New Barber project unveiled

Owner of old Diamond Match property ready to float an ambitious multi-use plan to neighbors, city

NEW LIFE? These buildings— the firehouse

NEW LIFE? These buildings— the firehouse

Photo By Tom Angel

The Ohio connection: Ohio Columbus Barber founded and laid out Stirling City, which was named for the brand of boilers that ran the mill in that mountain town. Barber had come west from Barberton, Ohio, a town he founded in 1892, to find more wood for his Diamond Match Company. While traveling through Chico, a member of his party took ill and had to stop. Barber took a look around, saw a lot of trees, and the rest is history.

For at least the third time in 10 years, a plan is being floated to develop a residential-commercial project on the 145 acres in southwest Chico known as the Barber Yard.

Neighbors have been invited to tour the property, where 100 years ago industrialist Ohio Columbus Barber built the Diamond Match Company plant. Previous plans have met with stiff opposition from neighbors and/or those who thought the property better suited for industrial rather than residential use.

Now comes an ambitious plan to incorporate three of the original buildings into a mixed use of townhouses, apartments, offices, loft-style residences and as many as 100 single-family residences onto the property that sits roughly north of Comanche Creek, east of the Union Pacific railroad tracks, south of Twelfth Street and west of Normal Street.

The project, though very tentative at this time, would include a permanent greenscape buffer 40 to 50 feet wide running around its entire perimeter. Keenly aware that neighborhood resistance could kill the project early on, its promoters have offered the tour and meetings scheduled for Aug. 1 and 2 to answer questions and possibly ease concerns.

The engineering building and lumber warehouse

Photo By Tom Angel

Jeff Greening owns the property. He purchased it from the Louisiana-Pacific Co. in 1999. L-P bought the property from Diamond in 1984 and seven years later, under court order, began a massive toxics cleanup. Some 32,500 cubic yards of soil contaminated with arsenic, which was used to control weeds along the railroad track bed, were consolidated into a two-acre site that was then capped with asphalt.

In 1997, a pump-and-treat system was installed to remove pentachlorophenol from an underground water plume. That system, says Richard Casias, an environmental consultant working for Greening, is no longer in operation because the state Department of Toxic Substances has declared the site clean. L-P still monitors the water, however,

There are two deed restrictions on the property, report Casias and Jim Stevens, an engineer with NorthStar Engineering. The asphalt cap, which covers a 40-foot-deep, plastic-lined pit topped with a five-foot layer of clean soil, can be used only for parking or perhaps something like tennis courts. Because of a second contaminated plume of water, wells cannot be connected to the city water system. That plume was caused by pollutants from the old Victor Industries plant on East 20th Street, a couple miles east of the property.

Up until a few years ago, Greening operated a prune packing plant on the north part of the property. That area, according to the tentative project plan, would hold loft-style apartments aimed at university students. Single-family houses would sit along the eastern part of the parcel, with 16th Street as the primary entrance. Even-numbered streets from 14th to 20th would also provide access to the east. Ivy Street would enter from the north.

The plan calls for the use of roundabouts, including one at 22nd Street and Estes Road, which would then connect to where Ivy Street is currently stubbed at Commerce Court south of the property. From there Ivy connects to Meyers Street, which opens onto Park Avenue.

The apiary—are about all that remains of the 100-year-old Diamond Match Co.

Photo By Tom Angel

Anticipating protests from neighbors concerned about truck traffic coming from the businesses along Meyers, the roundabout at 22nd and Estes would be small enough, Casias says, to discourage larger vehicles from coming though the neighborhood.

Because of the mighty and successful opposition a few years ago to building Otterson Bridge across nearby Comanche Creek, the Barber Yard plans do not propose a creek crossing.

The plan calls for a mix of residential and commercial use, and a national natural-foods market is reportedly showing interest in the project. There are four remaining original Diamond Match buildings. (The first building, constructed in 1903, burned to the ground in 1904.) Three of those structures, the cavernous lumber warehouse and engineering building as well as the old firehouse, are to be kept and incorporated into the plan, possibly as office or commercial space.

About 10 years ago the city of Chico purchased for $90,000 the lumber that makes up the warehouse in an attempt to preserve the building. If the building were torn down, the city would salvage the wood. If it remains, the city considers the $90,000 a successful investment in saving the structure.

The fourth building, where beehive inserts were produced, will most likely be torn down because of its poor condition.

“I think the plan is feasible to the extent the neighbors accept it," said City Manager Tom Lando. "It’s a great site, but these guys are going to have to be patient and go slow. But it is doable."