The Clovis City Council voted on Monday to shut down a proposed 40-unit development near Old Town Clovis because neighbors expressed concerns about traffic congestion, overflow parking and the “monolithic” height of the planned apartment building.

The council voted 3-2 to deny proposed amendments to the city’s general plan and a rezone that would have allowed the three-story multifamily apartment to be built on 1.6 acres of land just north of Second Street on the east side of Osmun Avenue and west side of Baron Avenue. The area is zoned for medium density residential single-family homes.

Councilmembers Drew Bessinger, Lynn Ashbeck and Bob Whalen voted to deny the general plan amendment and the rezone. Mayor Jose Flores and Councilmember Vong Mouanoutoua voted to continue the project.

“I feel very protective of this neighborhood,” said Ashbeck, justifying her vote. “It’s this special little enclave; it’s got the history of Clovis.”

The decision to deny the proposed amendment and rezone went against the recommendations of the Clovis planning commission.

The council, however, unanimously approved environmental findings of mitigated negative declaration which will allow an easier path for future housing developments.

“Old Town Clovis has become a gem and people want to be there,” Flores said. “What this development promised was that more people could be there that were going to be intellectuals, professionals, our future, that would pay high rent.”

Market rate project initially proposed to help lack of affordability

Clovis, like the rest of California, has an incredible need for housing, particularly for low-income to very low-income earners, according to the California Regional Housing Needs Allocation.

In an April 2021 court decision, the city was found to be out of compliance with the state Housing Element Law, which requires all local governments to “adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community.” While the RHNA does not require cities to develop any housing, the city must have planned sites available to developers.

The Clovis City Council voted unanimously in May 2021 to appeal the court ruling by Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan, who ordered the city to implement a new housing program to meet 2016 RHNA requirements by including planned sites for 4,425 low-income homes.

When the Osmun Avenue development was first proposed by TGP Investments LLC & Flyline Investments in March 2021, it was proposed as a higher-density project that would help the city meet low-income housing requirements because there were more than 20 units per acre — even though the units would be rented at market rate.

The project requested that the area designated as medium density residential be changed to allow for very high density residential by Clovis standards — up to 68 units, though only 40 were being proposed by the developer.

The Planning and Development Services report to City Council stated that “the Project was expected to serve as a potential ‘replacement’ for properties in the existing inventory of low-income housing sites that might ultimately develop with non-qualifying projects.”

However, the California Housing and Urban Development Department explained that in order for the project to be considered low-income housing, the units must actually be affordable for low-income residents.

As a result, the proposed market rate apartments would not help the city in terms of meeting state requirements for low-income housing. The clarification freed the council from having to make a decision about whether to improve the RHNA.

“We can do what we want on this one,” Whalen said at the meeting. “Our hands are not tied by the state of California.”

Though the project would not meet the city’s low-income housing needs, the Planning and Development Services report noted that the project would have helped “meet various other goals, including encouraging a mix of housing opportunities, facilitating infill housing, and adding to the housing inventory in Old Town Clovis.”

“There may be some advantages related to trying to provide some infill housing and increase our housing inventory in Old Town Clovis, but there’s nothing that’s going to get us in trouble with the state of California if we say no to this,” Whalen said.

Parking, height concerns persist

At the moment, the property houses a vacant church and is zoned for up to 11 single-family homes. Dirk Poeschel, a principal planner who represents the property owner, said the 40 two-bedroom, two-bath apartments would be rented at around $2,400 a month.

“We’re fighting for the top end in the market, not the bottom,” Poeschel said, noting that the apartments would not be for low-income housing.

When the project first came before the council in March 2020, the council asked the developers to conduct a traffic study, although a February 2021 traffic assessment showed that impact would be so minimal that an entire study was not necessary.

The study showed that even during peak times, the increase in traffic was not significant, with an estimated 218 total vehicle trips per day. According to WalkScore.com, the area is also very walkable.

The project came before council two more times before the Nov. 8 meeting when the developers’ requests were denied.

Getting to this point, the developers had held several community meetings regarding the project and agreed to make changes, including the location of the trash receptacles, moving a portion of a building, adding sidewalks and a block wall, and increasing the landscaping, to create more of a barrier between the multifamily apartments and single-family homes.

The development firm was willing to yield on several issues, but neighbors reported that during a Nov. 7 community meeting, the developer used expletives and made them feel uncomfortable. Poeschel, who represented the developer at the City Council meeting, described that community meeting as “very unproductive.”

“It feels like you’ve done everything you need to do, and yet still the community seems to not be in support of it, based on what I’ve heard,” Whalen said to Poeschel at the meeting. “I don’t get it; I don’t get why; I mean why not just drop this deal and move on to the next deal that’s down the road?”

The biggest sticking points for neighbors were parking overflow concerns and the height of the building — which are common concerns among communities opposing new development.

Seven community members spoke out against the three-story development during public comment, with most stating that the large building would be out-of-place, an eyesore and would diminish property values.

“It’s too big for that area, the height is too big, too many units. Two stories, I’d feel a lot more comfortable,” said one woman who did not give her name during public comment. “I’m also concerned about our property values. We already had one neighbor … that sold their house after two months as soon as they found out this was being proposed.”

Several community members said they would be in support of a two-story building instead, with one person saying he is “not a NIMBY guy” and another saying they would like to see some development in that area.

“There’s gotta be a compromise. It’s zoned for 11 and you want 40, but there’s something in the middle, and I feel like the neighbors are saying something in the middle would be good,” Ashbeck said. “I can’t help but think that you could have found a compromise.”

Poeschel said two stories would not make financial sense for the property owner, and that demand for multifamily infill housing is high.

“There’s a tremendous need for this project,” Poeschel said. “It’s in a great location, just north of downtown, just south of the commercial regional center. It’s walkable.”

However, some community members, including a man who owns a rental property across the way from the proposed development, said at the Nov. 8 meeting during public comment that the three-story project did not fit the “Clovis Way of Life.”

Frensoland documenter Heather Halsey Martinez contributed to this story. To read her full notes on the Nov. 8 meeting, visit fresnoland.org/documenters.

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Cassandra is a housing and engagement reporter with Fresnoland.