Fresno Bee (California)
May 30, 2008 Friday
FINAL EDITION


Historic homes can't be moved

Appellate court says Fresno was wrong to OK relocation of Old Armenian
Town buildings.

by Brad Branan The Fresno Bee

The city of Fresno disregarded state law when it tried to relocate
historic homes for a major downtown redevelopment project, a state
appellate court has ruled.

The decision means developers can't immediately proceed with plans to
build a parking structure for the Old Armenian Town project. And that
could complicate plans for office buildings there.

The city could decide how to respond as early as June 10, when the
City Council will discuss the project in a closed session, City
Attorney James Sanchez said.

"There are a number of options on how to proceed," Sanchez said. "They
could decide to accept the decision and see if the development can
continue around that site. Or they could decide to petition the state
Supreme Court for review of the case. We're not wedded to any options
yet."

Sanchez said city officials were disappointed about the ruling.

"It delays redevelopment of downtown Fresno south of Ventura Street,"
Sanchez said.

City officials have long touted Old Armenian Town as a key part of
their downtown revitalization plans.

But so far, only the 5th District Court of Appeals building has been
finished on the site, while three office buildings, retail space and
the parking have yet to be completed.

In 2005, two preservation groups challenged the city's plans to
relocate five small historic homes to make space for parking. The
homes are representative of the city's original Armenian town and
shouldn't be moved to a nearby industrial area south of Highway 41 as
the city proposed, they said.

The homes are now on a lot at N Street and Santa Clara Street. They
are nearly all that remains of a neighborhood where Armenian
immigrants settled beginning in the 1880s.

Jeanette Jurkovich of Friends of Armenian Town, one of the groups that
challenged the city, applauded this week's appellate court ruling. The
decision upheld a 2006 Superior Court ruling.

"This is very consistent with what we were trying to have the
government do," she said.

"Maybe now we can protect and preserve a little part of Armenian
Town."

Jeff Reid, an attorney representing developers Richard Gunner and
George Andros, said he couldn't comment on the ruling because he
hasn't seen it. But he said removing the proposed parking location
throws the whole development plan into question.

"Losing that parking affects the overall development potential -- it's
all up in the air," he said.

The court's decision focused on an environmental review process.

An initial report by the city found that Andros and Gunner couldn't
build the parking structure where they wanted, because the historic
homes would need to go there, the court's ruling says. Keeping the
homes there was a necessary "mitigation measure" required to meet the
state's rules governing the effect of projects on the surrounding
area.

Nevertheless, the city proceeded with the developers' plans for the
parking structure, ignoring what its own review had found earlier, the
court found.

The city "never justified its abandonment of the previously adopted
mitigation measure, and no substantial evidence supports the change,"
the court said.