General plan hearing gets residents talking

Forty speak before the City Council, most in favor of single-family homes

Planning Chico’s growth over the next two decades is no small task. So it wasn’t surprising that the City Council chambers had an overflow crowd Tuesday night for its one and only public hearing on land use designations in the general-plan update, nor that most of those in attendance had something to share.

Forty people spoke that evening, and they ran the gamut from environmental activists to former city employees to landowners, to name a few.

City staff and consulting firm PMC have come up with three different visions for Chico’s growth. The first, “Alternative A,” calls for the most new acreage to be developed. Alternative C calls for the least amount of new building, relying more on infill than new projects. Alternative B is a middle ground between the two.

The city Planning Commission’s recommendation, presented to the council Tuesday (Oct. 7), is a hybrid mix of B and C but looks closest to C, relying heavily on building up existing underutilized properties with a significant increase in multifamily residences and mixed-use developments and minimally on homes with yards.

The commission’s recommendation to rein in future outward growth in favor of more “infill"—picking sites already inside the city to redevelop—would mean more apartment complexes, fewer single-family homes, and building up rather than building out. The goal is a more compact city that’s less dependent on the automobile.

Most of the comments cautioned the council, which will make the ultimate decision on Chico’s future layout, about changing the city’s character and favored single-family homes over multistory apartment complexes. The loudest voice, however, was that of Planning Commissioner Dave Kelley, who said he’d vote differently on the recommendation if he had a second chance.

“I would have voted no,” he said, adding that his vision looks more like Alternative B than C. “The infill vision will turn Chico into an urban city. We should look at infills in the future, but we need to think about jobs and families first.”

Others echoed his sentiments, suggesting the commission’s assessment that more people will want to live in apartments or condos rather than houses—based on the economy and age, among other factors—may be distorted.

“We’re going to drive people out,” one resident said. Homes in Oroville, Gridley and other nearby areas might become more desirable than living in an apartment complex in Chico, he continued.

In fact, early in the evening Butte County Development Services Director Tim Snellings told the council that the county’s general-plan update, which is also under way, calls for 10,000 new homes, mostly in low-density areas (meaning houses, not apartments). So, the city could compete with the county for residents.

Snellings pointed out a few key areas along Chico’s city limits that he would suggest for annexation and development, in particular the area encompassed by the North Chico Specific Plan, Bell-Muir, Upper Stilson Canyon and Doe Mill/Honey Run.

“The Greenline is going to be tough,” he said, adding that he foresees a conflict between the city and the county over whether to redraw it. The Board of Supervisors has decided to maintain the Greenline, with the exception of Bell-Muir.

The Bell-Muir property, south of Mud Creek, got some votes of approval, but the most talked-about area was the Doe Mill/Honey Run property that Bill Brouhard and Steve Schuster want to develop with mixed uses, including 1,500 single- and multifamily homes, a village commercial core and 900 acres of open space and parkland.

“This is my vision of Chico,” one resident said. Others expressed concern about its impact on the viewshed, protected species and the Tuscan aquifer.

Specifics will be discussed if and when this area is included in the general plan, Mayor Andy Holcombe said.

Five hours after the meeting started, the council closed the public hearing and voted unanimously that alternatives A, B and C—and the option of no growth—encompassed all the possibilities for Chico’s future. At their Oct. 21 meeting, councilmembers will begin to look at specifics in each alternative in order to choose one.