Thursday, January 29, 2015

A look at the newest bicycle trailhead in Clovis (picture tour)

Let's take a little break from Downtown Fresno and jump all the way up to the far reaches of Clovis, or more specifically, Shepherd and Sunnyside. Clovis has built a new park and trailhead for the "Dry Creek Trail" that runs south and eventually connects with the Old Town Trail. In the future, the trail will continue north, and presumably link to the partially built trail to the west (Enterprise).

The trailhead includes some nifty new features, such as a bike repair station, a water fountain with a water bottle feature, some interesting art, maps, and more.

For some history, way back in July 2013, this project was announced, and I last looked at this project in August, when work had barely begun.

Let's take a look. 

The map below shows the plot of land used...

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And this map shows the existing (as of now) Dry Creek Trail in red, and the Enterprise Trail in yellow. Dots mean future plans. How far in the future is anyone's guess.

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Clovis sees their trail network as a recreational, rather than commuter asset. As such, one of the goals of the trailhead was to provide ample parking so people can load up their bikes on their SUV, drive here, park, and use the trails. Presumably, those who prefer to bike on mountain roads can also park here. Why street parking isn't an option, I don't understand.

As such, we start our tour in the parking lot. Looking north towards the orchards (and Clovis development border) and the new welcoming sign.

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The parking lot is not the most exciting part, so let's look at the park...

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At first glance, it looks....really damn weird. Almost like a moon scape. I understand with the drought, grass was not an option, but it still looks odd.

In we go.

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Restrooms are included, which is good. Clovis does a good job at providing public restrooms in every park.

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Standard park stuff here

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There's also some interesting signage, aimed strictly at the "weekend warrior" bike types. It has maps of recommended riding loops, including elevation gain. I didn't check the QR code, but I'd assume it links to an interactive map? These routes are on country roads.

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There's also a map of the Clovis trail system.

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Map boards in context

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The park has some farm-related art, like a plow. A Fresno plow.

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In context... I wish the trees were spaces closer together honestly, more like the orchard in the back.

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Ok, continuing with many more pictures after the jump here...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

CityView at Van Ness (Droge) now open

Remember the photo tour from last Thursday? Well as of today, the building is open for people to move in.

The Fresno Bee posted some additional images, including some of the interior. The public spaces are looking great.

That Fresno Blog has an image of the retail space that is available. She also has news that the manager of Joe's Steakhouse, across the street, is one of the new residential tenants. Apparently, they will extend their hours due to an expected increase in business.

Kiel Schmidt has linked to an album showing the process for the art that lines the outside of the building, which is looking great!

The whole thing is very exciting, and it's good to see this project end up this way. I must admit, when the Droge was knocked down, I was skeptical that we would have another empty lot for a decade.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Droge Building construction almost done (photo tour)

The last time this blog visited the site of the Droge Building, on the corner of Van Ness and Inyo, it was June 2014 and the wooden frame was up. A couple of weeks ago, I stopped by to see what is almost the final product. Exterior anyway, the interior won't be done until this summer.

Unlike every other residential project downtown, this one stands at 4 stories, and you can really feel the difference from the 2-3 that GV Urban builds. The extra height really makes the corner feel more urban. Also, as this project was done by the Fresno Housing Authority, we get a unique facade, and not the recycled one used by GV.

Even better - no surface parking, which usually takes up most of the GV lots. There is a small garage, which residents can access through the existing alley, and not a new driveway. However, that's only a few spaces, as there is a public garage directly across the street which residents will be able to rent a space in.

Incidentally, the project is actually called "City View at Van Ness." Droge was the name of the building that was demolished, but I used the same in the title for consistency. 

Let's take a look:

Prominent look at the corner, good color scheme

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I love the balconies

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Spiral garage visible on the left

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Sadly, like all downtown projects, the street lights continue to suck. However, the accent sidewalk lighting looks very good

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The building has an interior courtyard

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Alley and garage visible on the side

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Ok, continuing with many more pictures after the jump here...

Monday, January 19, 2015

A look at the construction of the Chaffee Zoo expansion (picture tour)

It's been just over a year since I posted a picture tour of the construction ongoing at Roeding Park. The construction is removing a significant amount of public park space to create an expanded zoo, with more parking.

Let's take a look at how that's going.

What I considered the main entrance, on Belmont, is closed off to vehicles. In red, is the fenced off area, where construction is onoging. The yellow line is the walking tour I took, along the fence. You can still park on Belmont and walk in via small entrances. The Ps are future parking, in what is parkland today.  Note the massive dirt lot across the street on the bottom, with the blue x. That could have made a perfect parking lot, while saving park space. But no.

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So in we go. This is how you get in. Super inviting right?

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I arrived at the end of the work day

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To the right of the construction fence, there's still some park available... but it's really inaccessible. You cannot park on Golden State and access the park.

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 As an aside, I believe the Belmont Rotary seen here will be disappearing soon, with High Speed Rail construction. I'd assume they'd turn it into a standard intersection.

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The highlight of this trip is the number of mature trees left standing. I can only hope they will remain.

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Looking backwards

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Construction on some buildings

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Ok, continuing with many more pictures after the jump here...

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Will NIMBYs derail new Fresno infill plan?

I was pleasantly surprised to see last month that the City Council approved the general plan update on a vote of 5-2. Honestly, I expected them to punt it to 2015 on some sorry excuse about a need for more input. If you haven't been following the new plans puts a focus on infill growth, rather than sprawl.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who championed the plan, said the real work is just beginning as the city now must take steps to implement the document’s vision.

“Excellent vision and excellent execution may not be enough,” she told the council. “We will all challenge each other to execute as best as we can.”

“Tonight it’s important to reflect on the historic nature of this vote, the fact that we as a community came together and said it’s time to start taking care of our existing neighborhoods,” Swearengin said moments after the vote. “I want to celebrate this occasion, and then tomorrow morning we’ll wake up and realize that we have so much work left to do.”

The mayor is right. A plan doesn't mean much unless implementation follows. As long as she is mayor, we can expect good support from City Hall. However, there's one serious barrier:

NIMBYs. (not in my backyard - people who oppose nearby development)

In late 2014, two good projects came before the city to do exactly what the plan is calling for. That is, to build high-density (for Fresno) housing in an older neighborhood.

One was killed due to local opposition. The other just squeaked by.

It's too dense! Too much traffic Out of character with the neighborhood!

The most alarming part? One of these proposals was for detached, single family homes. That's right, the neighborhood was complaining that building single family detached homes on an endlessly vacant lot was out of character in the single family detached home neighborhood.

And if the planning board or city council agree, there will be no change.

The other was for student housing near Fresno State, in an area built up with apartment complexes.

Let's take a look:

A local developer wants to take advantage of the city’s new-found passion for infill development by building three single-family houses on an empty lot in southeast Fresno.

Niko Homes, whose investors have interests throughout the state, has been trying for the better part of a year to get the green light to develop the small (about two-thirds of an acre) site on Winery Avenue between Washington and McKenzie avenues.

But neighbors are fighting back. Some say three houses is too many. Others say their privacy could be compromised if the homes are two stories. All fear what such change might do to neighborhood integrity.
Fresno Bee
It's straight from the Onion.

3 detached homes.

Lot sizes ranging from 5,649 to 8,750 square feet.

A density of 6 dwelling per acre.

Too dense.

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I believe the existing home on the top of the parcel is to be demolished and replaced with a modern one.

“That lot is too small for three houses,” said Sara Rojas, who has lived on the northeast corner of Winery and McKenzie since 1961. “Some people have four or five cars. Where are they going to park them?”

Gee whiz Sara, parking will be a nightmare.

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Fortunately, this proposal passed....barely.

The council on a 4-3 vote gave the green light to Niko Homes to build three houses on an empty lot in southeast Fresno. Neighbors said two houses are enough. The developer said it’s three or zero. Council Members Clint Olivier, Sal Quintero and Oliver Baines voted no, but gave no hint it was a life-or-death issue for them. After all, “infill” has replaced “bankruptcy” as City Hall’s favorite word.
Fresno Bee

That's a tight vote for an insignificant proposal in what should have been a no-brainer. Imagine if the proposal had been townhouses?

A slightly denser proposal across town was not so lucky. 

The developer, a company in Newport Beach, wanted to build a four-story complex for Fresno State students. There would be parking and an activity room on the ground level. There would be 10 apartments on each of the other levels. Each level would have six four-bedroom apartments and four two-bedroom apartments.

Total: 30 units, 96 bedrooms. Each bedroom would have its own bathroom.
Well, one detail was eye-catching: the location. The developer wanted to build on .79 of an acre at 1470 Bulldog Lane, a short walk west of Bulldog Stadium.

The site (now bare dirt) is sandwiched between the Sigma Chi and Delta Sigma Phi fraternity houses. Several fraternity houses to the north are only a few yards from the site. A stone’s throw further to the north are two rows of sorority houses.
Fresno Bee

A perfectly reasonable project aimed at students, just blocks from Fresno State. In the below map, you can see the proposed location. Just to the east, everything to the right of the orange line is Fresno State. You can see the surrounding area is already built up primarily with apartments.

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So when does construction start?

The project is all but dead. Project opponents called City Hall. The Bee started poking around. A representative of the developer on Thursday left a voice message at The Bee, saying the project would be sidelined until further notice. The caller gave no hint whether it would ever return. That’s probably just as well.

The project apparently failed to find a single champion in the neighborhood or at City Hall.

What could possibly be the objection?

The toughest critic probably was Dan Waterhouse, a Fresno State graduate and member of the alumni advisory board of the local Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity (the chapter house is a former apartment complex on Shaw Avenue)

They boiled down to this: The project was a bad fit for the site. “It would stick out like a sore thumb,” Waterhouse told The Bee.

Based on city records and interviews by The Bee, Waterhouse had a lot of company. City and university officials were tactful. But, they made clear, they doubted whether the tiny lot at 1470 Bulldog Lane was best suited for a 30-unit, 96-bed apartment complex.

On the negative side, the cultural integrity of a tiny but historic Fresno neighborhood — that slice of land bounded by Bulldog Lane on the south, El Dorado Park on the west, Barstow Avenue on the north and Millbrook Avenue on the east known as Greek Mall — would have been compromised. Greek Mall would never be the same.

It would stick out? The cultural integrity of the neighborhood? What are we talking about here, classic mansions converted to frat homes, like at USC? Let's take a look:

The property to the right....a parking lot.

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The property to the left...a parking lot (with nice landscaping).

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And my favorite, the property directly across the street, with all of its unbelievable charm:

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The end of the block isn't any better

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Feel free to explore the beautiful historic block on your own with this streetview link

While I could not find a render of the proposed 4 story building, I have a feeling it would look a little better than the existing neighbors.

Going forward, it's going to be hard for Fresno to fulfill the goals of the general plan if every infill proposal gets denied while business as usual sprawl keeps getting the green light.

 As George Hostetter put it:

Council Member Lee Brand several years ago chaired a council subcommittee on infill development. City staff submitted a map showing (in red) the locations of bare lots in Fresno. The map looked like it had measles. Each dot represents an opportunity to change the status quo. Each dot could be a battle like 1470 Bulldog Lane.

Without spine, that's a battle that could be lost every time.

I have a lot of downtown construction updates to post, so look forward to those in the near future. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Beautiful countryside to make way for massive 5,000 home sprawl project

There's something almost sinister about the way a developer gushes about the natural landscapes, beautiful views, and rolling hills he is about to bulldoze to build cookie-cutter tract homes.

The Madera County Planning Commission approved the tentative map for the first phase of the project two and a half weeks ago. Now, the builder is working on detailed plans which will bring more than 850 homes to what Bob McCaffrey, the company’s chief executive officer, calls “the most romantic piece of land” he’s ever seen.

Tesoro Viejo — which will eventually have 5,190 homes on 1,600 acres — will follow the natural ebbs and flows of the land which includes rock formations, high and low elevations and a river that flows along the northern edge of the property.
Fresno Bee

Read more here:

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The Facebook page is filled with images of what the site looks like now, before the homes start popping up

The Fresno Bee recently* wrote about how the McCaffrey company is ready to start construction on the first 850 homes of their Tesoro Viejo complex in Madera. The developer is eager to talk about the land they're about to destroy.

*This post was scheduled to be published over a month ago but apparently stayed in draft form. Thanks blogger schedule post system for not posting it. 

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The closest streetview available today

From their press release:

Tesoro Viejo is a breathtaking site of about 1,600 acres of gently rolling hills and vistas. The community is situated at the foot of Little Table Mountain and has been thoughtfully designed to capture its scenic surroundings, offering residents views of the sloping hillsides and the dramatic Sierra foothills. 
They took the Bee along for a photo tour of the land they're about to pillage. It makes me think of the type of person who shoots an endangered animal, so that they can stuff it and then have their guests over for wine to talk about its majestic beauty.

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Note the smog. Fresno Bee

The plan of course, is as cookie cutter as they come. Low destiny, single family homes, set one after another, separated by drab driveways and tree-less lawns. Most, of course, on cul-de-sacs. I'd assume three, maybe four models, some rotated to give the impression of more.

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Actually, the cookie cutter bit isn't entirely true. The developer seems to have too much land to know what to do with, so some of their internal streets will be of a design that I thought went extinct many moons ago.

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In the above image, do you see what's going on in the middle? They're calling it a "collector with double frontage road" - or an astronomical 146 foot right of way.

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Six lanes of traffic, four lanes of parking, and naturally, nothing for bikes.

Combine this type of roadway with curving cul-de-sacs and roads that aren't connected, and what do you get? Well, in developer terms...

A model of innovative design and sustainable living, Tesoro Viejo will be a vibrant hub for southeastern Madera County with housing and business opportunities, a walkable Town Center, green living, thriving industry and neighborhood parks and schools where residents can live, work and play.

Uhuh. Yeah, I've seen this model before.

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Nothing is more sustainable and walkable than a suburban tract plan pulled from 1970, set in the middle of nowhere.

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Naturally, Fresno is the big loser here. Madera County sees one, and only one thing: Dollar signs.

A big supporter of the project has been Bobby Kahn, executive director of the Madera County Economic Development Commission. Kahn feels the project will give Madera County the opportunity to be the home of a planned community that will be the envy of the Central Valley.

“This project will not only create construction jobs but will also be developing three million square feet of commercial and industrial space that will create about 7,000 permanent jobs,” Kahn said. “This project is a positive game changer for Madera County and the entire region. The McCaffrey Group is a great development company with the upmost integrity.”
Sierra Star
 Mind you, some of those dollar signs don't quite add up...

“No one has ever done that in Madera County,” Wheeler said. “At build out, this new community will provide many jobs and will generate millions of dollars in in property and sales tax forever. The project will create a place for people to live and work and will mean more children for our schools that have all experienced declining enrollments the past few years. This development getting to this point has been a long process. It will be a big economic boom for Madera County.”
Um, more kids usually means more expenses. And we all know those property taxes won't cover a fraction of the eventual costs. And those sales taxes? Yeah, the stores are in Fresno.

With zero jobs or stores in the area, every last one of those residents will be making the drive into Fresno, polluting the air, and adding congestion to the one and only road into town: Highway 41. Without a toll-booth on 41, its the Fresno residents that will bear the brunt of these exurban commuters trying to get into town. Look forward to proposals to spend $100m+ to widen 41 to 6 lanes.

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Actually, there's one other big loser: The kids of any family who moves in.

The closest High School is almost 15 miles away, naturally, in the middle of nowhere. Sustainable and walkable they said?

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Some excellent planning went on putting the school here...

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It's 2014, and the Central Valley hasn't learnt a thing. Air pollution? Congestion? WATER? No problem, as long as the developers get to keep developing every piece of land they can get their hands on.

You can find more details on the plan the county approved here (item 4).

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The current residents will be evicted, Fresno Bee

This post was originally written over a month ago, but due to a technical glitch never published. I don't know how I didn't notice.