Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – When McKinleyville residents get together to talk about their vision for the Town Center, perhaps the most remarkable thing is how much they agree with each other.
Not only do most participants have similar ideas for what they want to see for the heart of the community, but their views are also similar to what people said at meetings two, 25 and 30 years ago.
McKinleyville resident Bonnie MacGregor pointed this out near the end of the March 24 meeting of the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee.
MacGregor said that if you look at the McKinleyville Community Plan, approved in 2002, or you look at the notes from the McKinleyville Organizing Committee meetings of a few years ago, you’ll find a vision for the Town Center that similar to the vision people have today.
“The themes are all pretty much the same,” MacGregor told the McKMAC during the Zoom meeting.
The only difference now is that the ideas are getting more specific, as the McKMAC helps the Humboldt County Planning Department craft an ordinance for the McKinleyville Town Center.
“But the overall desire of the community hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years,” MacGregor said. “I just feel like it’s quite remarkable that there is this kind of consistency.”
During the March 24 McKMAC meeting, 37 attendees were broken up into smaller groups to discuss their ideas for the Town Center, which extends from Pierson Park to McKinleyville Avenue and from Railroad Drive to roughly near Heartwood Drive.
“We’re trying to kind of refine the community vision for what it wants to see in the town center ordinance,” said Planner Michael Richardson.
Attendees said they want the Town Center to be pedestrian and bicycle friendly, with attractive walking paths, areas for musical performances, outdoor cafes and small businesses.
“I’m a big believer in flexible space,” said resident Gordon Leppig, who suggested that the Town Center have a “maker space” where crafts people could rent a small area where they could make and sell their goods.
Leppig suggested having a restaurant incubator, perhaps an area where different food trucks could locate. People could then come out together, eat in the same area, but choose different cuisines.
Leppig also suggested affordable housing that people could actually buy, not just rent.
Deborah Hubbard, the pastor of Grace Good Shepherd Church, located in the Town Center on Hiller Road, said she wants the area to have “a sense of place.”
“My main concern is that the Town Center doesn’t just become apartments,” Hubbard said.
Another issue repeated throughout the meeting was the need to connect the west side of the Town Center to the east side.
The west side contains the McKinleyville Shopping Center and the large, undeveloped property behind it, as well as the commercial area north of Heartwood Drive that contains Starbucks and a new social services hub called The Center in McKinleyville.
The east side includes the McKinleyville Fire Station and Pierson Park, home to the McKinleyville Library, Azalea Hall, McKinleyville Sheriff’s Office, Activity Center and the Teen Center.
The problem is that the two sides of the Town Center are bisected by Central Avenue, the busiest road in unincorporated Humboldt County.
Scott Binder suggested a footbridge over Central Avenue, an idea that was mentioned by others during the meeting.
Participants also spoke of having trails connect with each other. Leppig said that he lives near the Hammond Trail and can attest to the need for trail connections in all directions.
Bicycles and autonomous cars
One of the shared visions for the Town Center is to make it bicycle friendly, and this goes beyond the trails and bike lanes. There is also a need for bicycle parking and bike racks.
Leppig said many places in McKinleyville have no bicycle racks, and if they do, they are often “funky and junky.”
McKMAC member Kevin Dreyer, reporting on his breakout group’s discussion, said that people want safe places to store bikes. They also want places where electric bicycles and be sured and charged.
Several people also mentioned the need to plan for autonomous, self-driving vehicles. Businesses may need a place where these vehicles can pull up, drop off their passengers, then leave.
As for vehicle parking, many participants said parking requirements should be reduced.
Leppig said that parking lot standards are too robust. “I would really question the amount of parking that is necessary.
Interesting places and plants
Planning Director John Ford, during a breakout session, urged participants to think about what makes a place interesting to hang out at. If you had visitors from out-of-town, what would make you want to take them to the Town Center to hang out and have a cup of coffee, Ford asked.
MacGregor said that interesting plants and opportunities for people watching are things that make places attractive.
MacGregor contrasted this with Pierson Park, which has a big, wide-open lawn, which she said isn’t a draw.
Others suggested interesting trails with places to stop and sit. Twila Sanchez said that the sound of water can make an area a pleasant place to visit and suggested some sort of water feature, like a fountain.
Near the end of the meeting, MacGregor compared the planning process for the Town Center to whitewater rafting.
“It feels like when you’re going toward a rapid, when you’re finally getting into it, everything spreads out, then it starts coming together and you start seeing, everything is starting to adjust to make the trip,” MacGregor said.