You are hereCHRIS ACREE: Remove sprawl from plan

CHRIS ACREE: Remove sprawl from plan

Posted at 12:00 AM on Saturday, Jan. 08, 2011

Fresno County, like many other places across the nation, is struggling through a deep recession and a housing crisis. And while urban vacancy rates are rising, a silent drama is being played out on the rural fringes of town by developers planning for the next 30-plus years of new urban growth.

Despite all the current planning efforts to create compact land-use patterns and orderly outward growth, these new rural developments are leapfrogging past our planned growth boundaries and creating the perfect blueprint for sprawl.

Conservative estimates show Fresno County's population more than doubling to nearly two million residents by 2050, and savvy developers are lining up to rezone pastures to tract homes in anticipation of this next wave of growth. If you think growth doesn't happen in a recession, you are dead wrong.

In fact, 20 miles north of Fresno's urban core, Fresno and Madera counties have already approved new development areas such as Rio Mesa, Gateway Village, and Millerton New Town to name a few. These projects will cumulatively create a new urban area with a population the size of Visalia along the San Joaquin River corridor.

The latest addition in Fresno County is a proposed expansion of the community of Friant. The Friant Ranch project will increase the population of Friant ten-fold, adding a 6,000-resident active-adult retirement community to an area that is now farmland, ranchland and open space.

Being so far removed from existing municipal infrastructure, Friant Ranch and its neighboring projects will have no economically feasible option other than to discharge millions of gallons per day of wastewater into the San Joaquin River.

The combination of chemical runoff from streets, landscapes, and pharmaceuticals in wastewater will degrade river habitats and threaten the return of salmon and other fish being reintroduced under the San Joaquin River restoration project.

Of particular concern to many residents and conservation groups is the large-scale wastewater treatment plant planned adjacent to Lost Lake Park on the San Joaquin River floodplain. For those who enjoy the park, or swim and fish in the river, the degraded water quality and aesthetics, odor and noise are not acceptable.

Friant Ranch and other "new towns" are left to their own devices to secure water supplies, often outcompeting existing cities and agriculture for the resource. Where are the water supply plans that will reverse our groundwater overdraft problems and why aren't our cities purchasing this readily available water supply?

Without coordinated plans for urban growth in the Friant-Millerton Region, project proponents are escaping responsibility for the true costs of environmental mitigation. Ratepayers will ultimately subsidize the increased environmental costs of rural development as developers profit.

The Fresno County General Plan encourages growth within spheres of influence and contiguous to urban cores where infrastructure exists to accommodate new growth. The Fresno SOI currently has more than 23,000 acres of undeveloped land, so why is it that our county planners are moving forward with these remote rural projects that are so obviously in conflict with our General Plan?

These proposed "new towns" promise privately financed urban infrastructure through fees passed on to the homeowners. This may seem attractive to decision-makers during times of wafer-thin county budgets, but the real costs of poorly planned projects will always rest squarely on the shoulders of the taxpayers.

Holding new growth within our existing growth boundaries is the only way we will sustainably develop in the upcoming decades and avoid the leapfrog development practices that have kept our downtown empty, our air quality poor, and our farmland steadily disappearing.

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