Huge Oak Valley development no done deal

A Yuba City developer’s plans to build a 1,300-unit residential project in southeast Chico hit a snag this week when the City Council failed to award it a final approval.

Tom Fogarty’s Oak Valley project, part of which is slated to be built near the old Humboldt Burn Dump off Highway 32 and Bruce Road, was appealed earlier this year by a group of preservationists and neighbors and a man who wants to protect the old Humboldt Wagon Road that runs just to the south of the project.

Last May the council approved a motion of intent to move forward with the project, which opponents say stretches too far up into the foothills east of Chico and violates the General Plan by allowing development beyond the city’s “defined physical extent.”

The plan also says development will obey a 300-foot contour between urban development and where oak woodland habitat begins in the hillsides to the east.

But the plan, with its updated version adopted in 1994, included Fogarty’s development.

Councilmember Andy Holcombe acknowledged this conflict in the plan’s objectives.

“Which,” he asked rhetorically, “do you go with?”

Holcombe said the project, which now calls for 80 single-family houses to be built on the easternmost parcel of land, creeping up into the foothills, violates foothill development standards.

Originally the development called for 160 houses to be built on this parcel, labeled “Q” on the subdivision map. When the council tentatively rejected the appeals to the project and allowed it to move forward last May, it did so after requiring half of those houses to be moved to parcels to the west away from the foothills.

This week Holcombe tried to get the remaining 80 houses down off the hillside, arguing the city needs greater housing density with greater affordability.

Councilmember Dan Herbert objected to Holcombe’s suggestion.

“We’ve put the project through the wringer and the person building it through the wringer,” he said.

Councilmember Steve Bertagna argued that making such a drastic change to the project required that the whole matter be opened for public comment and doing so made the city legally vulnerable.

City Attorney Dave Frank told the council if it took no action the Planning Commission’s approval, which sparked the appeals, would take over by default.

Mayor Scott Gruendl noted that the council rejected the appeals and took its action in May late in the evening and that it had received new information concerning the historical protection of the old wagon road and a large legal document from the attorneys representing project opponents.

At that point Herbert snapped and promised to walk out of the meetings from now on if they go past 10 p.m. He said such project-delaying tactics were the reason the city has a housing shortage and home prices are so high. He said if the council were to vote to delay approval, he would not just abstain on moral grounds, but go a step further and declare himself “absent.”

In the end Councilmembers Holcombe, Maureen Kirk, Ann Schwab and Mayor Scott Gruendl voted to direct staff to consider the newest information and come back, if possible, by the next council meeting with some direction.

After the meeting, Fogarty said he wasn’t sure what he was going to do. As he left the building, however, he said, “This is such bullshit. If they make the wrong move we’re gonna nail them.”