Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA –The City Council last week took up the matter of The Village student housing project.
The project introduced to the council was heavily revised from the proposal the Planning Commission had not approved. Along with physical changes to the buildings and layout, the operational paradigm shifted as well, with Humboldt State University announcing a partnership with the developers under which the university would manage The Village.
New Village version
Village 3.0 represents a sweeping overhaul of the project, with changes intended to ameliorate shortcomings highlighted by critics.
• Capacity has been reduced from 700 (originally 800) to 602 students.
• The number of housing units has been reduced from 240 to 152.
• The project now consists of five buildings rather than four.
• Three of the buildings have been reduced to two stories 35 feet in height. These are now located on the western side of the 11.3 acre Craftsmans Mall site facing the Westwood neighborhood.
• The building parallel to Maple Lane has been moved eastward some 230 feet away from that Westwood street.
• The two 3-story, 45 foot tall buildings are located on the east side, facing U.S. Highway 101.
• The housing units have been redesigned as mostly 3- and 4-bedroom units with a kitchen and living area. Also included are study rooms, Internet cafés, multimedia presentation rooms and outside, a community garden.
• Parking has been increased from 366 to 409 spaces.
• There will also be 185 indoor bike parking spaces and 12 EV charging stations, plus a bus stop and trail connectivity. The trail will require partial vacation by the city of part of St. Louis Road.
• The project would now be managed and supported by Humboldt State University – including service from HSU Police – as part of a partnership agreement.
The partnership was announced in a letter by Humboldt State President Lisa Rossbacher. States a university press release, “Under the management agreement, AMCAL would provide funding for HSU to manage the facility. Students would be provided support and programming, and a full-time Residence Life Coordinator would live at the facility along with a team of Resident Advisor student employees. University Police and HSU facilities staff would provide services.”
• The press release also states that rental rates for rooms at The Village have been reduced to slightly less than similar units on campus.
• The developers will pay $75,000 to study improvements to the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
• The developers will contribute $353,551 toward future improvement of the L.K. Wood Boulevard and Sunset Avenue intersection. A staff report states that traffic impacts at L.K. Wood Boulevard and Sunset Avenue are “significant and unavoidable,” but are subject to “overriding consideration” of the benefits of increased student housing, despite the impacts. The statement of overriding consideration had been approved by the Planning Commission.
• The project will be LEED Silver and include photovoltaic panels.
• Any sale of the property or project to a non-profit entity (such as Humboldt State) would require the new owner to continue to pay the City of Arcata an 8 percent share of annual property tax with an escalation for fair market value, or pay the city $300,000. Update: this apparently will be changed now that Humboldt State is affiliating with the project.
Last week’s two meetings were considered introductory, identifying the proposal’s details and major objections by opponents for the City Council.
Council meetings to come will include a field trip to the site, set for June 19, and further meetings to consider environmental review and other details.
Required are a General Plan amendment, a zoning amendment, Planned Development and Design Review permits and the St. Louis Road partial vacation, plus approval of a Development Agreement.
Councilmember Michael Winkler has recused himself from the matter, having performed energy consulting work for AMCAL Equities LLC, one of the project’s two developers along with Coleraine Capital, Inc. That leaves an even-numbered council to process the project.
Community Development Director David Loya, described the project’s history and overall details. He cited a housing study conducted by the university which found that some 49 percent of students had difficulty finding a place to live – 22 percent found it difficult; 27 percent “very difficult.” Some 21 percent were without permanent housing for some period, while 64 percent said renting in the off-campus market had had a negative impact on their academic efforts.
A city staff report states that the alternative housing proposal forged by Arcata Citizens for Responsible Housing (ACRH) didn’t significantly reduce environmental or traffic impacts, and didn’t warrant consideration as a project alternative.
Project applicant David Moon of Coleraine Capital Group offered background on The Village.
He said his involvement in student housing sprang from trying to find housing for his college-age children. From this sprang a number of since-successful housing projects.
He described The Village as “a purpose-built and inclusive” student housing project, one that’s consistent with the city’s Housing Element and which has been improved by public comment.
The Village, he said, would help address housing discrimination against students of color.
“We feel that we’re making a positive difference,” Moon said. “We feel we’re part of the solution.”
Moon said that Humboldt State infuses the area with $300 million annually, plus 8,000 jobs, and deserves support in trying to provide quality student housing.
He said the project would eventually come out as LEED Gold, a higher level that the designated LEED Silver for environmentally-friendly construction.
Thursday night’s meeting was intended for ACRH to weigh in, and for the council to do its due diligence in scoping the project.
During disclosure of ex parte communications, Councilmember Susan Ornelas likened the project to the old Colony Inn, which she said people remember as a “nightmare.”
“That weighs on me,” Ornelas said. Other councilmembers disclosed their conversations about the project without qualitative comment on its merits.
Public comment was largely dominated by opponents. ACRH had urged the public to weigh in, and had provided talking points.
ACRH attorney Chip Wilkins said the two-minute limit on comments was unfair to citizens, since the developer had unlimited time to speak. He urged the council to reject the proposal.
HSU student Chante Catt said the project is needed to address student homelessness and reduce exploitation by landlords on the open market. “Our students are suffering,” she said. “We need this project.”
Objections to the project included the cost of the rooms in The Village, that the developers won’t pay prevailing wage to local laborers, removal of the project from local tax rolls, the secretive nature of discussions between the developers and Humboldt State, redactions to recently disclosed emails between the developers and HSU, cumulative traffic impacts, declining student enrollment, neighborhood disruption, capital flight from Arcata from rents being sent elsewhere, the late notice of changes to the project and of HSU’s new partnership, negative effects on the community and on rental markets from a “student ghetto,” the “inevitable bleedover” of parking into adjacent neighborhoods, incompatibility with area neighborhoods, the potential for obnoxious partying by students, demands on city services, and more.
Former Mayor Connie Stewart said infill projects like The Village are necessary in order to protect the Western Greenbelt from development.
“We can do so much better than this project,” said ACRH Co-Director Julie Vaissade-Elcock. She said abundant local design talent should be utilized to create a superior project.
HSU, City Council go a-Villaging
On Monday, June 18, Humboldt State University will host a town hall meeting to answer questions about the University’s plan to operate the proposed Village Housing facility.
The meeting will be in the Great Hall (College Creek complex) from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Community members are invited to attend, and parking will be free for guests. To access parking, turn south from Harpst onto Rossow streets and park in lot G12 (there will be designated reserved parking spaces).
In attendance will be Doug Dawes (HSU Vice President for Administration and Finance), Stephen St. Onge (HSU Director of Housing and Residence Life), Todd Larsen (HSU Associate Director for Business Operations), Chant’e Catt (HSU Student Housing Advocate), and David Moon (Project Developer).
The agenda includes a brief presentation on the operational plan for the Village project by HSU staff and a question and answer period.
The Villaging continues Tuesday, June 19 at 4 p.m. as the City Council takes a field trip to 2715–2920 St. Louis Road, site of the Craftsmans Mall and possibly, The Village. The meeting is open to the public.
The council first meets at City Hall, 736 F St. At 4:05 it departs to tour the site and proposed ingress/egress routes to consider site access and non-vehicular paths.
The council then returns to City Hall, where it will resume the meeting at 6:30 p.m. A staff report recommends that the council then:
1. Consider a brief staff report on the items requested at the last hearing, including any discussion on the: a. Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR);
b. Final EIR Findings of Fact and Statement of Overriding Considerations;
c. Vacation Process for St. Louis Road Right-of-Way;
d. Development Agreement;
e. General Plan and Zoning Map Amendments; and
f. Permits including Design Review, Planned Development Permit and Parcel Merger;
2. Provide staff or the applicant with direction and continue the public hearing to a date certain.