies “only approximately 301 acres, or 6 percent,” of the overall study area as “possible opportunity areas of limited recreation and supportive commercial and retail uses.”

The League of Women Voters, the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability and a number of county residents continue to reject the study’s conclusions, claiming its authors did not evaluate specific planning issues requested by the Board, including a lack of water resources in the area and inadequate transportation infrastructure.

Opponents of the study also say it did not produce any new information that was not already available in other public land use documents. 

At workshops and public hearings, county residents and civic organizations have suggested the study was promoted by private interests in an effort to lay the groundwork for major new residential development in northeast Fresno County. 

In a letter written last year to supervisors, one Fresno resident, Betty Cornelisen urged board members to reject the study, which she said was “deeply flawed” and failed “to address all the environmental concerns of the area surrounding the San Joaquin River.

“The area is zoned Agriculture and should remain that way to protect the river,” Cornelisen said.

Kaylon Hammond, policy coordinator for the Fresno-based Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, told supervisors in a letter written in November 2015, that the feasibility study and “anticipated implementation is at odds, not just with state and regional planning priorities, but with the principles agreed upon by Fresno County.”

Hammond added that changes in land use in the Friant Corridor Study Area “would increase development, further exacerbating the quality of life of residents of other unincorporated areas of Fresno County.”

City of Fresno officials as well as those with the Fresno Irrigation District, San Joaquin River Parkway & Conservation Trust, Fresno Audubon Society, Sequoia Riverlands Trust and Fresno Metro Ministry have reportedly also expressed concerns related to the Friant Corridor study.

While he said he still supports limited development in the Friant corridor, Supervisor Perea added, “I don’t know where tomorrow’s discussion is going to go. But I still see the feasibility study as an important overlay that will strengthen the county’s overall General Plan.”

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