A plan a decade away, but decades in the making, would see the city of Fresno expand its boundaries by 9,500 acres in the southeast.
Known as the Southeast Development Area (SEDA), it would add 45,000 housing units, or 130,000 residents at buildout. That could potentially expand Fresno’s population by 23%. The plan also includes commercial centers.
The land is currently unincorporated in Fresno County. It would need to be annexed into the city of Fresno.
“It’s intended to have compact, walkable neighborhoods where individuals and families, households can live, work and play all in the same neighborhood,” said Jennifer Clark, city planning director.
However, opposition to developing some parts of the area has already emerged.
A group called Southeast Property Owners (SEPO) was formed last year, and its members are skeptical about the city’s plans.
“Your property is in danger,” the group says in bold caps on its website.
Portions of SEDA would abut the southeast Fresno City Council district represented by Luis Chavez. He says he is in favor of the growth plan.
“We know that the demand is there,” Chavez said. “The worst kept secret is that we’re growing and we’re going to continue to grow because the census tells us that,” Chavez said.
The project also has the support of the local chapter of the Building Industry Association.
Michael Prandini, president and CEO of the BIA, says it is a “positive step forward” and “desirable” to build homes, especially in an area that will mostly be covered by Clovis Unified School District.
The city released the SEDA environmental impact report in mid-July, commencing a 45-day comment period through Aug. 28. There are several community meetings, with the next on Saturday, Aug. 12 from 10 a.m. to noon at Young Elementary School (3140 N. Locan Ave., Fresno).
First Phase by 2035
The first phase — about 15,000 housing units — of SEDA would be built between the Gould Canal and McKinley Avenue (north to south) and Locan and McCall avenues (east to west). That’s scheduled to happen by 2035.
The remaining phases — stretching east of Temperance Avenue and south of McKinley Avenue — would be built from 2035 to 2050.
Clark said infrastructure — roads, sewer and water lines, street lights — to build a new region for the city would be paid for by developers as they go. Annexation into the city would follow.
Prandini said developers are buying options — the right to buy land in the future.
Merced underwent a similar annexation fight just a few years ago. It took legislation from then-state Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, to annex nearly 10,000 acres of land around UC Merced, from Merced County into the city of Merced.
Who Will Pay?
Clark did not have a specific number on how much it will cost to build city infrastructure in what is now mainly rural and agricultural land. She said a plan will be presented to the city council soon.
“We’re currently completing those studies to anticipate the overall cost, but you can imagine that it would be quite expensive to extend infrastructure in this area,” Clark said.
Chavez pegged the number between $400-600 million. Prandini provided the same estimate.
How does the city plan to connect up to 130,000 residents to the rest of the city?
Clark said Bus Rapid Transit through the Kings Canyon corridor is an option. Roads leading to Highway 180, including Temperance and Locan avenues, would also be built out.
“Some roads are considered expressway. Some roads are considered arterials. So it’s the size of the roadway. So it might have four lanes with turn lanes; it might have six lanes with turn lanes. It’s dependent on the volume that’s anticipated on that roadway,” Clark said.
The city will have to strike a deal with the Fresno Irrigation District to provide water. Again, developers will pay.
County Property Owners Object
SEPO says on its website that landowners in the growth area “do not want to be annexed” by the city.
“We aim to protect our property, defend our community and preserve our rural way of life from city annexations, eminent domain, home, and land devaluation, and other encroachments to our county land,” SEPO says in its mission statement.
The group declined a GV Wire interview request.
Meanwhile, city officials say they do not want to annex homeowners there.
“We do not intend to take over existing neighborhoods or annex existing neighborhoods,” Clark said. “Our goal is to be good neighbors with the existing residents that live there today.”
She does not anticipate SEDA would create “county islands,” pockets of county neighborhoods surrounded by the city of Fresno.
Chavez differed, saying county islands are not a bad thing.
“The city should not annex any county island unless the residents choose to be annexed,” Chavez said.
Another problem with annexation, the BIA’s Prandini points out, is the lack of a tax-sharing agreement between the city and county of Fresno. It has been years since the two governments have had a formal agreement, which could make future projects such as SEDA difficult to proceed.
Instead, recent annexations have been approved on a project-by-project basis.
“You have to have tax sharing to do any future annexations. So I still think the city has a lot of work to do, both with the residents that live in the southeast area and also to really hold up their end of the bargain when it comes to other annexations,” Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig said.
How to Fund Infrastructure Improvements?
Whether the infrastructure price tag is $600 million or more, it is expected that homebuilders will pass on the costs to buyers.
“The state government likes what we’re doing with regards to balancing our housing challenge. Is it perfect? No, but we’re making a lot more progress than cities around us.” — Councilman Luis Chavez
Chavez is looking at other revenue streams to help fund the growth area’s infrastructure needs.
“We’re trying to figure out some new innovative ways on how we can actually possibly bond for some of these amenities and invest them beforehand and make development easier,” Chavez said.
State and federal money could also help.
“The state government likes what we’re doing with regards to balancing our housing challenge. Is it perfect? No, but we’re making a lot more progress than cities around us,” Chavez said.
A goal in the city’s SEDA documents is “to create more housing supply at all income levels.”
Chavez believes this is possible.
“We know that affordable housing is a big need in our community. We can’t just have market-rate housing concentrated in one part of the city. We have to have a balanced approach,” Chavez said.
The councilman suggested apartments with some units reserved as affordable, tiny homes, and “mother-in-law” houses.
Prandini said the price of homes will continue to increase.
“Affordable today is not obviously what it was affordable 20 years ago. And the prices will always continue to go up. And a big consideration of the price of a home is how much the developer has to pay for the land,” Prandini said.
A Long-Range Plan
The concept to expand Fresno southeastward dates back to the 2000s if not earlier. Previously known as SEGA — Southeast Growth Area — the expansion was scrapped because of the recession. However, some of the original ideas were incorporated into the 2035 General Plan, passed in 2014.
City planning director Clark said expanding the city won’t necessarily lead to sprawl.
“We have planned for the anticipated growth in population over the next 20 years and beyond. And this is one of the areas that would be necessary to accommodate the growth in population,” Clark said.
SEDA documents tout “compact” neighborhoods, where the commute to live and work is shortened. The goal, in addition to adding new housing, will be to improve air quality.
Chavez is sensitive in planning items like sidewalks and crosswalks ahead of time. He mentioned a child hit by a car nearly eight years ago near a school in an expanded area of town.
“It took me four years to try to get a cross signal installed. It’s finally installed. It’s safer for our kids. But that’s what happens when you don’t plan ahead. You sadly have tragedies. And that’s what we’re trying to avoid with the state of planning,” Chavez said.