Last big northeast project OK’d
City councilmembers had a tough choice to make Tuesday (July 17), and in the end at least two of them said they’d put aside personal feelings to do what was “best for Chico.”
At issue was Epick Homes’ proposed Mountain Vista/Sycamore Glen subdivision, 679 dwelling units to be located on 178 acres in northeast Chico. The site is located north of East Avenue between Floral and Ceanothus avenues and immediately south of Sycamore Creek, which is considered the city’s northern growth boundary. It is surrounded by houses on three sides and is the last large undeveloped parcel in the area, which has been a hot spot of growth for two decades.
The council’s struggle with the proposal had nothing to do with the quality of the project. In fact, it was clear from the outset that councilmembers liked developer Pete Giampaoli’s concept very much. The problem was that the parcel is rich in vernal pools, home to several endangered species.
Although the project would have set aside 56 acres of the best wetlands along Sycamore Creek as a preserve containing six acres of vernal pools, it also called for filling in six acres of wetlands south of there. Because of this, the developer was required to provide off-site mitigation and had proposed setting aside a vernal-pool-rich part of the Hamilton Ranch, in Tehama County, via a conservation easement.
This ran into resistance from representatives of two local environmental groups, the Butte Environmental Council and the Altacal Audubon Society, as well as Planning Commissioner John Merz. They preferred that the council approve one of the alternatives listed in the project’s environmental-impact report, the so-called “biological-resources alternative,” which would have preserved most of the wetlands on the site and not required off-site mitigation.
However, the alternative would have limited the project to just 50 houses and also called for 506 high-density multi-family units (town houses or apartments) to be grouped on the site’s southern edge, just north of a yet-to-be-constructed extension of Eaton Road.
Councilmembers quickly referred to this as the “wall of town houses,” and it was clear they weren’t attracted to it. “It’s not appropriate for the site,” said Vice Mayor Ann Schwab.
Epick’s proposal, on the other hand, had many qualities they liked. It proposed to create a 43-foot-wide greenway amenity along Floral Avenue, for example. And it had ditched the sound barriers along Eaton Road proposed earlier in favor of creating an “Esplanade-like” boulevard there, complete with side-street and street-facing houses.
They also appreciated that Epick had gotten rid of cul-de-sacs and replaced them with grid streets and had designed the row of houses along the open space to face outward.
Finally, the project proposed a 1.9-acre village commercial center at Floral and Eaton that would be surrounded by town houses, with densities decreasing outward from there.
Councilmembers Mary Flynn and Tom Nickell both said their hearts were telling them to save all the wetlands, but their heads were telling them that the Epick project was better for Chico. In the end it was approved unanimously.