CHICO >> Susan Tchudi has issues with Valley’s Edge. Ask her, and she’ll speak at length about water, traffic, greenhouse gases, wildfire, wildlife — a list of ways her advocacy group, Smart Growth Advocates, and partner organizations say the project will impact Chico.

Tchudi made her case to the Chico City Council last Tuesday (Jan. 3) at a public hearing in which twice as many opponents, like her, than supporters spoke on the development. After three and a half hours, councilors approved Valley’s Edge on a 5-1 vote.

“We did anticipate that that’s what would happen,” Tchudi said Saturday afternoon. “It wasn’t a surprise, and we were pretty prepared for it.”

Preparations included a plan to challenge the council’s decision. As announced at a news conference Friday, Smart Growth Advocates has started the process for a referendum — and, with support from the Sierra Club, intends to file a lawsuit to stop the project.

The referendum organizers need 5,600 signatures to get their measure on the ballot, in a special election. Tchudi said their target is 7,000 to ensure they qualify. Organizers have 30 days after the city responds to their challenge, filed Friday with City Attorney Vince Ewing, to collect the required signatures. That’s roughly 233 signatures a day between mid-January and mid-February.

Tchudi called the signature effort “daunting” but said her group is drawing range of volunteers beyond Smart Growth Advocates’ 20 core members.

The project applicant also cited a broad base in a statement to this newspaper.

“The Valley’s Edge Specific Plan represents the input of thousands of people working for over 14 years to create a plan that meets the future needs of Chico,” the statement says. “The plan evolved with feedback from residents, organizations, and government representatives, leading to project approval….

“We are extremely proud of this citywide collaboration. We believe any further effort to delay it is unreasonable and will unfairly punish Chico residents wishing to own homes by limiting choice, resulting in higher home prices.”

At issue

Valley’s Edge encompasses 1,448 acres between East 20th Street and the Skyway from Stilson Canyon Road to Honey Run Road. The project site abuts Stonegate, the 700-home development approved for construction along Bruce Road.

Smart Growth Advocates formed six years ago in response to Stonegate, Tchudi said.

For Valley’s Edge, the council approved a conceptual plan, called a specific plan, and a 20-year development agreement for the site. The specific plan calls for 28 acres of very low-density residential (20,000-square-foot lots), 131 acres of low-density residential (15,000 square feet), 334 acres of low-density single-family housing, 101 acres of medium-density residential, and 9 acres medium/high-density residential. All told, these would yield 2,777 units.

The plan also includes a community core of mixed uses, including apartments and a school; a 419-acre regional park; and 267 acres of open space with three community parks.

“In addition to housing and other benefits, Valley’s Edge will provide the largest parkland dedication since Bidwell Park was gifted to the city in 1905,” according to the statement. Developer Bill Brouhard also has pledged to preserve natural resources and historical features, such as rock walls, on the property.

Referendum organizers assert the development, which would bring 6,000 residents or more to that edge of town, will do irreversible harm. They point to findings in the final environmental impact report that Valley’s Edge cannot mitigate two significant impacts, greenhouse-gas emissions and aesthetic changes to the viewshed.

Other impacts detailed by the group include traffic and congestion from 23,000 to 28,000 additional trips a day, including on the Skyway, a Paradise Ridge escape route; further stress on the Lower Tuscan Aquifer to provide water to the development; stormwater runoff into environmentally sensitive areas in the Butte Creek watershed; and encroachment into wildlife habitats.

Tchudi said Smart Growth Advocates has financial backing for its legal challenge from Sierra Club and partners such as Friends of Butte Creek.

“We’ve got to get a lot of people,” she said of the referendum drive, “but we feel like the tide has kind of turned. It took a long time to get attention to Valley’s Edge.

“I’m optimistic, but I do feel it’s daunting.”