Homes on the range

Supervisors push 2,700-unit project forward

County supervisors agreed to change zoning at the Rio d’Oro site from agricultural land to allow up to 30 units per acre.

County supervisors agreed to change zoning at the Rio d’Oro site from agricultural land to allow up to 30 units per acre.

PHOTO COURTESY OF Butte County development services

The scenery south of Oroville is bound for drastic changes in the years to come, as Butte County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday (May 19) to push forward plans to develop a 689-acre swath of rural land along State Route 70.

The proposed project, called Rio d’Oro, includes space for commercial areas, an elementary school, public services, parks, conservation land and up to 2,700 residences to be built in phases over the next 25 years. Most of the construction will take place on 413 acres west of the highway and east of Pacific Heights Road, between Ophir and Palermo roads. The plan calls for another 278 acres east of the highway at the project’s southern end to remain open space and a natural conservation area.

After county staff gave a brief outline of the project near the end of Tuesday’s meeting and recommended the board act in favor of moving it along, there was little input from the mostly empty gallery. The only person to take advantage of the public comment period was Don Rust, community development director for the city of Oroville. Rust voiced his support for the project and further recommended talks commence to annex the unincorporated into the city.

Rio d’Oro has been in the works for several years. Lucky Hill Properties LLC—a collaboration between local landowner Kenfield Alldrin and Turlock developer Jkb Homes Corp.—was formed in 2006, and began holding informational meetings in 2008 when the project was first proposed. A series of official public hearings regarding the project’s compliance with California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements have been held since 2011.

Supervisor Bill Connelly—who represents District 1, where most of the project is located—moved to approve plans and amendments, make zoning changes and certify the final environmental impact report on Rio d’Oro.

The EIR declared that the development would have a significant effect on aesthetics, air quality and traffic in the area regardless of attempts at mitigation. County staff recommended—and the board agreed—that the economic, housing and contribution to infrastructure outweighed these negatives. In addition to the conservation area, the plan includes 65 acres of parkland and open space.

The first phase includes building up to 200 separate residential units to be completed as early as 2018. Construction could begin within a year.

Prior to ruling on Rio d’Oro, the supervisors addressed another controversial construction topic related to the Neal Road Recycling and Waste Facility regarding Sacramento-based Nichelini General Engineering Contractors (NGEC) Inc. The company has completed two sections of ongoing work at the waste facility, which includes covering dump areas with a polypropylene membrane to limit stormwater infiltration and protect groundwater. The company recently submitted the lowest bid for upcoming work.

However, the county’s Public Works Department contends that there were numerous problems with NGEC’s work, including failure to pay subcontractors in a timely manner, making unsupervised and substandard repairs and resisting county requests. County records show that NGEC was awarded a contract for $692,020 in April 2014 and came back in December asking for $26,472 to pay a contractor for extra work.

Staff recommended that NGEC be deemed a nonresponsible bidder and the contract be awarded to the next lowest bidder, Lemoore-based Wood Brothers Inc. Wood Brothers’ bid was $183,000 more than NGEC’s.

Kathleen Kehoe Greeson, chief deputy county counsel, interviewed several staff members in front of the supervisors about specific allegations of poor performance, after which NGEC owner Joe Nichelini and one of his employees, Nick Zwetsloot, also gave testimony, and were represented by Napa construction attorney Mike Murphy.

“There’s a big hole in this whole story,” Murphy said, claiming flaws in the project’s plans and problems acquiring the proper polypropylene membrane were the root causes of problems on the job.

Supervisor Larry Wahl argued that NGEC might try harder to make the county happy a second time around, and that taking the recommended action could severely hurt the company and cost taxpayers the difference in bids. In the end, the board voted 3-2 to nix NGEC for the next lowest offer, with Wahl and Doug Teeter in the minority.