Meet the new Enloe

It was around the time the 3-D computer model—animated with moving cars, fluttering leaves and a bubbling fountain—was set into motion that the newly proposed design for the Enloe Medical Center expansion started looking like something its neighbors could accept and even grow to like.

A week-long charrette didn’t erase two years of animosity born of the hospital’s refusing to involve neighbors in its planning process in a meaningful way. But it surely helped.

The design that was unveiled June 25 stood in stark contrast to the Master Plan renditions that Enloe’s architects had been presenting to the community.

Instead of two boxy, imposing parking structures, the new design shows one structure, surrounded by townhouse-style office buildings mimicking the architecture of the historic neighborhood. Instead of closing Magnolia Avenue and funneling traffic to residential streets, the new design shows a realigned Magnolia looping between the hospital’s entrance and a large park as the most intense uses and traffic are pushed toward The Esplanade.

Dan Neumeister, Enloe’s chief operating officer, said it’s a design the hospital can accept. “We’re ending up with a much better plan,” he said.

The hospital was approached by developer Tom DiGiovanni as 2nd District Supervisor Jane Dolan approached the Chico Avenues Neighborhood Association to get on board the charrette. The idea was that, by incorporating new-urbanism principles such as walkable streets and blending with the character of the existing neighborhood, the expansion’s impact on the neighborhood could be lessened.

“It really is the same project put in a different way,” DiGiovanni said.

And while some neighbors are holding out hope that the hospital will expand somewhere else altogether, others are coming around to the idea that that’s economically impossible and signing on to an expansion they can live with.

“We are hopeful that this is the beginning of a genuine, ongoing relationship with the hospital and a renaissance for the Avenues,” said Barbara Reed, speaking for the Avenues neighborhood group.

The charrette also resulted in 10 “shared planning principles” agreed to by Enloe officials and the majority of the neighborhood association.

“Those tenets are very good tenets,” said Neumeister, who anticipates the hospital board will endorse them and make them part of the development agreement with the city of Chico. (A meeting on the project’s environmental-impact report is scheduled for July 12.)

The charrette, which cost Enloe about $75,000, included a community design workshop, a walking tour of the neighborhood, “pin-ups” to witness the plan in progress and the final presentation.

Design team leader Seth Harry joked that he worked so well with the neighbors that “Enloe was beginning to think that I was actually a double agent.”

Harry got serious toward the end of the final presentation. He was disheartened when one Enloe board member made an “unfortunate and speculative comment” about what the new design might cost. The charrette process and resulting design, Harry said, is a “blueprint for success” and “only as good as the good-faith efforts of both the neighborhood and the hospital.”

To those that doubt the lasting effects of the charrette, Harry said, “I say let’s all work to prove them wrong.”