Madera, Fresno counties consider their futures

Housing developments, water and hiking trails discussed at meeting

Shared traffic and land use studies and the future of groundwater management were among the topics discussed Tuesday when the boards of supervisors from both Madera and Fresno counties gathered for a joint meeting.

No decisions were made during the meeting hosted at the Madera County Government Center, but the boards shared the idea that by working in unison to discuss projects that affect each county, both will prosper.

"We’re very proud to work with our colleagues on inter-agency things that are happening on the borders of our communities," Madera board chairman David Rogers said. "While we may not agree on every issue, we have a sense of value in both our counties and the value of working together."

Staff under the direction of both boards first presented on large-scale housing developments for areas near the San Joaquin River — the border between both counties — which combined will add more than 24,000 homes.

For Madera County, the Rio Mesa area will welcome Gateway Village, Gunner Ranch West, Northshore, and Tesoro Viejo developments to construct 17,574 homes generally around State Route 41 and Avenue 12, with Northshore closer to Millerton Lake.

All together, the projects use a little more than 18,000 acres of land — more than twice the size of the City of Madera — which Madera County Planning Director Norman Allinder said represented a meager two percent of the county’s entire 856,000 unincorporated acres.

All four developments have been approved by the board of supervisors, and some are in the beginning phases of construction.

Allinder gave his opinion that though previous meetings on the approved projects were often met by critical citizens — particularly for potentially overused groundwater — he felt the facts of the projects and their extensive commercial and environmental benefits spoke for themselves.

"The notion that some groups would tell you is all we’re doing is destroying our major economic driver, agriculture," Allinder said. "I don’t in any way, shape, or form, support that. The facts are out there."

Fresno’s Deputy Director of Planning, Bernard Jimenez, said his county had two developments approved in the Friant Corridor around Friant Road, which will add around 6,000 homes to go with Brighton Crest, Ventana Hills, and Lakeview.

Jimenez added the county was seeking a feasibility study for more than 5,300 acres for five miles along Friant Road between those developments and the City of Fresno, to analyze everything from fiscal impacts to water use for future projects.

"The county is also processing a number of land use entitlements for development of a medical school in the Millerton Road area," Jimenez said.

Alongside all the residential developments was a presentation on plans for a thorough 50-mile system of public hiking trails to connect Fresno and Madera counties to the San Joaquin River.

The trails, if constructed, would be funded entirely by private parties and maintained by McCaffrey Homes, which owns Tesoro Viejo, whose first village will bring 850 homes to an area around SR 41 and Avenue 14.

Among the many potential trails were potential cafes, canoe docks, fishing areas, and the completion of the Lewis S. Eaton trail, a 22-mile path from Friant Dam to State Route 99 that currently only has six completed miles.

Supervisors from both Fresno and Madera expressed support as a collaboration between private companies and the government — particularly the San Joaquin River Conservancy — to help enhance the river’s access for the public was a strong move.

"Any time we can increase public access to features like that it creates better ways of life for residents of both counties," Madera supervisor Brett Frazier said. "And what’s more symbolic than building a bridge between the two counties to work together for a benefit to both communities? It’s a real benefit."

To further cooperative work between the counties, Tony Boren, the executive director of the Fresno Council of Governments, said both his group and Madera’s were working on a State Route 41 Corridor Origin Destination Study.

The study, completed by June, will analyze issues of peak travel time and transportation needs along the highway as more homes and businesses are constructed along it.

A brief update to the way both Fresno and Madera were updating management of their respective ground and surfacewater closed staff presentations.

Though staff noted at least three, if not another year of drought were deep problems to both counties and agriculture, the main economic force, they said both were working to create state-mandated groundwater agencies to hopefully get issues under further control.

A relatively brief public comment portion provided a few questions about water use and what would be done for Madera citizens whose wells are running dry and with backlogged drillers, who may not be able to serve them for months.

Private companies help provide donated water and some work has been done with the county’s Environmental Health department to help provide assistance to needy citizens and build stronger water systems.

In total, though the information was largely a general update and went without conflict, the meeting was lauded as a solid show of cooperation between counties who have previously engaged in legal action.

"Thank you Madera County," Fresno board chairwoman Debbie Poochigian said. "Thanks for your hospitality and for having us. Let’s not be strangers, and do this again soon."