Specific plan gets look-see

The Northwest Specific Plan—for 650 acres of land that straddles the Esplanade north of Eaton Road and could be home to up to 2,500 new houses and apartments and commercial properties—got a good going over this week by the Chico City Council and the Planning Commission.

The idea is to bring all interested parties—landowners, developers and community members—to the table and create a specific plan that encompasses the entire area rather than allowing individual subdivisions to sprout up on their own, creating traffic problems and hodge-podge development.

The 14 members of the council and commission considered three alternatives, two developed by citizens who took part in workshops last November and one by the developers and landowners.

The chief differences among the plans had to do with where to locate the commercial center, whether to mix the apartment buildings with the single-family residences, the best way to control storm water runoff, where to locate park land, street connectivity and how to work around PG&E transmission lines.

Alternative A includes a 150-foot-wide “linear detention facility,” a storm runoff channel that would be landscaped and run from The Esplanade southwest to near Mud Creek. Seen as additional park land by supporters and little more than a mosquito breeding ditch by detractors, it would necessitate moving and burying the PG&E lines, which everyone seemed to agree was too costly and impractical.

The developers’ plan calls for 10 cul-de-sacs, a street pattern discouraged by the city’s general plan—because it dumps neighborhood traffic on to select roads—but popular with developers because, they believe, houses on cul-de-sacs are popular with homebuyers.

Conservatives supported the cul-de-sacs and keeping the apartments together away from the single-family homes.

Progressives supported keeping the detention facility and greater mixing of the apartments and homes.

Where to place the commercial area—close to Shasta School or closer to the southwest section near Mud Creek—did not fall into camps of political philosophies. Some progressives did call for the commercial zone to be located along the greenway detention facility; Councilmember Larry Wahl said doing so would hide the businesses from potential customers.

Comments from the community were mixed, ranging from tepid support to calls for a building moratorium.

City staff and a consultant team from Berkeley-based Design, Community and Environment will consider the input and come back with more information on March 2.