A strange thing happened at Tuesday’s City Council discussion of a small housing subdivision to be built on Bruce Road north of Little Chico Creek. Actually, a couple of strange things.
First, city Planning Director Kim Seidler told the council that, while the agenda stated that he was opposed to the project, which was before the council on an appeal to the Planning Commission’s 6-1 decision to turn it down, Seidler was actually recommending that the project move forward. While he said several times that he didn’t particularly care for the design of the 12-home subdivision and that it barely met the city’s density requirements, he nonetheless urged the council to accept the developers’ appeal and let them build it.
“A majority of the [planning] commission did not like the design—they would have preferred a more-clustered approach. I’m not crazy about it either, but it is consistent with the General Plan.”
The commission, Seidler said, has been trying to push developers into creating projects that maximize land use by building a variety of homes that can appeal to a mix of homebuyer incomes. The commission recommended this to the developers, Marty Lugar and Andrew Meghdadi, who want to build with a density of 4.8 units per acre on land the city was hoping would hold 10 units per acre. Complicating things, the city raised the minimum density requirements for the area a few months ago, after the project application was submitted, so there was some question as to what standard the project should be held to.
Lugar told the council there are not enough houses in Chico to met demand, which is why the average earner here cannot afford to buy a home. But Councilman Andy Holcombe bristled at this statement, pointing out that if developers would build smaller homes, there could be a lot more homes available as well as a more efficient use of land.
“To make the argument that this project is trying to meet community housing needs out of some altruism on your part is … not a valid argument,” Holcombe said.
After environmentalist John Merz told the council the project would adversely affect Little Chico Creek and might harm the local ecosystem, the ideological divide on the council began to appear. Holcombe, who said he would reluctantly support the project, urged the council to hold open the debate so that more people could comment on the issue. His suggestion was shot down, with Councilman Dan Herbert accusing “some people in this town” of “delay[ing] any project, whether it’s 12 homes or 20.”
Councilman Steve Bertagna then jumped in, saying, “This is a perfect example of what is wrong with ‘no growth.’ I personally think the Planning Commission’s findings are asinine. This is a 12-unit subdivision. It’s met all the criteria, we’ve had a public hearing. It’s a no-brainer.”
Herbert agreed, saying, “These delays are pushing projects back two, three, four years. Don’t you think that contributes to the lack of housing in this community?”
After an hour and a half, the council approved the appeal, adding a few minor stipulations about fences and trees.