Mad River Union
ARCATA BOTTOM – Weighing an Arcata Bottom property owner’s desires against the City of Arcata’s goal of avoiding development in prime farmland, a majority of the Board of Supervisors has sided with the landowner.
Residential expansion issues were debated when supervisors considered an Arcata Bottom land use designation request at a Sept. 28 General Plan Update hearing.
Property owner Shirley Butler’s request for a land use map designation that would allow her to maintain the ability to subdivide her 12.5-acre parcel was considered in the context of recent controversies on adding housing in the Arcata Bottom.
Butler’s parcel is adjacent to one on Foster Avenue that was proposed for medium density residential development several years ago. That proposal was opposed by residents and rejected by the Arcata City Council.
While Butler’s request is on a much smaller scale, seeking a designation that would allow subdivision into 2.5-acre parcels, Supervisor Mark Lovelace said it highlights similar issues.
Lovelace said he has met with Butler and is sympathetic to her wish to subdivide the parcel so that each of her two sons can own land within it.
But he said he must also consider “the consistency with the surrounding parcels and knowing that the community has been very, very concerned about creep of development into those working ag lands out there.”
The Foster Avenue project provoked “quite a bit of community discussion” and there was consensus that development should be held within Arcata’s city limits, Lovelace continued.
Other supervisors leaned toward approving Butler’s request, however, noting that the property has been owned by her family since 1862.
Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said subdivision of Butler’s parcels would not be “way out of the ordinary for this area.”
Board Chair Estelle Fennell noted that two sides of the property abut built-up areas, including a parcel within the city limit that includes St. Mary’s Catholic School.
“So she goes right up to the edge of a built up area on one end and right up to the edge of it on the other end – so it’s like a corridor between two of the built-up areas of in the city,” Fennell said.
But farming advocate John LaBoyteaux said the draft update’s proposed designation of agricultural-exclusive is aligned with the city’s goal of preserving prime soil farmland.
“The city decided some time ago that it didn’t want to expand urban development to the west,” he continued. “They don’t want to provide sewer out there and they don’t want to provide water out there.”
He described the parcel as being “part of the block of ag land that is west of Arcata – it’s all prime farmland and that’s why the  Planning Commission said it should be ag-exclusive.”
When discussion turned to what would need to be done once Butler seeks the zoning approvals necessary for subdivision, the board’s land use attorney said environmental analysis would be “rigorous” and would draw comments from the city and farmland advocates.
Sundberg was unfazed. “Worrying about what the City of Arcata has to say about me is the last thing on my mind in trying to make these decisions,” he said.
Lovelace reiterated how controversial the proposal for the adjacent Foster Avenue parcel was and added that he could not agree to a land use request that would break up agricultural land. Fennell suggested that it will be difficult to appease the neighboring residents. She said they opposed the Foster Avenue housing project but also opposed the agricultural use proposed by the Cypress Grove Chevre goat cheese producer.
“I see so many conflicting stories coming out of this one particular area,” Fennell continued.
A non-binding straw vote on Butler’s request saw approval of it by a three-to-two margin. Lovelace dissented along with Supervisor Virginia Bass, who said she was voting against the request “reluctantly.”
Supervisors will continue their review of the draft update on Oct. 19, when they will review glossary definitions, re-consider straw votes and consider land use mapping items that have not been referred by landowners.