From matches to mixed use

Barber Yard project hopes to create a self-contained village on Diamond site

REDBRICK HISTORY Barber Yard developers plan to preserve the remaining Diamond Match buildings, including the former Engineering Building, shown at left. They hope to attract investors to develop the buildings for new uses.

REDBRICK HISTORY Barber Yard developers plan to preserve the remaining Diamond Match buildings, including the former Engineering Building, shown at left. They hope to attract investors to develop the buildings for new uses.

Photo By Tom Angel

If you missed it: Tuesday’s open house for the Barber Yard project was the second of three scheduled. The next one is set for January at the City Council chambers. The project also has a comprehensive Web site at

In 1903, the Diamond Match Co. bought a large parcel of farmland just south of Chico to build a match factory compound and an adjacent neighborhood to house its employees and their families. This company town was named Barber, after O. C. Barber, the president of Diamond Match.

It offered numerous amenities: tennis courts, a ball field, park areas and stores. It was, in effect, a self-contained village.

Now, 100 years later, plans are being developed to create another largely self-contained village on the 138 acres that formerly housed the Diamond plant, and a key goal is to incorporate the remaining Diamond buildings, which are historically valuable, into the project design.

About a year from now the developer, a limited partnership called Barber Land headed by Jeff Greening, expects to present the city with a formal proposal for an ambitious, visionary project called Barber Yard that will create a new, mixed-use neighborhood on what has long been the largest piece of close-in developable land in the city.

At a Dec. 2 open house held in a cavernous warehouse at the north end of the site, representatives of Barber Land, LLC unveiled the latest version of their plans before about 50 people, a number of them residents of the adjacent neighborhood.

Project neighbors Linda Huffmon (left) and Debbie Villaseñor examine the development map for the 138-acre project. Traffic is the neighbors’ biggest concern.

Photo By Tom Angel

At build-out, said Jim Stevens, a civil engineer with NorthStar Engineering, in Chico, the project will create just under 1,200 living units in a combination of single-family homes, town houses and apartments, and loft-style units. There will be a park-like town center anchored around a central square, called Barber Square, as well as a small “downtown” area with shops, restaurants, coffee houses and a small grocery store. And there will be a ball field and a soccer field as well as 2-mile-long greenbelt path around the perimeter of the project.

The idea, said Richard Casias, a Davis-based environmental scientist working on the project, is to create a neighborhood where residents don’t always have to get in their cars and go elsewhere to get the things—videos, a carton of milk, a cup of coffee—or enjoy the activities they desire.

In keeping with the historic nature of the site, plans call for a “neo-traditionalist” approach to street patterns and housing styles. Streets will be laid out in a grid pattern that lines up with the existing streets, and the single-family houses will be bungalows with garages in back, accessible through alleyways. Such designs make street fronts more attractive and encourage walking, Stevens said.

The townhouses and apartments in the central part of the project will front a pedestrian-friendly downtown core with shops and restaurants on the ground floor. The two- and three-story loft residences—like townhouses but with a more “unfinished, raw, industrial look,” said architect John Shreve—will be above the storefronts and also on the north side of the project.

Residents of the neighborhood generally seemed to like the project’s innovative design, but naturally they were worried about its impact, especially on neighborhood traffic.

Stevens acknowledged there’s simply no way around that impact, noting that about 2,700 people eventually would live at Barber Yard and an unknown number of others would come there to work or visit each day. The company has hired traffic experts to analyze expected traffic patterns and recommend the best mitigations possible, and those recommendations will be included in its final proposal.

In the meantime, Stevens went on, the plan disperses traffic along as many neighboring streets as possible by hooking up to Ivy, 16th, 18th, 20th and 22nd streets and Estes Road. And it’s fervently hoped—he said this several times—that the city will extend bus service to the neighborhood.

As an offset, he said, neighbors will benefit from increased property values and the presence of much-needed services in the area. As Casias put it, "Our vision is of people strolling over for dinner or coffee in the evening. We’d love that."