Two longtime South Fresno businesses appear to have dodged a bullet that would have rezoned their industrial properties for office use.
The city’s planning commission approved a new community-specific plan Wednesday that sets land-use goals for parts of south Fresno, but business advocates say property owners have been left out of discussions that affect their land.
The Southeast Central Area Specific Plan establishes zoning, transportation, and infrastructure standards for Fresno near the Kings Canyon corridor from Orange to Peach avenues between Belmont and Church avenues.
The plan outlines what the streets will look like with new bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and more green space to promote clean neighborhoods poised for growth.
It prioritizes new retail stores and healthcare for the 2,200 acres and 30,000 people in the plan’s boundaries.
But concerns about the impacts of industrial businesses have led to two companies shuffling between different city maps with the terrain they operate on up for grabs.
Donaghy Sales, Hormel Foods faced unwanted zoning change
In the 2021 draft plan on the city’s website, parcels where the Donaghy Sales liquor distributor and the Hormel Foods Corn Nuts processing plant are located are rezoned for office use. Fresno city councilors took action to preserve the land for industrial purposes.
The steering committee that helped develop the Southeast Central plan voted to use office zoning as a buffer between industrial and residential areas, according to comments made on the plan by community group Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, in 2021.
Attorney John Kinsey with Wanger Jones Helsley represents Donaghy Sales.
He said the company’s distribution center had originally been included in the South Central Specific Plan before being moved to the Central Southeast plan. Councilman Luis Chavez and other council members directed staff to move Donaghy and Hormel back to the South Central plan, with its industrial zoning intact.
Donaghy now wants to be removed from the South Central plan, which Kinsey says is more controversial.
The longtime Fresno company, which employs several hundred workers at its facility near Jensen and 99th, was never notified of the process, according to Kinsey.
“The city participates in community processes, but not in businesses,” Kinsey said.
Lawyer says Fresno has a history of failing to notify business owners
The Southeast Central plan maps posted on the City of Fresno website show different boundaries, which led to confusion.
Business advocacy group Invest Fresno approached Donaghy and told him the plan showed his land zoned as an office, according to Ethan Smith, the group’s president. That notification prompted Kinsey to write a letter to city staff.
In the letter, Kinsey asked “what steps have been taken to inform property owners whose zoning may be changed about the CSASP process.” She said that she received no response.
Project manager for the Southeast Central plan, Drew Wilson, said the city had sent out two mailers to residents and businesses.
Multiple requests for comment sent to city staff by GV Wire went unanswered.
“This appears to be a continuation of the recent practice of city staff not notifying light industrial land owners that their properties will be reduced, similar to what occurred in connection with the Southwest Specific Plan in 2017,” Kinsey wrote. .
None of the public comments posted by city staff on the Southeast Central plan came from advocates for the businesses.
The Southwest Specific Plan rezoned 93 acres of land between Elm Avenue and Highway 41 for mixed-use light industrial zoning.
City councilors are still deciding how to deal with non-compliant business owners due to the adoption of the Southwest plan.
At the May 11 meeting, councilmembers ordered city attorney Andrew Janz to come back with options, including a zoning overlay or a full rezoning, Kinsey said.
In the case of the Elm Avenue rezoning, it wasn’t until a property owner applied for a permit to expand their business that they discovered they were no longer zoned for industrial, Smith said.
Consequences for unconstitutional land use decisions, lawyer claims
In the letter to the city of Fresno, Kinsey cites the US Constitution’s prohibition on taking private land for public use and says that rezoning land has the same effect.
“Government regulation of private property can, in some cases, be so onerous that its effect amounts to direct appropriation or eviction,” Kinsey quoted from the court decision in Lingle v Chevron USA Inc.
Businesses that no longer operate in accordance with designated land use face the potential for a massive devaluation of property values, Kinsey said. Businesses cannot increase operations or change uses, for example, from manufacturing to warehousing.
United Security Bank CEO Dennis Woods said in a public comment to city council in October 2022 that businesses operating outside of zoning compliance cannot obtain conventional financing for capital improvements or upgrades, such as the purchase of electric vehicles.
The rezoning is part of the strategy to clean up parts of the city
Concerns about emissions and truck traffic have led specific planners to create mitigation measures against industrial users in South Fresno.
Chávez said that environmental justice was a priority of the steering committee.
“That was included by some of the people who were on the committee. You know, with full transparency, they were the people who always focus on environmental justice, you know, the agenda,” Chávez said.
In a comment made on the plan by the Leadership Council in 2021, the use of office zoning is not enough.
“This narrative is damaging as these zoning choices bring industry practices that do not reflect residents’ priorities,” the comment reads.
City staff responded by saying that the parcels zoned for offices had been removed and placed in the South Central Specific Plan.
Chavez said he worked with the director of the planning and development department, Jennifer Clark, to remove both Donaghy and Hormel from the plan.
Chávez says that it is necessary to achieve an industrial and residential balance
Balancing the industrial and the residential is a challenge, Chávez said. The focus of these specific plans is housing and the creation of clean and safe neighborhoods. But the industrial businesses predate the residential areas that have been booming in the area.
People who move to these areas are aware of their proximity to industrial uses.
Resident opposition to industrial uses is not simple, Chávez said. Those annoyed by the coming and going of big trucks may not be in favor of the companies, but the reaction might be different for employees of nearby industrial companies.
There are 20 different food processors in the Chavez district.
“Overwhelmingly for me, I think it’s been more people who are more concerned with the jobs and the opportunities that they’re providing there for the area,” Chavez said.