Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – The City Council voted last week to reconsider the revised Village housing project, rejected by default on a tied council vote last August. The project has been redesigned to address one of the principal objections to the previous plan voiced by councilmembers and citizens: Village 2019 includes a mix of student housing and open-market apartments available for rental by the general public.
Last week’s “go/no-go” meeting was held to decide only whether or not to reconsider the revised project, not to weigh its merits.
The new plan places 115 four-story student residences containing 423 beds on the east of the 11.2 acre Craftsmans Mall site, with two- and three-story apartment buildings with 125 units containing 228-plus beds on the west side, across a parking lot from the Westwood neighborhood’s Maple Lane. Parking spaces are up to 449 from the previous 409.
Unlike the proposal disapproved last year, the new plan includes no direct Humboldt State involvement in management or additional law enforcement. It also lacks the small food store added to last year's final version.
An open house held Jan. 30 at City Hall to unveil the new project saw 40-plus attendees. Concerns voiced included the project’s scale, its shadow, population, noisemaking potential and traffic, parking and impacts on adjacent neighborhoods.
The affordability of the apartments, and their potential to house more than the intended number of tenants, were also listed as possible issues. “Offering Chicken Noodle w/Parsley,” observed one commenter.
Project applicant David Moon, representing Coleraine Capital group/AMCAL Equities, summarized the ways the project has evolved since first proposed last January. Those include a downsizing, drainage, landscape, architecture and transportation improvements, greater distance from Westwood Village, addition of environmental features and more.
The new “e-urban” student buildings, Moon explained, are south-facing. Both student and apartment buildings include amenities tailored to residents’ needs. The apartment buildings include a fitness center and children’s playground.
Though he lamented that the site’s full potential as a high-density housing site wasn’t being fully realized with the medium-density plan, Moon cast the previous 20 often contentious and bruising public meetings during which the project evolved as a “collaboration of staff and council and commission and community members” had resulted in “a project we can all be proud of.”
“Here we go again,” said Westwood resident Steve Martin. Though “cautiously optimistic” on hearing of a revised plan, its shortcomings, he said, render it “unacceptable.” The project is too big in terms of building size and population, Martin said, and lacks any guarantees that the open market apartments won’t be student-dominated. He said 400 to 450 residents would be more appropriate, and called the new design “essentially unchanged” from the old one.
Martin pointed to an alternative project envisioned last year by Greenway Partners at the behest of the Arcata Citizens for Responsible Housing (ACRH) group (arcatacrh.org) as a genuine effort to design appropriate housing for the site. It included 276 total bedrooms in 92 units with 160 parking stalls.
Colin Fiske of the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities (CRTP) said that as an infill project, the Village should be denser, with more residents, and less parking. “That, frankly, is heading in the wrong direction for successful infill,” he said.
John Bergenske of ACRH called the new project “a step in the right direction,” but objected to what he said was inadequate parking that would cause multiple impacts. He asked that the project go back to the Planning Commission for a ground-up review of its EIR. The Planco is currently expected only to handle a General Plan amendment required by the project.
Citizen Jane Woodward said potential occupancy is far in excess of that projected, with the number of rental apartment tenants possibly doubling to 456 occupants and bringing the Village’s population to as much as 879. She wanted the student buildings reduced to three stories to lower the total occupancy.
Other speakers were also concerned about total occupancy ballooning.
Councilmembers Sofia Pereira and Paul Pitino were good with reconsideration, though Pitino said he liked the previous, student-focused project better. Pereira noted that some concerns aired, such as density, had been addressed in the old, 602-bed plan. Councilmember Susan Ornelas, who’d previously advocated for the four-story buildings, said it was too big. Mayor Brett Watson also approved of reconsideration.
Asked by Pereira, Community Development Director David Loya said his “crude estimate” of the likely occupancy comes in around 690 residents, pending further refinement.
As with last year, City Councilmember Michael Winkler recused himself from the proceedings over conflicts of interest, again leaving an even-numbered, four-person council to decide the matter. Winkler’s Redwood Energy consulting company had continued to meet with its longtime client, AMCAL, after the Village project was proposed for Arcata.