“We are against this. Our kids need parks,” Feliciano Ramirez, a resident of District 7, wrote in a letter to Fresno’s Planning and Development Department, opposing construction of a 7-Eleven convenience store at the northwest corner of Tulare and Cedar avenues, across from Roosevelt High School.
“We don’t need more stores and traffic,” Pedro Quiroz, another resident, wrote.
Despite opposition from residents of District 7, five members of the Fresno City Council supported a motion on Nov. 5 to approve construction of a convenience store at the location in southeast Fresno. Council President Miguel Arias and Nelson Esparza, District 7 representative, opposed it.
Calling the project “bad land-use,” Esparza said that a convenience store is not what the community wants, even if zoning laws that designate the lot as a Neighborhood Mixed Use (NMX) — restaurants, gas stations, retail stores, multifamily housing and parks — does not forbid it.
Project proponents say the store’s construction will enhance the area by eliminating a vacant corner that they say was often misused. And developers have pledged to pay for a scoreboard at Roosevelt High School.
The project was first proposed in 2019 by SKW Capital LLC and included a request to sell alcohol in the store. The proposal passed by the council does not permit alcohol sales but will allow the store to sell assorted tobacco products.
“We fought that battle and won, maybe by default, but it was the best thing for our kids,” wrote Susan and Frank Ciaudelli of the 93702 ZIP code, in their opposing letter.
“This is not just about the alcohol,” Esparza said at the council meeting. “The community wants an opportunity for healthier developments.”
Valeria Salazar, program coordinator for “Roosevelt’s Friday Night Live,” a group that engages students to be active leaders in their communities, said the neighborhood already has enough gas stations and that residents do not want developers “forcing their way into their community.”
“The plot of land can be used for a community green space,” Salazar said. “Students want community gardens, safe walking paths to school, clean parks, and access to parks.”
Holmes Playground, the closest fully developed park, is located approximately a mile and a half away from the proposed site. The two nearest green spaces include an underdeveloped block-long green space that is adjacent to the lot, and at Huntington Boulevard and Cedar Avenue; neither space has a playground, benches or restroom.
There are roughly seven other gas stations and convenience stores within a mile radius of the site. The most recent 7-Eleven store opened earlier this year at Kings Canyon Road and Willow Avenue, approximately four miles away. In early 2021, SKW will also build another 7-Eleven on Kings Canyon and Cedar, only a mile away from the site.
To ensure that alcohol is “never sold at this site in the future,” Esparza introduced a text amendment to The Responsible Neighborhood Market Act in response to a push by the youth and advocates to regulate alcohol sales in their communities. The act passed in October and limits the number of alcohol licenses awarded to grocery stores in Fresno.
“We want to toss alcohol out and throw away the key,” Esparza said.
Supporters say project will benefit students and families
Larry Lopez, athletic director at Roosevelt High School, said he is happy the store will not sell alcohol and is excited to work with 7-Eleven to get the high school campus a sponsored scoreboard.
Roosevelt and Edison are the only high schools in Fresno without a scoreboard.
“It will allow us to play at home, host tournaments and generate revenue,” Lopez said. “It would put us in the position where our kids feel they have the same resources as kids across town.”
Sid Wiener, owner of SKW Capital, told Arias he is committed to funding the scoreboard, as long as the project advances. Lopez said the scoreboard will cost roughly $26,000, not including installation.
Lee Ann Eager, CEO of Fresno County Economic Development Corporation, said the 7-Eleven will “enhance the area” and provide fresh fruit to the community as well as student employment.
Councilmember Luis Chavez of District 5 welcomes the 7-Eleven project, saying that it will eliminate complaints from residents who are concerned about misuse of the lot as a homeless encampment and illegal dumpsite.
“We have the opportunity to work with an applicant that wants to invest,” Chavez said.
What the community can expect
Wiener said the project is scheduled to be completed “as soon as six months or as late as a year.” The store will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will be operated by an undisclosed 7-Eleven franchise owner.
The store will sell bread, breakfast pastries, milk, nuts and fruit as well as prepackaged selections of fruit, cold sandwiches and other on-the-go snacks.
“The developer took into consideration the comments from the council in providing healthy food choices,” a representative of SKW said at the council meeting.
Wiener said that the $4 million investment will benefit the community and his corporation will work on the design of the store to maintain the architectural style of Roosevelt High School, plus landscape more than 3,000 square feet. The developer also committed to donating $5,000 each to the two nearby green spaces in the neighborhood.
Arias said he was concerned because other past developers have made promises to keep properties clean and safe, but do not always follow through, resulting in complaints.
“Often, the developer walks away when the project is built,” Arias said. “Then, we are left to work with the operational staff.”
A cherished lot for southeast Fresno
The site of the proposed 7-Eleven is presently a dirt lot that has provided a livelihood for many vendors for the past 40 years.
Supporters of the 7-Eleven project say the space is used for “illegal uses” such as “non-permitted outdoors sales,” but some community members said they treasure the lot’s multipurpose use.
“I guess we’ll no longer have the taco trucks, fruit vendors, and the flower and basket stands on Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day,” Gustavo Morales, 24, who lives in the community, said.
Fresno Barrios Unidos, a nonprofit organization that serves youth 14-24 years old — many of whom are students from nearby Roosevelt High School — is opposed to the project.
“It will cause traffic near the school, which is already congested,” Ashley Rojas, executive director, said. “Our kids lack safe passage and green space.”
The CDC recognizes that environmental factors have a significant influence on health outcomes. Life-threatening toxins and gas stations can be considered a risk factor due to the gas spills that evaporate into the air.
“We don’t need more corporate stores,” Alexandria Ramos, 26, community resident, said. “We need locally owned Black and brown businesses or a community center.”