Enloe land: Doe Mill part deux?

It won’t be a school, but neither will it be “Pleasant Valley Sunday” ("Rows of houses that are all the same,” to non-Monkees fans). A prime, long-vacant parcel of land on Bruce Road has been purchased by a local builder with a penchant for cute houses and neighborhoods where people actually talk to one another.

The parcel had been owned by Enloe Health System and is viewed as one of the few easily developable sites in southeast Chico.

Heritage Partners, which built Doe Mill Neighborhood, partnered with another “new urban planning” firm, the Haile Group of Gainesville, Fla., in the purchase of the land between Humboldt Road and East 20th Street. Tom DiGiovanni of Heritage Partners acknowledged that reports of an $18 million purchase price were “in the ballpark.”

“We’re very excited. It’s a great opportunity,” said DiGiovanni, who envisions a variety of residential styles in a neighborhood conceived with the help of the community in public workshops.

Enloe has long looked to turn a profit on the nearly 250-acre parcel it bought in 1983 with intentions of building a new, $300 million hospital. Those plans, deemed too expensive amid rising costs of health care, were shelved more than 10 years ago in favor of expanding the current facility on The Esplanade.

“The price was right,” said Enloe spokesperson Ann Prater, and as a bonus the buyer is a local developer with community values. “We were really looking to do the right thing with the property. The timing is good.”

It’s the same site, with its coveted environmental clearances, tabbed in an April 2002 environmental-impact report as the best of four locations considered for Chico’s new high school.

But with enrollment declining and a budget that would find the Chico Unified School District “hard-pressed” to staff a new high school, Trustee Steve O’Bryan agreed the excitement of passing the school bond in 1998 has waned. O’Bryan is the school board member who never gave up on landing the Enloe site, even as attentions remain focused on property farther down Bruce Road toward the Skyway.

“Tom DiGiovanni is a nice guy,” O’Bryan said. “I’m sure he’d give us at least a listen.” The location, adjacent two schools, is “great,” and the district doesn’t necessarily have to have 40 or 50 acres.

DiGiovanni said he thought the CUSD was all set with another site and hadn’t thought about offering up land for a school. “We’ll see what happens,” he said.

He said he and his partners had been eyeing the Enloe site seriously for about a year. Doe Mill will be built out by the end of 2004, and the Bruce Road acreage was perfect. “It’s not often that you can shape a parcel that large that is also fundamentally an infill parcel,” he said.

“A growing list of developers are signing on to this approach,” DiGiovanni said. “There’s a need and demand,” he said, for compact, mixed-used neighborhoods where homes and even commercial properties can be built in a small space without seeming too dense.

DiGiovanni isn’t sure how the new neighborhood will take shape, but it won’t all be exactly like Doe Mill, with its General Plan-friendly seven units an acre.

“People can be skeptical when we say we don’t have a [number of residences figured out],” he said. “But if you actually do the design in front of folks … people begin to see that it is an authentic design process.” Also, with an “open studio” approach to development, “you get really good ideas that aren’t always obvious to you.”

He expects to start building in two years and take about 10 years to complete the project.

Enloe’s Prater said, "We will be using the money, eventually, to finance the master site expansion."