Up from the ashes

Controversial Oak Valley housing project returns

Earthmovers ready to roll for development of the Oak Valley housing development.

Earthmovers ready to roll for development of the Oak Valley housing development.

Photo By tom gascoyne

Earthmovers have broken ground on the proposed Oak Valley housing development off Bruce Road near Highway 32 in east Chico. The 340-acre site is designed to include 159 single-family houses in its first phase and add more than 1,100 apartment units and 109,000 square feet of commercial retail space by the time it is completed, said city Senior Planner Bob Summerville.

The project developer, Tom Fogarty, purchased the property—which sits near the site of the old Humboldt Burn Dump—20 years ago. The project’s layout and its location led to a dozen years of contentious meetings between Fogarty and the City Council, as well as two lawsuits. The project received final approval in 2008, but then lay dormant for the next five years. In that time, Fogarty reportedly sold the property and then recently repurchased it. The earthmovers arrived on Aug. 5.

His company, Fogarty Investments, is working with Salaber Associates to develop the individual lots, which will then be sold to individual housing contractors for the actual construction of the homes.

Fogarty’s first lawsuit filed against the city was to get reimbursed for cleaning up the toxic soil on the land that was the result of the old city/county burn dump that stopped operations in 1965, after decades of receiving local waste materials. Tests, as required by the State Regional Water Quality Control Board back in 1987, revealed the soil contained high levels of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (produced by burning creosote, crude oil and roofing tar), copper, chromium, lead and other metals. This led to the 20-year process of figuring out who was responsible for cleanup.

In the end Fogarty paid for the cleanup, which resulted in a mound of contaminated soil that has been covered and capped to keep it contained. The mound sits near the northeast corner of Bruce and Humboldt roads. Fogarty’s lawsuit resulted in a cash payout of $2 million ($400,000 from the general fund and $1.5 from insurance). In addition, the city, acting as the redevelopment agency, put $6.5 million into a trust fund for public improvements associated with the subdivision. The RDA also paid $1 million to buy the land on which the developer’s waste cell is located. Including legal costs, Fogarty’s lawsuit resulted in a settlement of just more than $10.8 million.

The original project plan called for about 80 houses to be built up into the foothills and was approved by the city Planning Commission. That approval was then appealed by folks who wanted to save the foothill viewshed and the nearby Humboldt Wagon Trail, and the City Council agreed the houses should be moved.

Fogarty sued again. Butte County Superior Court Judge Barbara Roberts ruled he had not notified the city of his suit within the required 90 days of the decision to remove the 80 houses. Fogarty’s attorney appealed to the state Supreme Court, which agreed with the lower court ruling.

Summerville, who’s been assigned to monitor the project for the city, said he is still coming up to speed on it.

“I didn’t work on it originally, but now I’m sort of the last man standing,” he said in reference to recent personnel changes in the city’s planning department.

He said the project requires the installation of two above-ground water tanks capable of storing 1 million gallons of water to supply the future neighborhood.

“They need a use permit, which they have not secured yet, but I understand they are close to applying for it,” Summerville said.

That use permit will require an environmental review by the city.

Summerville said his office has been getting calls on a daily basis since the project began again from people asking what is going on with the site.

He said there was a preconstruction meeting Aug. 2 and he and the city’s Public Works staff walked the site to make sure conditions were up to par, including wrapping protective fences around the remaining trees and proper signage warning about fugitive dust that could be kicked up by the earthmovers.

“We knew it would be high-profile stuff,” Summerville said. “We delayed them for two to three weeks until they showed us they had the permits from the Army Corps [of Engineers], [California Department of] Fish and Wildlife, and [U.S.] Fish and [Wildlife Service].”

He said Fogarty and the city attorney are “taking matters very carefully” at this point. “They are hoping to get the certificate for occupancy around this time next year.”