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    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    35,000 new homes approved for Madera County, 3,000 more in planning

    Madera County project Gunner Ranch West pitched

    Published: July 5, 2013 Updated 15 hours ago
    2013-07-06T08:33:42Z By Kurtis Alexander The_Fresno_Bee

    Children's Hospital Central California on the horizon in the right may soon be joined by new homes and businesses as part of Madera County's latest effort to extend Fresno's suburbaniztion northward. This view is taken along the river bottom looking west.

    By Kurtis Alexander — The Fresno Bee
    The children's hospital that sits in solitary off Highway 41, casting hues of pink and baby blue across the river from Fresno, may soon be joined by new homes and businesses — the latest effort to extend Fresno's suburbs into neighboring Madera County.

    Landowner and developer Richard Gunner is seeking to turn some 1,000 acres of orchards and open space along the Madera-Fresno county line into a nearly 3,000-home community.
    As many as 8,500 people would move to the area under the proposed Gunner Ranch West plan, and nearly as many jobs would be created with anticipated offices, shops, schools and extension of Children's Hospital Central California.
    But several questions surround the project, not the least of which is where the new development will get its water. The water concern is heightened after approval of three other major residential plans on Madera County's side of the San Joaquin River, paving the way for as many as 35,000 new homes to tap area water supplies.
    On Tuesday, the Madera County Board of Supervisors will decide whether Gunner Ranch should move forward.
    "I believe in the project. I just know that water is a very big issue," said Supervisor Manuel Nevarez, who represents southeastern Madera County where the development is planned.
    While the county Planning Commission has recommended approval of the Gunner Ranch plan, the normally pro-growth Planning Department is on the side of critics who say there is too little groundwater for the project to proceed on wells alone. County planners want the developer to find a secondary source of water.
    "We support the project, but it needs to have a water balance," Planning Director Norm Allinder said. "We have required previous projects to bring in water to balance their deficit."
    Allinder has asked the developer to secure at least 855 more acre-feet of water — an acre foot generally serves an average Valley household for 12 to 18 months — so that the project doesn't extract water from the aquifer more quickly than the underground supply can be recharged.
    Additional water could be purchased from a water district.
    But the Planning Commission overruled Allinder's recommendation at the urging of a representative of the developer. The developer has maintained that the water demands of the project would be less than what historically has been needed with farming.
    Gunner, one of Fresno's biggest real estate developers, declined to discuss the project this week, saying that he wants to reserve comment until after Tuesday's board hearing.
    The issue of water is raised by representatives of several groups who fear the project puts too much pressure on area supplies.
    One worried party is the Friant Water Authority, which is responsible for water deliveries from the San Joaquin River to farmers.
    "It is clear that the more water pumped for the proposed project, the more water will be diverted from the flow of the San Joaquin River by increased seepage losses," writes an attorney for the water authority in a letter to Madera County.
    Beyond water, critics of Gunner Ranch take issue with the anticipated loss of farmland, increases in traffic (particularly on Highway 41) and uptick in air pollution. These are problems that the project's environmental report says can't be easily fixed.
    The concerns follow similar remarks made about other Madera County plans approved near the San Joaquin River, including the 5,200-home Tesoro Viejo, 2,000-home North Shore at Millerton and 6,500-home Gateway Village. None of these developments has been built, but engineering work in some cases has begun.
    Most of the projects, including Gunner Ranch, were set in motion more than a decade ago when Madera County leaders committed to urbanizing the region: through the approval of "area" site plans.
    Gunner Ranch now needs a "specific" plan and a complimentary environmental impact report in order to move forward. Both items are on the agenda Tuesday.
    Elizabeth Jonasson, with the Coalition for Clean Air, called Gunner Ranch and the nearby projects "sprawl," citing a litany of problems including the public investment that goes into undeveloped areas at the expense of already-developed areas.
    "Creating a new city when you can't take care of the cities you already have doesn't seem like a good idea," Jonasson said.
    Noticeably absent from the list of parties logging complaints about Gunner Ranch is the city of Fresno.
    City Hall has been critical of other development proposals just outside the city limits, filing legal challenges in at least two cases: Tesoro Viejo and Fresno County's Friant Ranch. A primary concern has been that suburban growth could undermine city efforts to redevelop its blighted downtown.
    Gunner Ranch, which would be a little more than a river's width from Fresno, would be the closest project to the city.
    City officials declined to comment on why they reserved judgment on Gunner Ranch and not others. In an emailed statement to The Bee, City Manager Mark Scott said, "We're for cooperative planning among neighboring jurisdictions as it relates to future projects."
    About 120 acres of the Gunner Ranch plan are reserved for medical offices and related health services.
    Children's Hospital has expressed interest in expanding, but hospital officials familiar with the plan were on vacation this week and didn't offer comment.
    Land-use attorney Sara Hedgpeth-Harris, who has represented critics of the project, remains concerned about water shortages on the property, but said Gunner Ranch has its benefits.
    "Out of all the projects out there, this one makes the most sense to me," she said. "It's not 10 miles away from the city (like others). It's right there, where people can go to jobs and there's infrastructure."
    Last edited by JohnDoe2; 07-06-2013 at 07:43 PM.

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