Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, Councilmember Luis Chavez, and BDM Builder co-founder Harpreet Dhillon and team break ground on Jensen Landing on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. Jensen Landing is a new integrated mixed-use development project in Southeast Fresno located on the corner of Jensen and Maple Avenues. Credit: Melissa Montalvo / Fresno Bee/Fresnoland

What’s at stake?

Jensen Landing will feature 151 multifamily housing units, a Starbucks coffee shop, a drive-through bank, a gas station and convenience store, a sit-down restaurant, and medical and daycare centers.

After decades of under-investment, a $76 million development project is coming to southeast Fresno.

Jensen Landing, a mixed-use residential and commercial development project — the first of its kind in southeast Fresno — will feature 151 multifamily housing units, a Starbucks coffee shop, a drive-through bank, a gas station and convenience store, a sit-down restaurant, and medical and daycare centers, city leaders said in a groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday.

“All of the amenities that normally you see in other parts of town are finally coming to Calwa,” said Councilmember Luis Chavez, who represents the district where Jensen Landing is located. The project is within Fresno city limits and will also serve the neighboring Calwa, an unincorporated community of approximately 3,000 residents.

The 12.1-acre project, built by BDM Builders on a vacant lot on the corner of Jensen and Maple avenues in southeast Fresno, is expected to be completed within the next two years.

“This is the first project that has all of these components in one location that’s being built at the same time,” Chavez said.

Jensen Landing will be a “tremendous benefit” to the community, said Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, as he thanked BDM Builders for all the hard work behind the project. “This is the beginning of the transformation of southeast Fresno.”

Hope for future investment in Calwa, southeast Fresno

The Jensen Landing project has been in the works for more than three years, said Chavez, who said he was approached by the BDM Builders team back in 2019.

“I said, ‘look, that’s a big project, I’m supportive of the development, but I want to make sure the community gets included’ – so they did,” Chavez said.

Chavez said he’s in discussions with developers on making a percentage of the housing affordable. “I would love to make that 30% affordable,” he said.

Wednesday’s groundbreaking was especially significant for Chavez since he grew up down the road from the project near Sequoia Middle School. “I saw this community being neglected for decades,” he said. “Now, we’re in a position where we can invest in what I call the Southeast Renaissance.”

In recent years, city leaders said they’ve invested in services such as street paving, sidewalks, a city-funded health clinic, and the new campus for community college on Jensen and Willow.

Jensen Avenue has also recently been rezoned from a thoroughfare to commercial corridor. As a thoroughfare, businesses on Jensen were not allowed to have driveways on Jensen. With the zoning changes, they’ll be able to do driveways onto Jensen Ave, which makes a “big difference,” he said.

A Fresno Area Express bus drives south on Maple Avenue towards Jensen Avenue on Wednesday July 27, 2022. City leaders said they hope Jensen Landing mixed-use development will reduce cross-city traffic, as well as pollution, by providing amenities to the Southeast Fresno community. Photo credit: Melissa Montalvo Fresno Bee/Fresnoland

Now that it’ll be a commercial corridor, it’ll be easier to locate businesses and multifamily housing along the corridor, Chavez said, adding that local restaurants are already inquiring about how to get a space in Jensen Landing.

“We’re trying to create neighborhoods that reduce the need for people to drive all the way to River Park,” he said. Chavez said he hopes to eventually secure a rapid transit bus route on Jensen Avenue.

Those recent investments, including Jensen Landing, are “going to attract more investment into the community,” he said.

A model for future developments

City leaders praised BMD Builders for their work soliciting community engagement on the project. The developers held their first of multiple feedback sessions at Calwa Elementary School, located a few blocks from the project. They went “door-to-door,” asking residents what they wanted to see in the project.

The final design for the project was developed with “a lot of feedback from the Calwa community,” said Harpreet Dhillon, co-founder of BDM Builders.

“They could have easily come in here and dictated what they wanted to achieve, but they didn’t,” said Dyer. They did a “tremendous amount” of community engagement, he said.

One example of how the company incorporated community feedback was the addition of housing units. The first version of the project didn’t include housing, said Chavez, which was essential to residents. Residents also said they wanted a coffee shop and were debating between a Starbucks and a Dutch Bros.

The BDM Builders team breaks ground on the Jensen Landing mixed-use development project in Southeast Fresno on Wednesday July 27, 2022. Co-founder Harpreet Dhillon, center, said the company developed project the with “a lot of feedback from the Calwa community.” Photo credit: Melissa Montalvo Fresno Bee/Fresnoland

Dhillon said that the company prides itself on “three pillars” of success: building strong relationships and understanding with its city partners, with the community, and with commercial stakeholders. “We wanted to make sure community is the key piece.”

Jensen Landing also meets the criteria to benefit from some of the city’s infill development incentive programs and fast-tracking the project due to its location in the urban core and housing.

Dyer said the effort should be a “model for future developments” in all of Fresno.

Some community members criticize engagement efforts

Laura Moreno, executive director of the nonprofit group, Friends of Calwa, disagrees that the city and developer group made a good-faith effort to engage local residents.

Moreno said she is only aware of one outreach meeting a number of years ago and that she hadn’t heard any more about the Jensen Landing project since then.

“One meeting is not enough,” said Laura Moreno. “Is that enough to say the community wanted this built? I don’t think so.”

The community wants a grocery store, a Walmart, for example. Not more gas stations or liquor stores.

When the city wants to do something, Moreno said, they’ll move forward on the projects regardless of community protests, she said.

“They (city leaders) don’t care about our community,” said Moreno. “They still don’t.”

But city leaders defended the project as well as their engagement efforts.

Friends of Calwa might have only attended one meeting, said Chavez, but residents that live in Calwa attended “numerous other meetings.”

“The vast majority of the stores, daycare, housing, medical facilities I know are very much welcomed in the neighborhood,” he said. “You can’t get 100% of what everybody wants, but these are project amenities that are currently miles away from residents. I hope that organization is supportive of medical, daycare and commercial amenities. The residents deserve that.”

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

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