Fresno · Real Estate

Will Fresno be an industrial jobs magnet or repellant? The answer lies at the southern end of town.

Will a set of two-decade-old industrial buildings in south Fresno continue to flourish the city’s booming job magnets? Or are they headed for an activist-led scrapheap?

After more than a year, Fresno’s Planning Commission is set to revisit a proposal to reverse a controversial rezone covering a sprawling set of industrial warehouse parcels in southwest Fresno.

Early last year, a group of landowners lobbied planning commissioners to change the zoning of 92.5 acres of property from the rules set in the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, which was approved by the Fresno City Council in 2017. 

The Southwest Fresno Specific Plan eliminated industrial zoning for the properties first constructed in the late-1990s, instead designating it as neighborhood mixed use. 

The land in question lies between S. Elm Ave. on the West and Highway 41 to the east, stretching north to E. Vine Ave. and E. Samson Ave. and E. Chester Ave. to the south. 

Industrial businesses which were already present at the time could continue to operate, but they were unable to expand, and no new industrial developments could be built. 

The 2017 rezone to neighborhood mixed use forced a reckoning for the landowners and their tenants, with major lenders unwilling to continue to finance on-going improvements to properties deemed legal, but nonconforming with current zoning standards.

The group of landowners seeking to change a section of the plan is specifically proposing to rezone 92.5 acres from Neighborhood Mixed Use back to Light Industrial Use. 

The move would enable blue-chip tenants, such as pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, to continue to operate and allow for logistics-heavy tenants to change occupancy of the warehouses over time.

Without a rezone, the sprawling development runs the risk of undergoing a bizarre transition over time, with pre-existing industrial warehouses being pared with commercial office space or even multi-unit residential apartments replacing vacated warehouses.

After initially scheduled to hold a hearing on the proposal in February 2021, the planning commission continued it twice before postponing it. 

Last September the group of landowners postponed its own application, but the proposal is set once again to be heard by the planning commission. 

The proposal comes before the commission shortly after it took up a similar zoning issue. 

Last week, the commission approved an amendment to the Fresno General Plan to allow Busseto Foods to expand its facility in southwest Fresno, nearly 19 acres in total. 

For the landowners of the Elm developments, their position centers on a concern for their tenants to continue operating in Fresno.

Under the current rules, they fear that the businesses will pack up and leave town. 

John Kinsey, an attorney for the landowners, voiced their concerns at a community meeting in March 2021. 

Kinsey said the current zoning is inconsistent and “does not provide the protections that these businesses need to continue operations.” 

“The inconsistent zoning diminishes the ability of the businesses to attract reputable, responsible and well-capitalized tenants that the community deserves,” Kinsey said. 

Kinsey told McClatchy last year that the grandfathering in of the businesses to continue their industrial operations did not “provide much comfort” and drove the proposal. 

He even noted that an application like Busseto is more intensive to neighboring communities than the reversal for Elm properties.

“We are not contemplating any new buildings or different uses,” Kinsey told the paper. “Rather, we are merely seeking rezone to preserve what is currently here.”

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.