A Porterville city councilmemeber is exploring a measure that would require homebuilders to build parks and/or pools with new home developments. File Photo
Written by David Castellon
The City of Porterville’s general plan calls for the city to have 650 acres of additional park space by 2030 to meet the recreation needs of its residents.
But considering the city has only four municipal parks and ballpark — the last of which opened in November 2014 — along with a handful of small neighborhood parks and smaller “pocket” parks, achieving that goal is unrealistic, said Porterville Vice Mayor Brian Ward.
But last week, Ward formally floated an idea to his fellow council members requiring that some new home developments could be required to include a pocket park or a community pool or both in their plans.
“My feeling is as we move forward in growing the community, it kind of makes sense to have one pool for a certain number of houses rather than everyone do their own thing,” which would save water, Ward explained.
In addition, new home developments are likely to occur on the outer edges of the city, away from existing parks, so it makes sense to have a few pocket parks — usually an acre or less — or pools in those outer areas, where they’re more accessible to residents.
“Ideally, I would like to see both” included in the requirement, but that will depend on whether his fellow council members are interested in altering the city’s requirements for new home developments and, if so, the details of such a requirement.
Certainly, building a park or pool would be too economically burdensome for a small development with just a few homes, so the city council would have to decide on how many homes a development would build before the rule would be triggered, said Ward, who declined to discuss a possible number.
And these wouldn’t be city-run parks and pools. Ward would like to see them run by homeowner associations, with the homeowners paying fees to cover maintenance and other costs.
“The city might manage lighting or landscaping” and possibly buy the land on which the parks or pools are built, he added. “That’s what I envision. The council can say no or imagine something completely different.”
Parks, pools, walking trails and other outdoor amenities can be big selling points for homes in new developments, and occasionally cities or counties may require them on individual subdivisions.
For example, at the Loma Vista master-planned community now under construction in Clovis, multiple developers are building 13 communities consisting of 1,840 residential units and a pair of retail centers on 3,307 acres, each of which will have its own small park and “paseos” [walking trails] that will extend about 20 miles, connecting all the parks and neighborhoods, said Ryan De Young, president of De Young Properties in Fresno, one of the developers involved in the project.
And while he said he doesn’t object to the possibility of a city making construction of micro parks or pools a requirement of new development, De Young — whose company currently isn’t building any homes in Porterville — said leaders should be careful not to make their rules so stringent that it drives away developers.
“It needs to be something helpful for the people who live in that community, but also take into consideration the cost of doing something like that,” he said.
Flexibility also is important, said De Young, suggesting that if Porterville follows Ward’s proposal, “Leave room to propose interesting and fun items that are going to be appreciated by the local community.”
That could include other sorts of recreational amenities such as walking trails or — in the case of one De Young development being planned — building an overlook for bird watchers.
In another De Young community, a park is being planned but officials plan to poll the new homebuyers to find out what they want in it, and nationally, community gardens are popping up in new developments, he added.
He also warned that pools may be more complicated because of maintenance, insurance, whether a community requires a lifeguard on duty and restricting access to neighborhood residents.
To that end, De Young suggested that if Porterville goes through with changing its residential development requirements, city officials should work with developers and the homebuilding community to figure out rules amenable to both.
“The city working closely with the homebuilding community really produces wonderful things,” he said.
During the discussion between the Porterville City Council members, it was suggested that city officials meet with developers to discuss Ward’s idea, and there was discussion of creating a parks master plan.
But no formal action was taken beyond directing city staff to schedule further public discussion on the matter during a future meeting.
If a rule requiring micro parks as part of new developments were to be implemented, Porterville may not be the best place to do it, said J. Michael Lane, executive officer for the Building Industry Association of Tulare/Kings Counties, Inc., a nonprofit representing the region’s builders, developers, subcontractors and associated businesses.
He noted that Hanford and Tulare, two Valley cities with comparable populations to Porterville, each issued more than 300 building permits for single-family homes last year, while Porterville officials issued only 43.
And so far this year, the city has issued only 18, compared to 187 in Tulare.
“From the building industry point of view, it’s a pathetic situation in Porterville,” Lane said.
He added that based on his conversations with real estate agents in Porterville, there is a good demand for new housing in the city, but the city’s procedures for permitting and other administrative tasks “are not conducive to home building there.”
And adding a requirement that increases the cost of new development there could worsen the impediments to building new homes in Porterville, Lane said.
He said that holds true in other jurisdictions, as requiring developers to build micro parks or pools would raise home prices, which in turn would price some would-be buyers out of the market, particularly first-time homebuyers.
“Every time you raise the price, a certain number of people can’t qualify for a loan. That’s just the way it is.”