Commission supports leaving Town Center planning to McKinleyville

The proposed McKinleyville Town Center.

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE – Humboldt County planning commissioners debated aspects of a zoning category that will apply to McKinleyville’s Town Center but agreed to defer to an upcoming community-driven process. 

Commissioners also voted to recommend that a new timberland category not be adopted by the Board of Supervisors due to doubts about increased residential entitlements. 

Those actions stemmed from the Planning Commission’s review of General Plan zoning text amendments at its April 18 meeting. One of the more heavily-discussed items was the new Mixed Use (MU) zoning for urban areas, which will be used in McKinleyville’s planned Town Center. 

The Town Center’s boundaries run from Pierson Park to McKinleyville Avenue and from Railroad Drive to just south of Hiller Road. The center also includes the commercial area north of Heartwood Drive. 

The MU designation intends to create town centers that mix urban-scale housing with a variety of commercial and business uses in a pedestrian-friendly setting. Senior Planner Michael Richardson described some of the ways that’s done, including using the same parking spaces for residential use after business hours and commercial use during the day. 

But during a public comment session, Colin Fiske of the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities said the MU zone’s level of parking and setbacks offset its goals. 

“In large part, it would not be possible to have a dense and pedestrian-oriented streetscape by following these parking and setback standards,” he continued. “It would force development to be much lower density and more car-oriented.” 

McKinleyville resident Bonnie McGregor told commissioners that developing a town center ordinance – a process that’s supposed to begin this summer – has long been considered the mechanism for defining development standards. 

She noted that the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC) has asked the county to use the ordinance process for decision-making. “People have waited 22 years for these ordinances to be developed and we’re just about to get there,” McGregor said. 

Commissioner nevertheless debated the parking aspect, with Richardson noting that some cities are “going big” with parking reductions. “I’m not exactly sure what the appropriate fit is in McKinleyville – We’re hoping the McKMAC will be able to help us figure that out,” he said. 

Commissioner Melanie McCavour said that if alternative transportation and public transit are to be encouraged, then use of cars has to be controlled through measures such as reducing parking opportunities. 

Planning Director John Ford said that “if we’re going to engage in social engineering, it has to be a reduction with a corresponding replacement,” such as enhanced multi-modal transportation. 

Commissioner Peggy O’Neill, a McKinleyville resident, said reduced parking “sounds really good” but vehicle use has to be planned for because McKinleyville exists within a rural area. “We’re not all going to jump on the bus,” she said.

Commissioner Brian Mitchell, also a resident of McKinleyville, said various ideas on parking and other aspects “can be customized to fit the needs of the community” through community-based planning.  

Commissioners agreed to recommend approval of the MU zoning text but to allow communities to tailor the standards. 

Also reviewed was the new Timber-Exclusive (TE) category, which would be applied to the county’s large volume of lands zoned as Unclassified. 

Two issues emerged as problematic with it – its allowance for single family home construction and its 40-acre minimum parcel size. 

McKinleyville resident Nancy Correll said a trend of increased fire risk and the impacts of residential development make home construction questionable. 

“We don’t know what’s it’s going to be like out there in the future, whether we’re going to have more problems with floods or with dry seasons and fires,” she continued. 

Joyce King, also of McKinleyville, discouraged adoption of the TE zone in the face of a “biodiversity emergency bearing down on us.” 

Asked how unclassified parcels would be zoned if not TE, County Planner John Miller said they’d  be zoned as Agriculture-Exclusive. That zoning has a 60-acre minimum parcel size but would allow cannabis cultivation, which commissioners are wary of in timberland areas. 

But they agreed to recommend that the Board of Supervisors not adopt the TE zoning text.  A Planned Rural Development zoning category, which clusters residential development to preserve greenbelts, was endorsed by commissioners. 

The rezoning hearing will continue on May 2, when the Agriculture-Exclusive and other categories will be reviewed. 

 







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