Despite strong opposition to permitting a patient nursing facility in a northwest Fresno neighborhood, the planning commission approved a modified version of the plan Wednesday night.
Infinite Living plans to build a 24-hour acute respiratory care home — for bedridden patients with a tracheotomy or on a ventilator — at 2287 W. Bullard Ave. in a residential neighborhood.
The original plan called for modifying the 3,300-square-foot residence on the property and adding two buildings for a total of 54 beds. The improvements would also include a parking lot and lighting.
Several neighbors voiced opposition at a hearing in July, and through dozens of emails. Objections included noise, traffic, and public safety.
Commissioner Kathy Bray offered an alternate approval — allow one additional building instead of two. The commission agreed on a 5-0 vote, with Brad Hardie abstaining and Haley Wagner absent.
But one opposition letter went too far, two commissioners said.
Commissioners Say Opposition Letter Threatened Them
During the debate, commissioners DJ Criner and Bray said they felt threatened by comments made in a letter objecting to the project.
Jim and Kitty Burden wrote they live a half-block from the proposed facility.
“Whoever votes yes on this project will be remembered and replaced ASAP. This IS OUR BACKYARD, and we will not forget if you vote in favor of violating our zoning laws,” the Burdens wrote.
Criner took offense, calling the letter “unacceptable.”
“Threats are not something that should be taken lightly. And there is a responsibility that we have up here. But there is also a responsibility that I believe that you all have as our community,” Criner said from the dais.
“Many of us are not easily shaken. As the smallest, skinniest person on this platform, I’ll tell you, you can’t shake people that have already been shaken but have never felt fallen. God bless you,” Criner said, somewhat facetiously as he is not a small, skinny person. He is the pastor of St. Rest Baptist church.
Bray said she knows the Burdens.
“The person who wrote that, I considered a friend of mine at one time. I haven’t seen them in a while, but it was personally hurtful to be threatened like that,” Bray said.
GV Wire sent a message to Jim Burden seeking comment about the letter but did not hear back before the publication of this story.
Karbassi Appealed Earlier Approval
Fresno City Councilmember Mike Karbassi, who represents the area, appealed the initial planning department approval, on June 2.
“I am concerned about the impacts to the neighborhood,” Karbassi wrote.
Smittcamp AG Enterprises President Brent Smittcamp was one of several people to send in letters of opposition.
“This proposal and potentiality for change to the neighborhood is an unacceptable alteration of the residential character of our neighborhood,” Smittcamp wrote in June.
Andrew Wanger, an attorney and de facto leader of the opposition, said the planning commission’s decision “was legally unsound.”
“It’s not the appropriate lot for this operation. I understand the need or the stated need for these types of facilities, but I believe there are available spaces within a mile where zoning is such that they don’t need to alter the zoning for the property,” Wanger, son of famed former federal judge Oliver Wanger, said.
Brian Whelan, a partner with Infinite Care, praised the approval.
“We are grateful for the diligence, hard work, and thoughtfulness of both city staff and the planning commissioners. We look forward to making this project a reality,” Whelan said.
The approval could still be appealed to the city council by Karbassi or Mayor Jerry Dyer.