Visalia, Tulare County standoff stalls development, including new Costco (2024)


Visalia, Tulare County standoff stalls development, including new Costco

Visalia, Tulare County standoff stalls development, including new Costco (1)

An artist's rendering of the proposed Costco warehouse at Herndon Avenue and Riverside Drive in Northwest Fresno. Draft EIR image

published on October 19, 2023 - 11:55 AM
Written by John Lindt

Annexations of land into the City of Visalia had been on hold for several years while the city sorted out how to address a lawsuit over farmland conversion mitigation with the Sierra Club.

That issue was settled months ago, but builders of about 10 residential development projects on Visalia’s fringe with more than 5000 homes must wait longer still to break ground. City officials say were blindsided when the two Tulare County representatives on the LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) board refused to approve several Visalia annexations on the Oct 4. agenda — typically a routine matter.

“Staff at LAFCO supported the annexations, but when I made the motion to approve, it died for lack of a second,” said Visalia City Council member Liz Wynn, a LAFCO board member. “We were very disappointed.”

While the LAFCO board approved one small project, three other Visalia annexations were put on hold with more than 600 homes.

The LAFCO board is made up of five members, but only one representative from Visalia. Two are from the county, one is a public member who was absent for this meeting, and a representative from Dinuba.

If a city wants to expand its boundaries, it must get approval from LAFCO — an independent regulatory commission created by the California Legislature to control the boundaries of cities and most special districts. The five-member commission typically meets monthly to hear annexation requests by Tulare County cities and special districts.

Tulare County Supervisor Pete Vander Poel says the City of Visalia is insisting new development cannot move forward around Goshen until the city completes a study of its sewer capacity.

Growth in Goshen has accelerated in the past few years to include a number of new home subdivisions, commercial projects and new industrial developments.

The City of Visalia surprised Tulare County officials earlier this year with the sewer capacity study and the need to put new Goshen connections on hold its completion.

Now Vander Poel says that “if it’s OK for Visalia to hook up new development, why not others?” He adds that the annexation delay for Visalia projects is temporary, and the expected capacity study is nearing completion, likely in a matter of weeks.

“Why does Visalia want to jump the gun allowing new development outside their boundaries until this study is done?” Vander Poel said.

But Visalia officials say their General Plan has already taken into consideration the expected city annexation projects that have been in the works for a long time.

“This is a Visalia taxpayer-funded sewer system, and we know we have the capacity for our own projects,” Wynn said.

Vander Poel seeks to de-escalate the standoff, noting the most recent “no” vote does not mean the County will oppose the projects indefinitely.

“We need to have better communication,” he noted.

Wynn agrees that the leadership of both the County and Visalia need to talk.

“For now, new development is on hold in Visalia,” said Mayor Brian Poochigian, “even though we have the sewer capacity.”

Meanwhile, a pipeline of development projects remains in limbo, ready to go to annexation but stalled for the moment. That includes the 3,200 residential unit Carlton Acres project with the proposed new Costco on the corner of Shirk Street and Riggin Avenue.

Earlier this year, The Business Journal reported that Visalia-based San Joaquin Valley Homes wanted to build a 303-home subdivision in Goshen west of Highway 99. The builder needed an OK from a key player, the City of Visalia, which supplies sewer capacity to Goshen from its wastewater treatment plant also west of Highway 99.

But the Visalia City Council heard recently that the plant’s capacity has been affected by needed repairs and the city wants to reevaluate what needs to be done long term as well.

Today, City officials say they need to hear from the County what projects are in the wings so it can see how much new capacity will need to be built.

Meanwhile, the County argues the City got funding from the federal government to build sewer capacity based, in part, on the idea that Visalia would help the nearby disadvantaged community of Goshen.

Back in June, the City sent a letter to the Goshen Community Services District suggesting new development projects in Goshen be put on hold while the City works to repair and upgrade the plant.

“We were surprised by the letter,” said Mike Washam, Tulare County economic development chief, who has offered to meet with city officials to potentially “contribute to the solution.” But nothing along those lines has taken place.

Steve Nelsen, member of the Visalia City Council, said they too were “surprised” about the big, proposed subdivision project, adding that no notice was offered before they saw an agenda item.

“Nobody let us know” that the project was on deck, said Nelsen.

“We used to think we had plenty of sewer capacity,” but the city has grown and developed rapidly in recent years, Nelsen notes, including in the industrial park. The big issue is the load of solids that needs to be processed from multiple sources, including the California Dairies milk plant.

At the time Nelsen argued “we need to make sure we have capacity for growth in Visalia first.”

Now, nothing is moving forward until this municipal standoff is resolved.

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Visalia, Tulare County standoff stalls development, including new Costco (2024)
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