Suburban infill development connects with nature

New Urban Builders, based in Chico, California, had big development plans prior to the housing crash — but those plans were put in indefinite hold. Now the firm is dipping a toe back into single-family housing with a 24-unit suburban infill project called Forest Park.

The project is adjacent to a nature center and Chico’s Bidwell Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the US. The layout, which includes bungalow courts and small lot houses with single-car garages in the back, is designed in a naturalistic style. The single new street meanders around existing live oaks.

There’s not much single-family New Urbanism these days. Where it is happening, it is often small infill projects like this one. John Anderson, of Anderson|Kim Architecture and Urban Design, has mostly worked on attached dwellings and mixed-use of late. “If you told me a little while ago I’d be doing single family in Chico now I’d have said you’re crazy,” he told Better! Cities & Towns.

Prior to the crash, New Urban Builders specialized in nicely designed and constructed production housing in a traditional neighborhood development (TND) format. The firm was about to embark on a 1,500-unit development with a full-scale town center — designed by Leon Krier no less — but now this 4-acre infill development seems like a more realistic increment.

Chico is a steadily growing town — population rose by 42 percent from 2000-2010. Chico State University keeps on growing, and the city is the major center between Sacramento and Redding. And the weather is really nice.

The project is about two miles from downtown in a part of town that was developed in the latter half of the 20th Century. It has a Walk Score of 48. But it does have potential for densification and mixed-use, which would make it more of a complete community. An important artery that runs by the park (and the Forest Park project) called 8th Street, was retrofitted and traffic-calmed recently. Traffic speed has slowed from 45 mph to about 30 mph, and a bicycle lane installed.

For now, the major amenity for the site is Bidwell Park, which will allow residents to bicycle downtown or to facilities like a playground or athletic field in a few minutes, removed from city streets. The project positions itself as “Bidwell Park at Your Doorstep.”