Row houses a go-go

Residents who live in the Doe Mill subdivision, the southwest Chico development distinguished by brightly colored, tightly spaced homes that give the neighborhood the look and feel of a giant toy town, lost their fight this week to stop the construction of 38 row houses slated to be built at Doe Mill’s main entrance.

Other Doe Mill residents as well as employees and supporters of the project’s popular New Urban Builders, led by Tom DiGiovanni and John Anderson, in the end overwhelmed and outweighed the row house opponents.

Tracy McDonald, a Chico State business professor, filed an appeal with the City Council to overturn the Planning Commission’s August approval of the row houses, which are basically free-standing townhouses built only a few inches apart.

McDonald says that three years ago when she purchased her home, which will sit in the shadow of the three-story row houses, she was not told they were part of the unique neighborhood’s future.

She said she was assured that two-story apartments, similar to those already existing in the neighborhood, would be built on the 1.42-acre site, not high-density row houses.

“A lot of people were told the same thing,” she told the council.

McDonald’s appeal objected to the proposed project’s density, its three-story design, potential parking problems it might create and the architectural style of the buildings. In her appeal, McDonald wrote, “I was told that apartments were hard to sell so the plans were changed to building regular Doe-Mill style houses.”

She said she felt she’d been misled by the Doe Mill sales people who never mentioned the building of anything over two stories.

“I would not have signed the contract for my house had I known that a dense, three-story structure would be built right behind me,” McDonald wrote.

In fact, the three-story row houses will stand only a foot-and-a-half taller than the two-story apartments would have.

Other neighbors echoed McDonald’s concerns and also mentioned the disproportionate number of renters in the neighborhood and the lack of parking on the narrow streets.

But other neighbors lauded the New Urban Builders as responsive, respectable visionaries.

DiGiovanni pointed out that he and Anderson could have legally built 300 homes on the site, but even with the inclusion of the row houses, will have constructed only 181 units. “Our basic goal was to create a neighborhood; attractive spaces, attractive places. We obsessed about details. We love this neighborhood.”

Rebecca Canterbury assured the council that she was well informed when she purchased her house two years ago that the row houses were slated for construction.

Jim Horne, who runs an Urban Builders Web site, called the neighborhood style, “the wave of the future.”

When the council finally piped up after the public input was over, Councilmembers Dan Herbert and Larry Wahl both said they didn’t care much for the high-density design, but that the row houses should be allowed.

And in the end the appeal was struck down on a 6-0 vote—Mayor Scott Gruendl conflicted out of the matter because he owns a home in Doe Mill.