Greenline holds fast

Council rejects annexation of housing development on Chico’s urban-ag boundary

A proposed student housing development would have backed up to this massive almond-processing facility, North State Hulling Cooperative Inc., located between Pomona Avenue and Miller Lane in southwest Chico.

A proposed student housing development would have backed up to this massive almond-processing facility, North State Hulling Cooperative Inc., located between Pomona Avenue and Miller Lane in southwest Chico.


Two housing development proposals were hotly debated during Chico City Council’s meeting on Tuesday (Aug. 5). While one moved forward, the other was struck down in its early planning stages.

The most contentious item was a resolution to annex 11.4 acres of unincorporated land between Pomona Avenue and Miller Lane for a proposed student housing development. Encompassing eight properties, the 160-unit complex would accommodate 544 Chico State students.

In his opening statement, Associate Planner Mike Sawley said annexing the properties would be consistent with Chico’s general plan and “represents an opportunity for increased residential density.”

However, naysayers said the development as proposed would encroach on the Greenline, the boundary established by the Butte County Board of Supervisors more than 30 years ago to prevent urban sprawl in Chico’s west-side orchard lands. As one public commenter put it, the Greenline “has prevented Chico from becoming Stockton or Modesto.”

Former longtime county Supervisor Jane Dolan, the Greenline’s most steadfast supporter over the years, spoke passionately against the proposed annexation, which she characterized as the “death knell of the Greenline.”

“It is not timely; it’s not appropriate,” she said. “It’s wholesale, egregious intensification of this area. … It’s wholly contradictory to the Greenline. It’s too big, it’s too soon, it’s not analyzed, and it’s in the wrong place.

“You need to reject this annexation,” she said to applause.

The Pomona Avenue complex would back up to an existing large-scale agricultural processing facility, North State Hulling Cooperative Inc. The facility’s general manager, Rick Barnett, questioned whether the hulling operation, which produces significant amounts of dust and noise three months out of the year, and student housing would be compatible neighbors. The complex as proposed would be a mere 135 feet from the processing facility—far short of the 300-foot buffer maintained elsewhere on the Greenline.

A conflict between the housing complex and the processing facility—a $150 million operation that works with 120 local growers—could prompt relocation, Barnett said.

“I’d love to see this business stay here in Chico,” he said.

Other concerns included a lack of proper environmental review and increased motor and bicycle traffic in an area with inadequate street infrastructure. Of nearly 20 speakers, only two—Pat Morrill, a representative of the developer, and local engineer Jim Stevens—spoke in favor of the annexation.

Mayor Scott Gruendl made a motion to deny the resolution to annex the area, citing a potential “ripple effect on a major component of the local economy.” The motion passed unanimously.

Earlier in the meeting, the council voted 5-2, with Councilman Sean Morgan and Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen dissenting, to approve amendments to a development agreement with Meriam Park LLC, which plans to develop 270 acres between East 20th Street and Humboldt Road as a mixed-use neighborhood.

The developer requested to change plans for the intersection of East 20th Street and Concord Avenue from a roundabout to a traffic signal. Renegotiation between the city and Meriam Park also led to a new proposal regarding street facility fee impact credits, reached just hours before the meeting. Several years ago, in response to a decrease in development revenues, Planning Services moved away from allowing builders to accrue such credits as a means of recuperating costs for improvements to roadways.

But the agreement with Meriam Park was struck at a time when construction was booming. The arrangement gave the developer the option of 100 percent credit or reimbursement. That changed when the developer recently came back to the city for approval of revisions to its project.

“This agreement has been in place since the beginning,” Sawley said. “The last round of negotiation is when [the city] said ‘no more fee credits.’”

The city met the developer halfway. Under the new agreement, Meriam Park will retain fee impact credits for certain roadway improvements, such as bridges on Bruce Road and Notre Dame Boulevard—50 percent through reimbursement from the city and 50 percent through credits.

Two local developers, Pete Giampaoli and Doug Guillon, expressed dissatisfaction with the terms of the new agreement, which applies solely to Meriam Park. They decried having to front the entirety of their fees.

“We’re asking for equity, that we all be treated the same,” Guillon said, “because we all have to put money into infrastructure to benefit the community.”