Fresno

All eyes on Fig Garden Financial Center’s proposed fourth building

The Fresno Planning Commission at 6 p.m. Wednesday will take a key step in determining whether Fig Garden Financial Center gets another office building.

Perhaps more importantly, the commissioners also will explore whether the 2035 general plan can deliver on its promise, when it comes to the future of neighborhoods, of enabling Fresno to have its cake and eat it, too.

At issue are several development-related applications submitted by the Assemi empire. We’re talking about things like plan amendment applications. The Assemis own Fig Garden Financial Center, located on the north edge of Fig Garden Village (different owners). The Assemis also own developable land immediately to the east of the Financial Center.

The Financial Center currently has three office buildings, each 4 stories. Total square footage among the three buildings: About 250,000.

The Assemis want to build a fourth office building of about 100,000 square feet. Wednesday’s agenda item doesn’t deal with several of the biggest City Hall hurdles that must be cleared for construction to begin on the fourth building. But Wednesday’s agenda item is part of the overall project package. Thus, it’s impossible to debate Wednesday’s agenda item without also debating the wisdom of the fourth office building.

Now, I’ve written about this project a handful of times. Full disclosure: My wife and I have lived next to Fig Garden Financial Center for 25 years.

What makes this project unique is the Assemis’ desire at a future date to get City Hall approval to “vacate” parts of two city streets for the fourth office building. Currently, a motorist can drive from Palm Avenue to Maroa Avenue, winding her way through neighborhood streets. If the fourth office building becomes a reality, that would not be possible. The motorist would hit a cul-de-sac.

As I’ve written before, I live in a wonderful neighborhood. But it’s a jurisdictional and geographical nightmare. Some parts are in the city. Some parts are in the county. There are single-family residences. There are condos. There are big open fields ripe for high-density residential “in-fill” development. There are lots of wonderful people living in the neighborhood. There are lots of different opinions about the proper course for the neighborhood’s future.

And then there is the 2035 general plan. The plan wants to maintain wonderful old neighborhoods. The plans also wants to re-engineer wonderful old neighborhoods for the dynamic needs of the 21st century.

You know that cliché about the “canary in the coal mine”? It’s the idea that some condition or event is an early indicator of greater challenges ahead. Without getting into the weeds, I posit that what’s landing in the Planning Commission’s lap on Wednesday is just such a metaphorical canary. There’s just no way for the commissioners to send a recommendation to the City Council (which has final say) that makes everyone happy.

For example, my wife and I think the fourth office building is a good idea. The cul-de-sacs will eliminate motorists on Palm speeding through the neighborhood to get to Maroa. But one of my neighbors wrote a letter to City Hall (posted on the Planning Commission agenda) in opposition to the fourth office building. She said it’s good that motorists can take a shortcut through the neighborhood.

The challenge for neighborhood opponents of the fourth office building is that, should they prevail and kill the Assemi vision, then property that would have become offices and parking lots will instead become high-density apartment complexes. One way or another, huge change is coming to my neighborhood.

In the past I’ve yielded to temptation and guessed in these articles about the level of neighborhood support for the fourth office building. Then one day a neighbor dropped by my house unannounced and sharply criticized me.

No more guessing from me. We’ll let the process work its wonders. Good luck, Commissioners.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.