McKinleyville Town Center at ‘turning point’

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE – Plans for the McKinleyville Town Center are beginning to take shape with a conceptual land use map and even a specific project – a senior living community.

Ideas for the McKinleyville Town Center were unveiled and discussed at the Dec. 30 meeting of the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC), which reviewed a conceptual design by local architect Kash Boodjeh. 

“Tonight is a really important turning point,” said Humboldt County Planning Director John Ford, who noted that the committee is now taking ideas and putting them on paper.

Ford warned that the committee needs to be careful with the degree of detail that it includes in its plans. Land use planning is general and not project-specific.

One exception is a senior living complex proposed by Life Care Humboldt. The non-profit organization’s president, former Humboldt County Public Health Officer Dr. Ann Lindsay,  explained that Life Care Humboldt is seeking about 15 acres to build 116 units, which would be expanded to 210 units.

The organization wants to create a campus-like residential setting, with private residences, common social areas, open spaces for residents enjoy nature and to farm. There would be a mix of townhouses and apartments, with varying levels of care, from independent living to full-care for people with memory problems. The mixed-income community would allow seniors to age in a community without having to move.

Life Care Humboldt is interested in property located behind the McKinleyville Shopping Center. Based on the conceptual design, the senior campus could potentially be located on the west end of the property, separated from McKinleyville Avenue by a large open space area with wetlands and trails.

Life Care hopes to develop a preliminary design this year and break ground in one to five years, according to its website.

Wetlands

The McKinleyville Town Center extends from Railroad Drive to Heartwood Drive and from McKinleyville Avenue to the east side of Pierson Park. Portions of the Town Center are fully developed. The largest undeveloped area is behind the McKinleyville Shopping Center and south of Hiller Road.

A major limiting factor to development are wetlands. The conceptual design includes two large wetland and open space areas. One is located on the west side of the property near McKinleyville Avenue and includes what’s known as the Pierson Pond. The other wetland area is a swath that extends north to south through the middle of the property.

In order provide a commercial area behind the shopping center, the conceptual design shows an area of wetlands that would be filled. The wetland loss would be have to be mitigated, with perhaps a wetland twice the size of the one being filled constructed near the Pierson Pond.

‘A lot of unknowns’

Anne Pierson, whose family owns the property, urged the committee to keep the plans “fluid” and “organic.”

Pierson stressed that future of retail is uncertain.

“Post COVID, we really don’t know how things are going to change,” Pierson said. “There are a lot of unknowns going on now.”

The conceptual design shows 16.5 acres of open space, 23.13 acres of retail and mixed use and  16.3 acres of residential property, which could be built out with 244 to 355 units.

During public comments, Bonnie McGregor said the plan has too much residential development.  She said she would like to see more open space.

McGregor said the committee should not forget the vision of the Town Center called for in the McKinleyville Community Plan. “The whole purpose of the community plan was to bring people together,” McGregor said.

The McKMAC will further discuss the McKinleyville Town Center at its meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 13 and again on Wednesday, Jan. 27. A draft ordinance may be reviewed in February.







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