Boutique hotel, condos and new town name aired for Mack Town

ROUND TABLE McKinleyville residents brainstormed Dec. 11 on what they want to see in the McKinleyville Town Center. The meeting was hosted by the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee and the Humboldt County Planning Department. Jack Durham | Union

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE – Residents are refining their vision for downtown McKinleyville as they develop a master plan for what they hope will be a pedestrian friendly village with affordable housing, places to gather, enjoyable outdoor areas and plenty of small shops.

The ideas for the McKinleyville Town Center were discussed during a workshop Dec. 11 at the McKinleyville Pop-Up Museum. More than 70 people showed up and were divided into eight separate round-table discussions on Town Center topics. 

“This is your time to shine,” Senior Planner Michael Richardson told the crowd at the beginning of the workshop. “You’re going to be asked to do all the work.”

And that they did. Attendees brainstormed ideas and learned about some of the environmental and economic limitations of the undeveloped portion of the McKinleyville Town Center.

Filling wetlands?

The McKinleyville Town Center includes 141 acres between Pierson Park, McKinleyville Avenue, Railroad Drive and south of Hiller Road. The largest undeveloped area is 43.7 acres located behind the McKinleyville Shopping Center, mostly west of the World’s Largest Totem Pole.

That property, owned by Anne Pierson, is the main focus of the Town Center planning process.

Although 43.7 acres may seem like a lot of land, from 31 percent to 61 percent of the property may be undevelopable due to the existence of wetlands. That depends upon which wetland definition is used and whether the community is willing to fill the wetlands and have their loss mitigated elsewhere.

That depends upon which wetland definition is used and whether the community is willing to fill the wetlands and have their loss mitigated elsewhere.

When considering whether to designate an area as a wetland, agencies look at three parameters – vegetation, soils and hydrology. The Army Corps of Engineers may require all three parameters to be consistent with wetlands to determine that an area is a wetland, while other agencies may only require one of those parameters for a wetland  designation.

If only one parameter is required, about 18.3 acres of that property would be designated as wetlands. If you add in the required buffer zones, that wetland area is 26.5 acres, or 61 percent of the property.

More land would be available for development if the three-parameter standard is used. That would designate about 6.5 acres as wetlands. With the buffer zones, the total wetland area would be 13.7 acres, or 31 percent of the property.

Property owner Anne Pierson, who has been supportive of the Town Center idea, said she has concerns about the wetland designations.

“I am totally willing to honor the wetlands, but to me, one parameter is too restrictive,” Pierson said.

She questioned the accuracy of the draft wetland maps and suggested that they be looked at again by experts.

“This whole thing needs to be reviewed by a specialist,” Pierson said.

County Planner Lisa Shikany said that the community needs to decide whether it should preserve the wetlands or fill them in. 

If wetlands were filled, new ones would need to be created elsewhere as an environmental mitigation. Shikany said that as a general rule, three acres of wetlands must be created for each acre that’s filled.

If residents look to the town’s growth blue print – the McKinleyville Community Plan – for guidance, they’ll find policies that encourage wetland preservation.

“The community plan is very protective of wetlands,” Shikany said.

That plan, approved in 2002, also called for the creation of a McKinleyville Town Center, as well as an ordinance dictating building standards for the downtown.

Others at the workshop said that the wetlands should be considered an asset. They could be used for open space, parks and trails, and could be part of what draws people to the area.

Economic realities

At another table, participants discussed the economics of the Town Center. 

County Planner Andrew Whitney introduced the topic with an overview of the economy.

“We currently find ourselves in an economic expansion,” Whitney said. “The Humboldt County unemployment rate is 2.7 percent and is at historic lows. McKinleyville added 310 new jobs between 2012 and 2017. “ He said it’s likely that even more jobs were added in the past two years.

“On paper the picture seems rosy, but the reality may feel entirely different for many,” Whitney said. “Economic inequality is obvious as houseless people inhabit our communities. Addiction, intergenerational poverty and mental illness are all on display.”

When it was time for public input, McKinleyville resident Jim Biteman suggested lessons from the best seller Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America by James Fallows  and Deborah Fallows.

The book looks at what successful towns are doing  to improve themselves. Some of strategies include working together, having a downtown, having leaders and having big plans and public/private partnerships.

Linda Doerflinger said she wanted to have some sort of attraction in the Town Center, like a museum, civic center and “anything that introduces people to the outdoors.”

McKMAC member Greg Orsini said that whatever is built in the Town Center is going to have to be profitable for the developer.

“Investors aren’t going to invest in that plan if they can’t make money,” Orsini said.

Repeatedly through the workshop, and at different tables, participants suggested multi-story buildings with retail on the ground floor and residential housing on the top floors. Orsini suggested buildings three or four stories high.

“Go dense!” exclaimed a participant.

Along with tall, high-density buildings, other suggestions for making the Town Center economically viable included reducing parking requirements and setbacks, and having the county contribute financially to the Town Center, and obtaining grants and tax credits.

Whitney repeated the warning that whatever is built has to be economically viable.

“Everything has to pencil,” Whitney said. “The Taj Majal will not be funded here in McKinleyville.”

Welcome to ‘Ocean Bluffs’

Participants noshed on Las Fortunitas Corn Tortilla Chips, guacamole, salsa and chocolate chip cookies, washing them down with La Croix seltzers and water from single-use plastic bottles.

But the ideas flowed faster than the beverages. Here are some of them:

• Change the town’s name from McKinleyville to Ocean Bluffs.

• Encourage mixed-use development and a variety of housing types.

• Include high-end retirement condominiums.

• Build a boutique hotel.

• Provide transitional services for homeless people.

• Design housing with smaller setbacks and variable heights.

• Incorporate tiny houses.

• Don’t allow national corporate chains.

• Have restrictions on signage.

• Include public art and artist lofts and workshops.

• Have wide sidewalks, parking in the periphery and have a shuttle to help people move around.

• Build a pedestrian bridge over Central Avenue.

• Include entertainment such as bowling, a theater and an arcade.

• Make it look like a French village.

• Include a separation between sidewalks and roadways.

• Require green building practices.

What’s next?

According to Senior Planner Richardson, the goal is to have the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee review the final draft of a Town Center ordinance in March and make a recommendation.

“Things are going to accelerate really quick,” Richardson said.

On Wednesday, Jan. 8, a meeting will be held to review “Natural Resource Protection, Land Use, Open Space, Design,” time and location to be announced.

On Wednesday, Jan. 22, a meeting will be held to review “Transportation, Streetscape, Public Facilities, Financing.” 

On Wednesday, Feb. 26, the McKMAC is scheduled to review the Town Center ordinance.

On Wednesday, March 11, the McKMAC is scheduled to review the final draft and make a recommendation. The ordinance would ultimately need to be approved by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.



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