Growth splits council

BELL CURVE <br>The Bell-Muir area of northwest Chico, an interesting mix of uses, could soon be part of the city’s expansion area.

The Bell-Muir area of northwest Chico, an interesting mix of uses, could soon be part of the city’s expansion area.

Photo By Tom Angel

When the Chico City Council voted 4-3 last month and directed city staff to proceed with the Mud Creek area as the next focus for residential growth, it opened a political Pandora’s box that has the local daily newspaper and Chico conservatives salivating over the possibilities in an election year.

In an incredible stretch of reality, an Enterprise-Record’s editorial said the council majority had “voted to whittle Chico’s potential growth areas from 12 two years ago down to one.”

In fact, at that Jan. 27 meeting the council considered which of the 12 potential growth areas first identified in 2001 would get priority attention. Last year it had asked city staff to analyze development possibilities in three of those areas. On Jan. 27, the conservative wing of the council split from the majority because it wanted to include all three of those areas—Mud Creek, which sits northwest of the city, the Dayton Road area to the west and the Midway region south of town—for immediate development.

But the council majority argued that the work involved would be too much for city staff and limited consideration and any action at this time to two areas—Mud Creek and, as an “urban reserve,” Dayton Road.

All three areas are outside the city’s present sphere of influence and are protected by the Greenline, the 20-year-old boundary guarding the area’s ag land.

Staff will now write to the county Board of Supervisors as well as the Local Agency Formation Commission to announce the city’s intentions in the areas. Staff will come back with a general plan amendment to zone the areas for residential development as well as an amendment to expand the city’s sphere of influence.

In both cases the Greenline will be pushed out to accommodate the residential growth, if there are no objections from the supervisors or LAFCo. City Manager Tom Lando told the council that the Greenline’s original sponsor, Supervisor Jane Dolan, has indicated in the past that it is up to the city to carve out space for growth.

The Mud Creek area got the nod because it sits next to the Northwest Chico Specific Plan (NCSP) growth area, which is now in the beginning stages of development, including public workshops.

The Dayton area is next in line because it sits close to the Diamond Match property, where the development process is also underway, running about a year behind the NCSP area. The Mud Creek area, about 540 acres, could provide space for 1,800 units, and its development will most likely drag a neighboring area, Bell-Muir, into the game.

Bell-Muir is perhaps three times the size of Mud Creek and is currently an odd mixture of small, abandoned orchards and large-lot homes sitting next to trailers and shanties with chickens clucking about.

Historically the council has shied away from mentioning the Bell-Muir area when talking growth, reportedly because some of the neighbors tend to wield influence on both sides of the political aisle. But when a sewer line is constructed to service the Mud Creek are, it will be built with the capacity to handle development in Bell-Muir as well.

The area along the Midway that the conservatives wanted for inclusion could well be reconsidered in the near future. At the Jan. 27 meeting developer Dan Hays, who is building in that area under Butte County’s considerably less restrictive codes and zoning requirements, asked the council if it was including that area at this time. When told it was not, Hays let out an expression of relief that caught the attention of council progressives, who may well heed conservative Councilmember Steve Bertagna’s warning that, if "we don’t develop south of town, the county will."