Round two for Enloe

Choppers, incoming! Now it’s the City Council’s turn to take a whack at the Enloe Medical Center expansion, noisy helicopters and all.

The Chico Planning Commission on Feb. 16 wrapped up its discussion of the proposed $120 million expansion on The Esplanade, voting unanimously to recommend approval of a development agreement and amendments to the city’s General Plan and zoning ordinance. At its previous meeting, the group had voted, with Commissioner Jon Luvaas opposing, to recommend that the City Council also certify the project’s environmental impact report. The council will take it up March 21.

The commission voted to keep FlightCare operations at the hospital, despite pleas from neighbors to base flights at the Chico Municipal Airport. Luvaas, who had lobbied to move FlightCare to the hospital’s facility on Cohasset Road, ultimately joined in the unanimous vote.

Dan Neumeister, Enloe’s chief operating officer, said it would cost the hospital $350,000 a year to base the helicopters at the airport. As part of the conditions in the EIR, Enloe must compensate 35 noise-affected neighbors by retrofitting homes at a total cost of $700,000.

“The helicopter doesn’t make any money; it just saves lives,” he said.

Neumeister, concerned the commission might add conditions that could force Enloe to pursue a new EIR, added that “postponing a project of this size is about a million dollars a month.”

Kristine Mazzei, representing the Chico Avenues Neighborhood Association (CANA), also asked the city to add teeth to a handshake “covenant” Enloe officials agreed to after a charette held after months of neighbors’ complaints that they were being shut out of the planning process. CANA wants Enloe to set a timeline for its promised neighborhood parking plan, get its tower design approved by the city’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) and take other measures to mitigate the impact of the expansion.

“The neighborhood needs to be engaged from the very early stages of every piece of the design from this point forward,” Mazzei said.

Also debated was whether Enloe should be made to include liner buildings around its parking garage, or at least set the garage back from the street so offices or residences could be added later to buffer the behemoth from the residential neighborhood.

At the end of the meeting, commission Chair Irv Schiffman told hospital officials, “We did our best not to impose a great deal of additional cost on you.”