Costco expansion: ‘Show us’
After a lengthy discussion on whether to allow Costco to build a new, larger store, the members of the Chico City Council decided Tuesday (Jan. 2) they wanted to watch a movie before deciding.
Well, not a movie, exactly. What they wanted was for city staff to create an animated visualization of plans for improving traffic flow on the busy two-lane street. In the end they postponed making a decision on the project for 60 days so staff could get together with Costco representatives to provide a more detailed and understandable set of traffic mitigation measures and costs.
Simply put, they were unsure about the causes of traffic congestion on Whitman Avenue and Costco’s responsibility for solving them.
Costco wants to build a new big-box store on land bordering its current property on the west side. The new store would be 160,000 square feet in size, 37,000 square feet larger than the existing store. When it is built, the old store would be torn down and the parking lot enlarged to cover its footprint.
The current north entrance to the store would be signalized, allowing easy exit from the parking lot, and the total number of entrances to the parking lot would be increased from two to three.
The city’s traffic study shows that the new store would increase traffic on Whitman by 3.1 percent. A proposed 16-pump gas station would also increase traffic somewhat, but by how much was unclear. In a later interview, Tom Varga, the city’s Capital Projects Services director, said the percentage increase was “relatively small” because Whitman was already such a busy street. Also, he noted that because Costco is a membership club, building a bigger store wouldn’t increase the number of customers dramatically.
The city’s director of engineering, Fritz McKinley, said the main cause of the existing congestion on Whitman was the poor sequencing of the two sets of traffic signals on East 20th Street at Whitman and Highway 99. Because of that, northbound traffic on Whitman wanting to turn right on East 20th often can’t do so and backs up, causing congestion.
But councilmembers seemed to be reaching for further solutions, such as widening Whitman or creating another access route by punching Silver Dollar Way through to Fair Street.
“Can we go forward with widening the street before we’ve collected [traffic impact] fees [for doing so]?” asked Councilwoman Ann Schwab. “Can we cut through Silver Dollar Way?”
City Manager Greg Jones said it would take 12 to 18 months before details could be worked out on extending Silver Dollar Way, and McKinley pointed out that much of Whitman south of Costco is still bordered by open land. Besides, he reiterated, the real bottleneck is at East 20th Street.
Councilmembers had trouble visualizing how improving that intersection would improve traffic flow. It was Councilman Steve Bertagna who asked staff to prepare an animated visualization for them. McKinley agreed that a visual model could be created that would show how the intersection creates the bottleneck and “clearing it” could improve traffic flow.
Mayor Andy Holcombe was concerned that Costco wasn’t paying its fair share of the cost of solving the traffic problems. McKinley seemed to believe fees and direct costs had been fairly assessed, but he readily agreed to sit down with Costco reps to discuss the matter further.