Canyon residents fight off another threat

Land-use designation change seen as allowing dense subdivision

Dan Allen may have lost the fight—his second with Butte Creek Canyon residents—before he stepped into the ring. Here’s the story:

Allen and his son, Ben, are Southern California residents with ties to Butte County. They reportedly own a big development company together, and they also own several parcels above Centerville Road in Butte Creek Canyon.

At a Jan. 21 Board of Supervisors hearing on the new general plan, their Chico consultant, Jim Mann, asked that the land-use designation for the parcels be changed from agriculture to the more developable foothill residential. (Last week Mann changed the request to apply to just one 205-acre parcel.)

By a 3-2 vote, and without hearing from the Allens’ neighbors, the supervisors approved the change. (Jane Dolan and Maureen Kirk dissented.)

When canyon residents found out, they were angry. They have a long history of fighting off unwelcome developments, going back to the so-called “canyon condos” of the early 1980s, and this seemed like more of the same.

Residents were also wary of the Allens, who had stirred up controversy beginning in 2005 when, without a grading permit, they cut away a big hunk of the hillside off Centerville Road for a driveway. The supervisors decided, in 2008, that the Allens acted inappropriately and needed to fill in the cut. That still hasn’t happened.

When they learned of the January hearing, canyon residents began flooding the county with letters of opposition. Some also met with their supervisor, Kim Yamaguchi. Not only did they want the Allens’ designation changed back to ag, several neighbors who had been designated FR wanted to be placed in ag, as well.

A hearing was held Tuesday (April 13), and chambers were packed to overflowing.

The difference between the agriculture and foothill-residential designations has mainly to do with allowable parcel sizes, Principal Planner Dan Breedon explained. The former has 20-acre minimums, while the latter allows from 1- to 40-acre lot sizes.

Because the Allens’ parcel is in the path of migratory deer, however, “the zoning is likely to be 20-acre minimums” either way, said Tim Snellings, director of development services.

Dolan wouldn’t let that stand unchallenged. “There is a distinction,” she insisted firmly. “One is ag, the other is housing”—a “qualitative difference,” she added.

When Dan Allen stepped forward to speak, he described himself as a man with strong ties to the area—relatives who live here, grandparents buried in the Wyandotte Cemetery. “I’m not a total stranger to the area and not someone who doesn’t care,” he insisted.

He was a “good steward,” he said. The reason he wanted the FR designation was because it would allow him to cluster houses on one 45-acre part of the parcel and keep the rest in open space, which would be preferable to splitting it into 20- or 40-acre parcels. But he had no actual plan for the site, he said—fatefully, as it turned out—adding, “I can do it either way.”

Then began the parade of canyon residents. Some were specific and targeted in their objections to the designation change, noting that Allen’s neighbors wanted to be in ag, that he effectively would be surrounded by ag-designated land, and that ultimately an FR designation could allow a good-sized clustered project.

One man, Don Bravo, challenged Allen’s stewardship claims, reminding the board of his illegal driveway. Others asked the supervisors to work with them to develop a specific plan for the entire canyon.

Some wanted primarily to convince the board of the beauties and wonders of the canyon, and a few got misty-eyed and choked up doing so.

All this time it was fairly apparent that the supervisors agreed with the canyon residents. When the public hearing ended, in fact, board Chairman Bill Connelly and Yamaguchi were both quick to defend and, to a certain extent, apologize for their January votes.

Yamaguchi suggested that he’d expected a hearing all along, and that he knew from the beginning that the parcel was never going to be densely zoned.

And, he added, it was easy to change his mind because Allen said he didn’t know what he was going to do with the property and could live with five to 10 houses.

He then moved to restore the agriculture designation. The motion passed unanimously, and the crowd roared.