Sierra Moon wanes

Last Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ discussion of local developer Steve Schuster’s proposed Sierra Moon project, a 118-home housing development on 229 acres of land in North Chico, was a study in frustration for all involved.

For the board, the discussion unveiled an embarrassing gaffe made by county staff, who failed six years ago to record a board directive stating how large a percentage of each lot size could be covered by a home. That apparently happened when the board approved an earlier development on the same land, then called the Stephens project.

Current zoning for the area stipulates that homes can cover only 15 percent of the lot they are placed on, but Schuster said that since most of the lots he plans to build on are approximately one-third of an acre in size, his homes would wind up being too small to attract buyers. The Stephens project was apparently exempted to allow up to 50 percent of each lot to be built upon, but now the supervisors either can’t remember exactly what they decided or disagree on what they were trying to do. County planners now have to go back and figure it out, which will take at least another three months.

Schuster, who bought the land and revived the project almost two years ago, was hoping to have the project approved today, as this is only the latest appeal in a string of attempts by neighbors and airport boosters to scuttle the project.

Those project opponents also spoke at the meeting, bringing up familiar concerns over the project’s scale, its proximity to the airport, and its potential to increase flooding of Keefer Slough. Many neighbors also think the subdivision will put too much traffic onto local roads, including the tiny, potholed and prone-to-flooding Hicks Lane. Some at the meeting called for a full environmental-impact report, which could cost Schuster tens of thousands of dollars and bring up even more environmental concerns.

Supervisor Mary Anne Houx, whose district the project is in, said she thinks that current project plans for a community septic system are inadequate and short-sighted.

“These community sewer systems sound just ducky, but they’re not,” she said, asking that all the new units be plumbed so they can someday connect with Chico’s sewer system. “We already have an $80 million bill to clean up nitrate problems, and here we’re repeating the mistake.”

Houx voted for the original project in 1998 but has likely been kicking herself ever since, as many of her constituents are unhappy with seeing so many homes built in the area. Now that the city and county are supposedly going to share planning responsibilities for North Chico, she wants the project to conform to Chico’s stricter urban standards. If the project is stalled long enough for the county to pass an “overlay ordinance” detailing the area to be jointly planned, she may get her wish.

But as Paradise Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi pointed out, the project may end up looking slightly different, but in the end there is no stopping it.

"I think some people are laboring under the illusion that we can say, ‘There will be no development out there.' We have made some promises; now we are obligated to keep them," he said.