Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – The tortuous history of The Village housing project has seen tied votes repeatedly effectively sink it at both Planning Commission and City Council meetings over the past year. But at the April 17 council meeting, something unprecedented happened – a unanimous, 4–0 vote in favor of the project.The version of the project approved by the council is a new one – a mixed use development of student housing and apartments rentable on the open market, with an occupancy cap of 602 residents.
Contacted after the meeting, project applicant David Moon of Coleraine Capital said he and his partners in the project, AMCAL Equities LLC, can work within those parameters and are doing a redesign to accommodate the council’s wishes.
The Village project has been continually revised over the past year in response to suggestions and demands by community members and the council. It started as an 800-bed, student-only facility with a very different footprint, but has been downsized, moved farther away from the existing Westwood Village neighborhood and now includes open-market housing, and has no direct involvement by Humboldt State University.
The Village hearing began with a lengthy mea culpa by City Councilmember Susan Ornelas. Formerly an opponent of the project, Ornelas’s opposition softened somewhat at the previous council meeting, during which she said she could foresee approving a mixed-housing development with a cap of 602 occupants, but with 5 percent “flexibility” to allow up to 632 residents.
She expressed profound regret over her previous remarks about the 5 percent margin of flexibility to which she’d committed, saying that she now wished to stick to the 602-occupant limit.
Councilmembers Sofia Pereira and Paul Pitino support the 2019 version, even though they preferred the previous, 602-bed, student-only version that the council effectively denied with a tied vote last year.
Mayor Brett Watson, insisting on a 602-occupant limit, has repeatedly opposed the project, citing objections by neighbors and possible negative impacts on adjacent neighborhoods.
Councilmember Michael Winkler doesn’t participate in votes on The Village due to a private business relationship with AMCAL.
Attorney Tim Needham, representing Strombeck properties, delivered a letter objecting to a number of aspects of the city’s consideration of The Village as being unfair. One of them was a Land Use Code requirement that the project’s EIR be prepared by an independent CEQA expert, rather than one selected by the applicant.
Community Development Director David Loya said he would see that the EIR process would be handled in house or by independent consultants as the newly revised project goes forward.
Public testimony included Village backers and detractors. Several citizens said the project is needed to help relieve the housing shortage and to support Humboldt State Univerity.
Others spoke in opposition, including boardmembers of Arcata Citizens for Responsible Housing (ACRH), which represents both citizens and real estate developers whom it refuses to disclose. The ACRH representatives again tried to steer the council toward a competing development it calls the "Greenway Plan" for the Craftsman’s Mall site, for which it has lined up unidentified builders to create.
But the council resisted the objections and gave unanimous approval-in-concept to the mixed-use, 602-occupant Village project.
Written correspondence to the City Council received prior to the meeting: