Slicing and dicing
Proposed golf-course housing project east of Chico at center of discussion as county Planning Commission begins dissecting land-use alternatives
Last Friday (May 30), Mo West had a lot on the line. The fate of his Tuscan Ridge Golf Course was at stake.
The Butte County Planning Commission was holding an all-day meeting, the first of two, to make its general-plan recommendations on where future growth in the county should go. At some point it would make a decision that, as far as West was concerned, would determine whether his golf course would survive.
West is the Chico developer who built the California Park neighborhood in east Chico, along with many other residential and commercial projects here and in Paradise. He also owns the land along the Skyway on which the Tuscan Ridge Golf Course sits, off the Skyway southwest of Paradise.
Like most new golf courses, its future is uncertain at best. West’s answer is to do what many course owners do: build some houses on it. His idea is to cluster 163 units on 35 acres in the center of the course. Residents would provide a membership base that would make Tuscan Ridge financially feasible.
To do that, he first needed the Planning Commission to approve a proposal for the general plan’s so-called “Study Area 10,” in which the course was located, that would allow his housing project to be feasible.
In one way, West was lucky. Study Area 10 was the third of 17 study areas (out of 29 altogether) to be decided on that day. That meant he wouldn’t have to wait around for long.
Here’s the deal: Population growth between now and 2030, the county general plan’s horizon date, will require the addition of some 10,000 new homes in the unincorporated areas (many thousands more will be needed in the cities). For the past year, the county has been holding workshops to collect information, and its Citizens Advisory Committee has been analyzing and organizing the information to come up with the 29 study areas.
With each study area, the CAC presented three alternatives: no change from the current general plan; modest development; more development (though it some cases it came up with a fourth alternative). It was also asked to recommend one of the alternatives.
Friday’s commission hearing was to go over the 17 study areas in the Paradise and Oroville areas, including Study Area 10. Paradise was set for the morning session, Oroville for the afternoon.
The most populated area was Study Area 5, the Paradise Pines/Magalia region, which has nearly 20,000 residents and major constraints against further development, including wildfire hazards, limited access and no sewer system. The CAC supported allowing an additional 400 homes in the area, as well as an additional 170 acres of retail. Constraints must be addressed first, the group said.
After considerable discussion, the commissioners approved the CAC’s recommendation, 4-1, with Paradise-area Commissioner Fernando Marin dissenting because the action would effectively downzone about 3,400 parcels already delineated in the current general plan for development.
Study Area 12 is contiguous to Paradise, and the town is already drawing up a specific plan for the development of some 600 homes and eventual annexation, so the commission voted 5-0 to defer to the town.
The CAC recommended that Study Area 11 remain as an urban reserve, which means it will have no further development unless and until annexed by the town of Paradise.
The commission also took up the Concow region, Study Area 7, deciding again to follow the CAC’s recommendations and allow few new homes in the area, but a slightly larger retail center at the site of the current store. As Commissioner Rick Leland put it, “This is a very remote area—not where we want to put new houses.”
There was some controversy over Study Area 13, which is west of Pentz Road, near the Lime Saddle Marina. The CAC had recommended minimal development, but a fellow named Mark Adams informed the commissioners that he represented a developer who wanted to cluster some houses on property in the area that was suitable for development.
Noting the current general plan allowed the project, he lamented, “In hindsight, we really blew it.” If they hadn’t come forward and asked to be in a study area, he said, they could just proceed with the project.
The commission agreed that Adams’ argument made sense and overrode the CAC’s recommendation to designate the area for resource conservation, voting unanimously to keep the existing designation.
The commission also took up Study Area 20, around the intersection of Clark and Durham-Pentz roads, near Butte College. The CAC had recommended expanding retail on the corner, but commissioners voted 4-1 to leave it as is, with Marin dissenting.
By the time the discussion of Paradise ended, it was nearly 3 p.m. With a one-hour lunch break, that was five hours of talking. And nearly two of those hours were spent discussing Mo West’s golf course in Study Area 10.
West himself presented his proposal, pointing out that the 163-acre course was already in place, the land on which the houses would be built was already graded, and the course was an economic boon to the county, providing jobs and recreation.
His goal, he said, was to build a “resort-type project” with a clubhouse, fitness center, restaurant, lounge, swimming pool and convenience store to support “a lifestyle built around the golf course.” The course will remain open to the public, but the members—he’s hoping for 300 altogether—will give it a much-needed economic foundation.
He had a great PR pitch, too: CalFire used his pond as a water source during the recent Skyway fires.
Carol Perkins, a Durham resident and member of its water board, worried that development would increase runoff and flooding in her area. Mike McLaughlin, of Paradise, called the project “a classic case of leapfrog development.” And Robin Huffman, a Paradise town councilwoman and candidate for District 5 supervisor, noted that Tuscan Ridge had been approved as a golf course, not a housing project.
This was the one study area on which the CAC had been unable to make a recommendation, splitting right down the middle, with 10 members supporting no development and the same number supporting allowing West’s project.
Interestingly, it was Leland, who’s from Durham, who strongly opposed West’s project, arguing it was indeed leapfrog development. And it was Chico-area Commissioner Chuck Nelson, one of the group’s more liberal members, who argued for it.
“If we were starting from scratch, I would agree with Commissioner Leland,” he said. “But the golf course is here. If we’re going to designate a place to develop, why not a place that already exists?”
The West alternative passed, 3-2, with Chico Commissioner Nina Lambert joining Leland in dissent.
Mo West left the meeting wearing a smile. He’s got a way to go—the Board of Supervisors first must agree with the commission regarding Study Area 10, and after that the project will have to go through the entire application process, including hearings before both bodies. But on Friday he jumped a big hurdle, and he left happy.
The commissioners subsequently took up the Oroville-area study areas. You can find their decisions at www.buttegeneralplan.net