Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – An initially divided City Council found common ground on some transformative conditions for The Village student housing project Wednesday night, keeping the proposed development alive until at least Aug. 15, when it could be further considered. But that depends on whether the developer thinks he can afford them.
Numerous speakers, including Humboldt State officials, the applicant and multiple citizens addressed the council, with opinion mixed. Some speakers described The Village as a desperately needed project to address homelessness, relieve student housing insecurity and support Humboldt State. Others described The Village a dangerous, disruptive and potentially disastrous "land grab," of inappropriate scale and composition that could be made even more dense and impactful after approval.
The council appeared poised for a deadlock on the project, with Mayor Sofia Pereira in favor pending some new conditions, including installation of a small store on the site that sells vegetables, and some say of ensuring that the city wouldn't lose property tax revenue. Councilmember Paul Pitino was also favorable toward the project if a sidewalk could be added along Eye Street.
Councilmember Susan Ornelas opposed the project for the limited housing mix, the scale and impacts on neighboring subdivisions. She wanted more options, such as 100 two-bedroom apartments in which student couples and families might dwell. Councilmember Brett Watson also wanted more diverse housing, saying he didn't want students viewed as a mere economic resource. He said the process under which The Village had been developed was inconsistent with the city's infill process.
Just when the project looked all but doomed, a breakthrough came about when project representative David Moon described a partnership agreement used at another campus housing project under which the tax stream could continue.
Ornelas said she liked that, and wanted to continue discussion on the project rather than kill it with a tied vote.
City Manager Karen Diemer suggested compiling all the conditions for further talks with the applicant to see if there was a possibility of satisfying everyone's concerns.
Negotiable conditions set by the council included the three-way tax agreement between the developer, Humboldt State and the city, retaining both the tax stream and city influence on the project; pay Arcata Fire District assessments; a ceiling of 602 students in perpetuity; the food store; and the Eye Street sidewalk.
Moon said he was amenable to discussing the conditions, but would have to ensure that they are economically viable.
With that, the council voted to carry the matter over to its Aug. 15 meeting. That session could involve a full hearing, or just a status update on progress in adapting the project to the conditions.