Projectus interruptus

“Officially we have not pulled completely out of Chico, but at this point we are not very optimistic that we’re going to be able to negotiate a deal whereby the sellers are willing to give us additional extensions to buy.” So said Craig Dickerson this week about the controversial student housing project that a Houston-based company wants to build in Chico. Dickerson works for Sterling University Housing, which met a firestorm of opposition from neighbors when it proposed building a 320-unit apartment complex along Highway 32 near Eighth Avenue.

In order to allow it, the city would have to change the property’s zoning from light manufacturing to medium-density housing. Sterling, which looks to college towns across the country as potential places to build its apartment complexes, has invested more than $100,000 so far. Neighbors say they can’t stand the thought of students living so close to railroad tracks that run near the proposed site. And the traffic, which is already bad along Nord Avenue, will only get worse, they say. Right now the site is an orchard, and the neighbors like it that way, though they say they could live with an industry if it moved there.

The fact is those neighbors don’t want a bunch of students living near them. And even though Sterling has scaled the project back to 176 three- and four-bedroom apartments, included a police substation in the plans, offered to build a bike path and work with Chico State to extend the student shuttle to the complex to lessen traffic woes, the neighbors (some of whom happen to own student housing themselves) are dead set against any project that will bring students anywhere near them. With a project so altered, Sterling has to start over and bring its proposal back to the Planning Commission, which takes time and costs money. Dickerson says at this point the odds of the project’s going forward are about 50-50. Sterling, which since 1956 has built 30,000 student apartment units in 28 college towns in 21 states, could look for another piece of land in Chico or push ahead with this one. The answer should come any day.

Look for more tree-removal controversy to surface as CalTrans gets ready to remove trees and bushes along the east side of Highway 99 just north of the park and along Rey Way so it can construct an 18-foot-high sound wall instead. We got a call from an agitated Dave Boos, who lives nearby on Sierra Vista. He said he approached Cal-Trans workers as they tagged the trees and bushes. “What are you doing?” Boos says he asked the orange-shirted men. “They said they are all going to go. Nobody knows about this. They just kind of snuck it through.”

You may notice an inordinate amount of copy from me in this week’s paper. Then again, you may not, so I’m pointing it out to you. I’m not sure why this has happened. It could be the new computer I received last week. It’s not a brand-new computer. It’s used, but still new for me. As I told Contributing Editor Josh Indar, it’s sort of like I’ve upgraded from a ‘74 Pinto to an ‘86 Skylark. In other words, a vast improvement.

Whatever the reason, the best thing about my contributing so much (for a change) to the paper is that for the next two months or so I can carry this paper around and when the staff asks why I’ve been so lazy lately, I can pull the paper out, hold it aloft and say, "What about this? Huh? Remember this?" Heck, I can probably ride this one until August or September. See ya next fall.