Big-box ordinance continued

As a company representing Wal-Mart looks to purchase the Sunset Hills Golf Course just north of Chico for construction of a 200,000-square-foot retail center, the county is moving to fashion some sort of control over the invasion of such gargantuan and, some say, economically devastating mega-marts.

An ordinance designed to give the county some discretion over the construction of so-called big-box retail centers has been continued for public testimony at the Jan. 8 Butte County Planning Commission meeting. At the Dec. 11 meeting, only three members heard the introduction of the ordinance, drafted by county counsel at the urging of Supervisors Mary Anne Houx and Jane Dolan, whose districts include Chico.

A draft of the ordinance under consideration begins, “A current, prominent trend in the State involves the construction and operation of large retail centers of 25,000 or more square feet. The construction and operation of each such large retail center presents large potentials for adverse impacts to health, safety and aesthetics to the citizens of the area in which it is constructed and operated, including but not limited to visual, pedestrian safety and air quality impacts.”

The ordinance, while spelling out certain design requirements, also gives the county some discretion by requiring the issuance of a use permit before a large project may be approved.

At the Dec. 11 meeting, Yvonne Christopher, county director of developmental services, answered questions from the three commissioners who remained at the end of a day-long meeting. She suggested some minor changes to the draft ordinance to allow more design flexibility and less specific direction on the types of material used. The matter was continued to the Jan. 8 meeting.

Last summer the Chico Planning Commission and then the City Council found themselves powerless to stop the proposed expansion of the Forest Avenue Wal-Mart, which plans to double its size in the near future from 97,000 square feet to more than 200,000 and become a superstore.

Now Wal-Mart is apparently looking to build a second superstore just north of the Chico city limits, unless the county steps in first with its ordinance.

In a memo to the Chico City Council dated Dec. 11, City Manager Tom Lando, wrote “… the City Council should be aware that the County has contacted the City to indicate that PacLand, [a representative] of Wal-Mart, has contacted them regarding the development of a 200,000-square-foot center on the current location of the Sunset Hills Golf Course. The County has indicated that while the site does carry commercial zoning, they do not believe it is an appropriate location for this use.”

A woman who answered the phone at PacLand said she could not give out any information about the potential purchase because the company is still in negotiations to buy the land.