Patio takeover of trail delayed, for now

The Bee has the some good news about last nights planning meeting concerning the proposed expansion of a restaurant onto the right-of-way of the Sugar Pine Trail.

Fresno’s planning commission on Wednesday rejected a proposal to allow a northeast Fresno restaurant to put a patio into part of the Sugar Pine Trail — but said the restaurant owner could return with a new proposal.

In rejecting the proposal by Yosemite Ranch owner David Fansler, commissioners asked the City Council to clarify when and how the city should allow shared use of public spaces.

Fresno Bee

As I wasn’t at the meeting, it’s hard to get the full tone of the message, but the news is mostly positive. At least for now, there will be no takeover of the trail.

The bad news is that the rejection was not outright. Instead of issuing a firm no, the commission bounced the issue away to the city council to come up with a policy on how to treat proposals that infringe on the trail right-of-way.

That is, the “fight” (Yosemite Ranch’s description of the issue) moves on to another date in which the full City Council draws up and votes on guidelines. It is possible that those guidelines may make it very easy for private developers to take trail space. However, with proper advocacy, it would be possible to ensure that any policy completely safeguards the trail from future appropriation by private interests. At the very least, any future policy should require a considerable amount of mitigation by the developer, and a full-proof legal stance that the city could demolish the addition at any time.

The current proposal simply was “we want to do this, let us do this, it’s for the best, we promise”.

If the developer doesn’t care about the community, the guidelines should require mitigation that does take care of the citizens of Fresno, who would be giving up publicly owned space. For example, in return for taking over half the trail, the restaurant would have to fund the full cost of the river-side trail, and, with 3 months notice, the city could require removal of the expansion at the expense of the builder. Basically, the public interest must be protected to the full extent. If the reverse was true, and the city was trying to take Yosemite Ranch’s property to build a trail, I guarantee the restaurant would fight in court for every last penny.

Another bit of good news is that the planning group understands the importance of the trail.

“Since we don’t have a policy , we’re setting up something that could destroy the trail, which is something we want to fight as hard as we can to preserve,” said commission chairwoman Jaime Holt.

This certainly sets a tone that the trail is an important asset to the city and region.

Unfortunately, even regional park assets are not always safe, as we saw last year with the approval of plans by the Chaffee Zoo to bulldoze half of Roeding Park and convert it into pavement.

I am also glad to see that even with such short notice, many people were able to make it to the meeting.

The commissioners heard an earful from a crowd of nearly 70 people.

Most of those who spoke opposed the patio, saying it would encroach on a trail that is considered a community gem.

They also said the project would benefit Fansler’s restaurant at the expense of the public.

About 15 people spoke in opposition.

Many more, such as myself, were not able to attend a 6pm meeting due to work. I sent in a strongly worded email, and I hope others did as well.

Finally, the Bee article closes with this line:

After the planning commission’s vote, Fansler said he was uncertain whether he would return to the commission with a reconfigured project or appeal the decision to the city council.

He absolutely will be back, and he probably will start by trying to convince the full council that the current project is good enough.

The poster that the restaurant issued was a strong indication of how the developer feels completely entitled to pave over public space at his whims. Posts on the restaurant Facebook page show a similar attitude.

Fansler, or a an employee of his posted the following:

We are trying to put a state of the art patio dining area next to the trail. It will greatly enhance the trail and, in usual Fansler style, be elegant and desingned to blend right in with the aesthetics. We have just a small handful opposing the patio and they have, appartently a strong hand on the planning commission. We have thousand of petitions signed by those who are in favor. Please join in the fight.

Fansler is taking a “war” approach to the issue, possibly because he’s used to always getting his way. Instead of addressing the concerns of the community, he is trying to bulldoze over it with the brute force of money. Besides busing people to the meeting, he apparently gives diners a copy of a petition to sign. Again, as you can see the disagreement is framed as a fight. He also throws in conspiracy theories by attempting to convince us that mysterious factions have infiltrated the planning commission.

I especially enjoy the ridiculous and repeated attempts to frame the trail as a wasteland that will be blessed by the beauty of a restaurant expansion. It takes quite the personality to argue that eliminating half the trail is an enhancement and that he is essentially doing trail-users a favor by building a wall where trees once stood.

I will be sure to post again about the issue when it is brought up at the council and when the restaurant owner inevitably comes back with some kind of “compromise”. Perhaps he’ll offer to throw in a public bench or something. Time will tell.

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