June 22, 2023 — Fresno County Planning Commission
Documented by Josef Sibala
Here’s what you need to know:
- During its meeting on June 22, 2023, the Fresno County Planning Commission approved applications for a photovoltaic solar energy generation facility, private airstrip, property line adjustment, and property variance.
- In a 4 to 1 vote, the commissioners went against staff recommendations and approved a variance application allowing developer Ben Ewell, father of Fresno County Planning Commissioner Austin Ewell, to split one 20-acre parcel into four smaller parcels in an area zoned for 20-acre minimums and exclusively agricultural use. The site is located at 12911 Auberry Road, east of Friant Road. Commissioner Esther Carver was the lone vote against the project.
- How will the photovoltaic solar energy generation facility affect residents?
The Fresno County Planning Commission has jurisdiction, powers, and duties to do all things related to local and area planning as may be conferred to it by the government code or which has been delegated to it by the board of supervisors.
The commission’s duties include considering and approving applications for land subdivisions, variances, and conditional use permits and recommending issues concerning zoning and the county’s general plan to the board of supervisors.
Fresno County Planning Commissioners present:
- Ken Abrahamian (Chairman)
- Esther Carver District 3
- John Arabian District 5
- Blake Zante At Large
- Kuldip Chatha District 4
Fresno County Planning Commissioners not present:
- Austin Ewell District 2
- Lisa Woolf At Large
- Glenda Hill (Vice Chair)
- Marc Benjamin
- Joseph Potthast
- Jeremy Shaw
- Planner Elliot Racusin
- Ben Ewell
- Dirk Poeschel
- Julian Ramos
The regular agenda is as follows:
2. The commission (5-0) approved Unclassified Conditional Use Permit Application No. 3694 and Initial Study No. 7995, with Condition No. 1
Stamoules Produce Co, Inc. proposed allowing the construction and operation of a private airport for business and personal use and crop-dusting.
The airport will have an approximately 4,847-foot-long by 75-foot-wide runway, an approximately 10,173-square-foot hangar building with offices, and a 2,000-square-foot caretaker’s residence.
The property is a 434.93-acre parcel in the Zone District of AE-20 (Exclusive Agricultural, 20-acre minimum parcel size).
The project site is located approximately one half-mile northeast of the intersection of W. California Avenue and S. Lyon Avenue, and approximately four miles southwest of the nearest city limits of the City of Mendota (APN: 019-040-28S) (904 S. Lyon Avenue) (Sup. Dist. 1).
Planner Jeremy Shaw said that the airstrip and the hangar comprise eight acres of the subject parcel, with the rest dedicated to producing pistachio trees. The airport’s operational hours will be limited from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
According to Zoning Ordinance No. 76, five findings must be met to approve a conditional use permit. Staff recommended the commission to approve the application subject to the mitigation measures and conditions of approval, with the addition of Condition No. 3
Condition No. 3 would require the irrevocable offer of the dedication of 12 feet of the road right of way along the subject property frontage of California Avenue to meet the ultimate right of way of 84 feet as for the General Plan.
Responding to Zante, he said the project would be required to apply for a special use permit from the Division of Aeronautics of CalTrans. He added that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) A has only jurisdiction over air safety.
Carver asked whether having a runway on the property affected the ability of neighboring properties to build. Shaw said yes, depending on the structure.
Responding to Arabian, Shaw added that the runway was built in the last two years and that the county was unaware of its construction.
Applicant Dirk Poeschel, on behalf of the Stamoules and Stephanopoulos families, said that the families contacted a local concrete company that was familiar with airports but still needed to obtain a conditional use permit.
He said that the families made an application to Fresno County, had conversations with the Caltrans Division of Aeronautics, and filed an FAA directive, which identifies the location and coordinates of the airstrip.
He mentioned that a Caltrans representative told him that the Mendota Airport would be closing and the approval of the project would be sure since the project was built to two-air strip standards.
He added that the Stamoules family intends to fly in people who come internationally, either from Los Angeles or Denver. The major piece of part of the 434-acre parcel will use 28 acres.
He stated two comprehensive noise studies, concluding that the aircraft types used will not be adverse to any neighboring properties.
The school is over a mile away from the property. The county’s Environmental Health Department has reviewed and found the noise studies accurate.
The FAA has construction standards for the depth of the concrete, other materials, and specifications. Poeschel said the application exceeded the requirements and restricted the type of aircraft. He added that the use of the airstrip is by invitation only.
Sierra Sky Park is 2,470 feet, 50 feet wide, and can handle the same aircraft type the applicant proposes. Meanwhile, the application covers 4,847 feet, 75 feet wide.
Responding to Arabian, Poeschel said that noise requirements change from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
3. The commission (5-0) approved the Initial Study No. 8210 and Unclassified Conditional Use Permit Application No. 3738.
H2B2 USA, LLC proposed allowing a photovoltaic solar energy generation facility on an approximately 40-acre portion of a 324.66-acre parcel in the AE-20 (Exclusive Agricultural, 20-acre minimum parcel size) Zone District.
The project site is located on the south side of State Route 180 (W. Whitesbridge Avenue), approximately 1.5 miles west of its intersection with S. James Road and approximately 7.4 miles east of the City of Mendota (APN: 015-100-20S) (24387 W. Whitesbridge Road) (Sup. Dist. 1).
Shaw mentioned that the application proposed a photovoltaic solar energy generation facility with battery storage to provide renewable power to support a previously approved hydrogen-generating facility.
According to Zoning Ordinance No. 76, five findings must be met to approve a conditional use permit, which follows:
- The site for the proposed use is adequate in size and shape to accommodate use.
- The streets and highways are adequate and with pavement types to support traffic generated by the proposed use.
- The proposed use will not harm the surrounding property or neighborhood.
- The proposed development is consistent with the General Plan.
- Conditions stated in the resolution are deemed necessary to protect public health, safety, and general welfare.
Staff stated that the application met the five findings and recommended the commission approve the unclassified conditional permit application no. 3738, amending conditional use permit 3691.
Applicant Dirk Poeschel and Miguel Ruelas from H2B2 said that the purpose of the solar field is to avoid a connection to the PG&E grid, which is across the street and provides a high level of green energy.
Client Services Manager at Fresno County Economic Development Corporation Julian Ramos expressed support for the application, which is key for producing green hydrogen.
4. The commission (4-1) approved the Variance Application No. 4121 and Environmental Review No. 8144. Commissioner Carver voted no.
Ben Ewell, father and colleague of Fresno County Planning Commissioner Austin Ewell, proposed to create four parcels (approximately five acres each) less than the minimum parcel size requirement from an existing 20.43-acre parcel in the AE-20 (Exclusive Agricultural, 20-acre minimum parcel size) Zone District.
The project is located on the north side of Biglione Dr., 0.25-miles east of N. Friant Ave., approximately 1.28- miles north of the City of Fresno (APN: 300-320-15S) (12911 Auberry Rd.) (Sup. Dist. 5).
Planner Elliot Racusin said that the applicant’s parcel has no physical impediments and substantial property rights that would warrant creating four parcels,
Parcels adjacent to the subject parcel are similar in size and zoned AE-20 (Exclusive Agricultural).
Since these parcels were substandard in size and had no physical impediments and property right that would warrant creating four parcels, he added that the application needed to meet the standards.
Racusin said that the ability to create four parcels would create four by-right homes and four secondary residences, contrary to the General Plan. Staff recommended the denial of the application, he stated.
Responding to Carver, Racusin clarified that a rezone is a different process through the Board of Supervisors, which is lengthy. He stated that it could be efficient if parcel owners vouched for maps.
Responding to Abrahamian, Racusin said the Board of Supervisors hopes to maintain agricultural land and parcels at 20 acres.
He maintained that the assertion of the applicant that the Board of Supervisors would like staff to reconsider the application needs to be revised.
The application will change the zoning to single-family residential. Responding to Arabian, Racusin said the parcel was not in a low-water area.
Applicant Ben Ewell said the Hayashi family bought the parcel, and the hydrologic test was adequate.
Ewell said that the area has had 15 variance applications over the years, 13 of which have been approved. He counted 15 parcels with five acres or less.
He added that the General Plan update states that agriculture requires a minimum of one foot per acre, which will not be sustainable for farming.
Responding to Carver, Ewell said the shaded area in the map does not include the subject parcel.
Abrahamian said that extraordinary circumstances would not result in adverse impacts to the neighborhood.
Abrahamian said that there are numerous 20-parcel properties surrounding the subject property.
Responding to Carver, Ewell said that the property is accessible through Friant Road, which is paved, and a perpetual easement recorded in Fresno County gives the property owner the right to use both roads.
Racusin said parcels zoned exclusively agricultural with five acres or more do not require a road frontage.
Responding to Zante, Ewell said that the parcel has no water requirements, which is steep and untenable for cultivation. Arabian recommends a general plan update or rezoning.
5. The commission (5-0) approved the Variance Application No. 4151 and Environmental Review No. 8382
Ashlee Hearn proposed waiving road frontage and lot and depth ratio requirements necessary to allow a property line adjustment concerning three parcels totaling 6.2 acres.
The application would result in two proposed substandard parcels, 2.49 acres, and 3.71 acres, within the Zone District of AE-20 (Exclusive Agricultural, 20-acre minimum parcel size).
The subject parcels are located on the southwest corner of Hochderffer Rd. and S. Clovis Ave., approximately 0.93 miles southwest of the unincorporated community of Laton. (APNs: 057-051-49, 54, & 55) (4951 Hockdeffer Rd.) (Sup. Dist. 4).
Racusin said that the applicant adheres to the physical circumstance, a canal running between the parcels. He added that the applicant intends to move a property lot adjustment from three parcels to two and create two parcels.
Since there is a physical circumstance and met all density findings, the parcel is in line with the General Plan. Staff recommends the approval of the application.
The meeting adjourned at 10:07 a.m. The Fresno County Planning Commission is scheduled to meet again at 8:45 a.m. on Thursday, July 20.
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