“The District,” a new Granville housing complex in Fresno’s Tower District, benefited from the infill impact fee waiver program. Credit: Melissa Montalvo / Fresno Bee/Fresnoland

What's at stake?

Fresno has long struggled to get developers to build more housing in older neighborhoods. They hope this expanded fee waiver - which also applies to single-family subdivisions - will help.

In a unanimous vote on Thursday, Fresno City Council expanded a fee waiver program that aims to increase housing developments in the city.

The residential infill fee waiver program, which provides incentives for residential development on unutilized lots within the city, was first introduced by Councilmember Miguel Arias in June 2021, and was unanimously approved by city council.

The initial version of the fee waiver program only applied to multifamily units. Thursday’s ordinance amends the municipal code to extend the fee waiver program to single-family home developments in priority areas such as downtown or near public transit corridors, where the city wants to incentivize growth.

Qualifying projects must be located within certain priority areas of the city: the Infill Opportunity Zones, Bus Rapid Transit Corridors, and the Downtown Planning Area qualify for the impact fee waiver program.

Impact fees are one-time charges that developers pay for city infrastructure and services, including fire and police. The fees are intended to fund the same level of services for residents as the community grows.

City leaders say that the fee waiver program is intended to attract and promote the development of affordable housing in Fresno.

“This amendment would allow single-family homeownership affordable projects” such as a project in West Fresno with Fresno Housing Authority, Arias said to The Bee on Monday.

Ultimately, taxpayers foot the bill of any waived impact fees.

“The fee waiver program is actually not a waiving of fees,” said Arias. “We set aside millions of dollars in the budget process to pay for the fees for infill housing projects in the city of Fresno.”

Who has received infill impact fee waivers in Fresno?

As of the close of the fiscal year 2021, two projects had applied for the infill fee waiver program, both of which were by major Fresno developers, Reza Assemi and Granville Realty, also owned by the Assemi family.

The first approved infill development fee waivers were for the construction of Mural District lofts on Van Ness Avenue, a few blocks south of Divisadero Street, downtown. The lofts have a total of 28 living units.

Reza Assemi received more than $150,000 in waived impact fees for fire facilities, park facilities, police facilities, and traffic signal mitigation facilities.

The second project to benefit from the fee waivers was Granville’s “The District” a new 18-unit, gated apartment community in the Tower District. The developers received nearly $100,000 in impact fee waivers.

Fresno’s impact fee waiver programs

The infill fee waiver program is just one of a number of Fresno’s impact fee waiver programs that aim to incentivize housing and economic development.

A number of city programs allow for waived impact fees – the Industrial/Large Office Development Impact Fee Elimination or Reduction, or iDIFER Act, the Commercial BUILD Act, the Southwest Revitalization Incentive Program, and the Economically Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Act.

In recent years, these fee waiver programs have awarded nearly $6 million dollars to developers, grocery stores, warehouses such as Amazon and Ulta, fast food restaurants, and more.

While city leaders say the waivers are a necessary tool to attract business and development, community advocates and some members of city council say it’s time to rethink how the waivers are awarded.

Arias said during the Feb. 17 city council meeting that “as a policy, the city needs to stop waving impact fees for job centers that bring in heavy diesel trucks into the roadways.”

In a February interview with The Bee, Ivanka Saunders, policy coordinator at Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, said the city’s impact fee waiver programs need to be “looked at closely.”

“When you’re looking at those impacts fees, who are you truly giving the open door to? Who should be incentivized?” said Saunders. “And who needs to actually pay their fair share of impact fees because they are causing damage to community health and well being?”

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Melissa is a labor and economic inequality reporter with The Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.