This old house
Historic dwelling faces demolition
Somebody at City Hall screwed up, and Josh and Scott Hubbard are feeling the pain.
The Hubbards are Chico brothers who have stepped up to save a ramshackle 130-year-old cottage on Fifth Street near Ivy whose owner wants to build apartments on the site. (See “To save a house,” Newslines, Feb. 11.)
The dwelling, built in 1883, is the only remaining example of the Gothic revival style in Chico. The Hubbards want to move it to a parcel they own on Humboldt Avenue and restore it. Its owner will give them the house at no cost, but time is running short. He plans to start demolition this month.
When the Hubbards went to City Hall to find out how much they would have to pay in fees, they were told that, because the Humboldt Avenue lot once had a house on it, they would be given development-fee credits that would bring down their cost to $4,799.
That was good news for the brothers. The cost of moving and restoring the house, which is in poor but salvageable condition, is estimated at $200,000. If they had to pay much more in fees, the project would no longer be viable.
Then they learned that someone had made a mistake. There hadn’t been a house on the Humboldt Avenue lot after all, so they didn’t qualify for development-impact fee credits. The true cost: nearly $22,000.
Community Services Director Mark Wolfe said he didn’t know how the “miscommunication” occurred, but “obviously misinformation was shared, causing a rude awakening down the road.”
Adding insult to injury, the Hubbards learned that the fee credits would go to the house’s owner, who wants to put in apartments.
The Hubbards believe that, by restoring the old house, they are preserving a small but valuable part of Chico’s history. So on Tuesday (Aug. 2), Josh Hubbard came before the Chico City Council asking it to waive some of the fees.
Council members were unanimously sympathetic and applauded Hubbard for his historic-preservation effort, but, some asked, who’s going to pay its fees? The money would have to come out of the general fund, Mayor Mark Sorensen pointed out. The city would be “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Vice Mayor Sean Morgan added.
Several citizens spoke in favor of waiving the fees, including John Gallardo and Paul Lieberum of the Chico Heritage Association. Calling what happened to the old house “demolition by neglect,” Lieberum said CHA would like the city to create tighter regulations and penalties for such inattention.
Even fiscal watchdog Stephanie Taber, ever on the lookout for misspent money, supported waiving all but $5,000 in fees.
For his part, Josh Hubbard was perplexed. Why is it, he asked, that when we move and restore a house that has paid for city services in the past, we have to pay development fees all over again? And why does the person who’s actually going to build new units, the current owner, get the fee credits?
Those are the rules, he was told. Too late to change them now.
Councilman Andrew Coolidge strongly urged his council colleagues to find some way to help out the Hubbards. “We need to save our history,” he said, lest we begin to “look faceless, like Roseville and Granite Bay.”
Sorensen said he hadn’t heard a good argument for why the city should pay the fees for a private developer. “If we approve this one, get ready for the flood” of others wanting fee waivers, he warned.
In the end, the council denied Coolidge’s motion to waive all but $5,000 of the fees. The vote was 2-5, with him and Councilwoman Ann Schwab in the minority. The council also voted unanimously to examine the feasibility of establishing a fee-credit policy for moving historic houses.
Councilwoman Tami Ritter then urged the Hubbards to set up a GoFundMe crowdfunding account and personally pledged $100 if they do so.