City of Clovis development has already nearly surrounded the DCP area. As build-out of the designated areas within the Clovis 2010 General Plan Update proceeds, residential and commercial use will expand further northward into the formerly agricultural area. While the DCP area may not become completely isolated during that development, it will function like an “island” of County jurisdiction mostly surrounded by intensively developed area within Clovis’ City Limits.
Both Fresno County and the City of Clovis have expressed concerns about the inefficiency of providing emergency and other services to administrative “islands” and/or “peninsulas,” such as the DCP. Accordingly, the DCP area residents requested permission to develop this Specific Plan, in coordination with the City of Clovis, in order to: i) help facilitate eventual annexation of the area, ii) create a valid policy and regulation framework to clarify and provide for present and future resident landowner uses/needs and iii) to gain policy recognition and protection of the significant open space and recreation values and opportunities which exist within the DCP.
Annexation and the DCP — A Near Administrative Island
The question of annexation of the DCP area to the City has presented a highly polarized challenge. The residents made their property purchase decisions and adapted their lifestyles based on the County’s zoning requirements and regulations. Unfortunately, the City’s policies and codes are substantially more restrictive, and do not comfortably fit these landowners needs or interests. If the more urban-based codes were to become enforced upon the larger lots with associated active agriculture, livestock, many outbuildings and owner equipment needed to manage the larger land parcels, they would result in retraction of many of these owners’ pre-existing ownership rights and some very significant new compliance costs to the owners. The question of individual wells and surface water entitlements has also posed major issues. The City normally transfers surface water entitlements from individual parcels to the City, at the time of annexation. However, if that were to take place across the DCP, the rural residential owners who practice agriculture would be unable to irrigate crops. All owners would be prohibited from replacing or maintaining their individual wells, which are key to their lifestyles. Sewer and other utility costs are also a major issue, if they become mandated and are applied in the typical manner of charges based on length of road frontage, since the property parcels are large and have extremely long frontage, yet have only one residence which utilizes the service. These costs of mandatory connection to City sewer and water facilities can, for larger properties, total hundreds of thousands of dollars. Such costs are totally unacceptable for individual owners and they have imposed significant barriers to annexation in the past.
Normally, annexation takes place at the time properties are developed and split into smaller parcels. Usually the property ownership changes as a part of that transaction; therefore, the new owners make their purchases based on an understanding that the City’s codes/costs will apply. The costs are known at the time of purchase and service connection charges are normally an included part of the buyers’ purchase decisions. As such, the above rule-change conflicts do not occur. However, this Plan retains the large existing parcels and most of the owners have no desire or intent to further develop their land. So accommodation in the City’s above requirements will be necessary if the land area is ever to become voluntarily annexed. This Specific Plan offers potential solutions to the above annexation impasse in the following two forms:
1. Appendix ___ provides a Master Landowner Protection Annexation Agreement option (MAA).
The MAA provides a useful template for a legally binding agreement, which landowners would have the option to utilize directly, or adapt to their properties. If and when signed by individual landowners, the resulting agreements would enable their properties to be annexed, while permanently retaining their key existing land use and ownership rights. While inclusion of the MAA option within this Plan does not guarantee that individual owners will agree to its terms and allow their lands to be annexed, it does provide a tool to help overcome many of the past annexation barriers. We note that absent the ability to annex lands within the DCP area, the various development options provided in this Plan could become inoperable. This is because state law prevents “leap-frog” annexations to interior DCP properties which are not contiguous with the City Limits. Absent annexation, those properties would not be able to access City water and/or sewer services, which are requirements of existing City of Clovis and Fresno County policies (and of the Land Use Plan regulations advanced herein) for any new residential or commercial development. The MAA is thus a critical and important part of this Specific Plan’s implementation.
2. The Land Use Plan
The Land Use Plan includes numerous DCP-specific adaptations of City policies and regulations which would apply to annexed properties within the DCP. These modifications are designed to alleviate regulatory and takings conflicts and to provide a consistent framework of City policy and regulations under which MAA’s could be executed with landowners.
Clovis, the DCP, and This Specific Plan
In addition to helping facilitate annexation, this Specific Plan will help implement many aspects of the Clovis 2010 Plan Update and its underlying Principles (see Section 1.4). It is consistent with, and in fact a continuation of the 1988 Herndon-Shepherd Specific Plan; continuing almost all of the Goals and Objectives of that Plan. Today, about 89 percent of the area within the 1988 Plan is built out in various density residential subdivisions. Consequently, the Dry Creek Preserve, the remaining 11%, is now the only major remaining area within the Herndon-Shepherd Plan where the original objectives of providing open space and/or larger “estate” lot sizes can still be accomplished. The value/need of providing a full range of housing types is clearly recognized in the Clovis 2010 General Plan Update, which also recognizes the importance of having nearby rural agricultural lands and open space. The availability of larger “ranchette”-size lots will continue to be a feature of Clovis’ overall attractiveness. Not only are there many residents who have lifestyles or activities which require larger parcels or greater separation from neighbors, but the larger, estate-size lot option is also an important consideration of professionals and businesses considering siting in Clovis, and who seek the full range of housing and lifestyle opportunities for their employees and executives.
This Plan also helps to implement the Open Space Elements of both the 1988 Herndon Shepherd Plan and the Clovis 2010 General Plan Update. The Plan advances policies which recognize not only the current landowners’ preference for maintaining the rural character of the DCP, but also formally recognize the value of protecting the DCP’s open space attributes for the broad Clovis community. The Land Use Plan provides development standards and regulations which offer reasonable long-term protection to those assets, thus assuring Clovis’ future opportunity to enjoy high quality near-urban open space features, of significant public value. Passive open space recreation is available and well utilized in many areas of the DCP area today. Area residents openly welcome frequent bicycle, pedestrian and equestrian use of the area’s generally peaceful roadways and undeveloped shoulders. Future opportunities also exist for lands or easements to be purchased for development of trails and/or large public open space recreational facilities (see “A Legacy,” below).
The Plan, along with its appended Dry Creek Preserve Open Space Legacy Program (Appendix C) advances the vision that the DCP area could formally acknowledge and help keep alive the public’s appreciation for Clovis’ rural history (i.e., its “Western Way of Life”), while preserving the opportunity for Clovis to have a dramatic, near-urban recreational resource — a “Central Park” like feature — of significant future value. If implemented, the longer-term Legacy Program (Appendix __) will enable owners to voluntarily sell lands for development of public facilities, such as trails, parks, or maybe a community theater, museum or visitor center/library. We believe there is significant value in reserving the option for Clovis to have such features within its future urban heart. It is difficult to envision a higher or better land use for a large rural area like the DCP than to provide for its transition toward such a feature.
Most area landowners are supportive of recreational uses within the area (see Appendix ___); however, in the absence of abundant development fee revenue with which to finance such developments, and absent any authority on the part of individual owners to seek grants, bond issues or other outside funding measures, such purchases will need to have considerable support from the Clovis population at large, to enable financing commitments to be made by the City or agencies. An array of external funding options and phasing timetables is presented in Section 4.10, the Financing Plan.
Rather than make the decision to proceed with the Legacy concept, this Plan seeks only to reasonably preserve and maintain the open space assets through the next 20 years, to enable the City, its population and governing Council, to explore the appetite for and ability to finance those assets. DCP residents see the opportunity now for the Clovis community to reserve this Legacy opportunity. But they also recognize that this option can vanish very quickly if the DCP’s visual and other aesthetic assets are not consciously protected. For that reason, area residents desire to advance the protective policies and standards of this Plan while the preponderance of owners are supportive; not only of preserving the area’s open space (>95%), but also of inviting and encouraging public use and enjoyment (>75%). They also desire to launch a “community vision” for the Dry Creek Preserve, intended to heighten the broader Clovis community’s awareness and ownership/protectiveness of the area’s valuable recreation potential, as well as encourage public support of measures to finance public recreational land acquisitions and developments. It is envisioned that existing passive roadside recreational uses, such as walking or bicycling can continue to be encouraged today. Then, during the later stages of implementation of this Plan and beyond, a gradual process of public acquisition of articulating recreational parcels and trails might take place; phased according to City interest, the availability of willing sales, and availability of acquisition funding from special sources.
What This Specific Plan Hopes to Accomplish
This Plan contains Goals, Objectives, Development Standards, and Implementation Strategies/Programs that are favored by a large majority of area landowners. It is intended to provide the policy framework for considering and designing proposed land use changes and public works projects, while protecting the over-arching open space features which give the area its desirable rural character/appearance and enable a long-term “Legacy” vision to be realized. It thus represents a working transition between the focused interests expressed by landowners today and a set of much longer term and much broader Clovis community objectives associated with the above “Legacy” option.
Because few DCP owners (<4%) desire to seek land use changes or sell their land (–%) within the next 20 years, very little land development is expected to take place during this Plan’s tenure. So rather than attempt to facilitate, map, design, and financially accommodate new land uses, as is the case with most Specific Plans, this Plan emphasizes long-term preservation of rural and open space attributes, reflective of the current owners actual land use intentions. It is recognized that in 20 to 50 years ownerships will change. The heirs or other successors of current owners may desire/need to derive immediate profit from their land, which is the case with a handful of owners today. Those options are nowhere here precluded. However, because the ways in which owners approach these needs is important to their neighbors today and to the longer term vision for the area, it is important that this Plan provide: 1.) advance specific development policies, design standards, and protective mitigation measures to allow for property development that avoids impacts to overall neighbor character, immediate neighbors’ established lifestyles, or to the DCP’s open space values, and 2.) provide a means for owners to develop or to liquidate their DCP property ownership at times determined by them and in ways that support, rather than detract from the Plan’s long term open space appreciation and protection. The above Open Space Legacy concept is intended to fulfil that need. The unique suite of current landowner interests makes a resource-conservative and long-term-focused Specific Plan of this kind a timely undertaking.
So, herein, we seek to: 1) reasonably facilitate the process of annexation of individual DCP properties to the City of Clovis, while protecting existing landowner rights and uses, 2) enable appropriate land use transitions, 3) provide the necessary policy framework, land use designations, clarity on permissible and non-permissible uses, and design standards as needed to buffer and mitigate neighbor impacts as some owners change uses, and 4) hopefully formulate a “Legacy” public land acquisition program which will provide ways for owners to sell lands and fulfill their financial objectives in ways that will reasonably preserve the key DCP open space assets and assure that the character of the DCP neighborhood remains intact over the next 20 or more years.
Even though very little DCP land development is anticipated, need nevertheless exists for the DCP area not to be left out of planning of infrastructure that will be needed to support surrounding developed areas and thus will need to traverse the DCP landscape. It is therefore timely for this Plan to memorialize the standards to assure that developed infrastructure is designed and constructed in a manner which supports, rather than visually or materially detracts from the intended eventual DCP neighborhood character.
This Plan is intended to be both, a “Policy” Plan and a “Regulatory” Plan, and as such, its approval will require two steps. First, the policy aspects of the Plan define the desired short-term and long-term land use outcomes (Goals and Objectives) for the Dry Creek Preserve area. That aspect of the Plan lays out policy-level decisions and commitments to: i) move forward with implementation of the land use Goals and Objectives, ii) implement the processes, programs and timetables for those described features, and iii) take necessary actions to protect any options and/or opportunities that may be attendant to those purposes. The Goals, and Objectives portion of the Specific Plan, therefore, will require consideration and approval by the Clovis City Council, through use of a Policy “Resolution.” (Goals, Objectives and other policy resolution items are presented throughout the text in green color panels). Second, in order for this Plan’s goals and objectives to be implemented, neighborhood-specific changes will be needed to building/infrastructure design standards, specific mitigation measures, fee or funding measures, and permissible uses; some of which will require changes to the existing City of Clovis Zoning descriptions and/or other parts of their Ordinance Codes. Most of these features would also be articulated in Landowner Annexation Agreements which would be needed in order to gain DCP landowner support for eventual annexation. For example, regulations are proposed here to assure continuing rights of property owners to use surface water for DCP agriculture (i.e., not transfer surface water entitlements to the City after annexation). This is necessary in order to meet the goal of preserving and protecting agricultural open space. There are a number other DCP needs or pre-existing features which similarly will require regulation changes. Regulatory changes are legislative, and they carry enforcement authority. As such the changes will require approval by the Clovis City Council through consideration and approval of changes to the City’s various codes. (Regulatory changes or additions are presented throughout this document in bold face, and they are brought together in one condensed package in Appendix E.)