McKMAC completing crucial Town Center wetlands policies

McKINLEYVILLE TOWN CENTER This conceptual design by architect Kash Boodjeh shows open space/wetland areas in green. The red lines show proposed pedestrian/bicycle connections. There is no specific design for these pedestrian connections. The yellow area is the mostly developed area of the McKinleyville Town Center along Central Avenue and Heartwood Drive. Pierson Park, on the right, is also part of the Town Center. Pierson Park includes Azalea Hall (a community center, meeting venue and home to the McKinleyville Senior Center), Activity Center, Teen Center, Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the McKinleyville Library. Design by Kash Boodjeh

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE – The McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC) is nearing completion of one of its most important tasks – establishing wetland policies for the McKinleyville Town Center.

The policies will help determine how much and where development can take place in the largest  undeveloped portion of the Town Center behind the McKinleyville Shopping Center and south of Hiller Road.

The McKMAC reviewed the policies with Humboldt County Planning Department staff during a nearly two-and-a-half-hour Zoom meeting Jan. 13. 

Is it fair?

One of the issues before the committee was  that its previous recommendation on wetlands definitions gives the Town Center area a more flexible wetland definition than the rest of McKinleyville, except for areas within the Coastal Zone.

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Some people have questioned whether this is fair. Why should a development just outside the Town Center have to abide by a stricter wetland definition than a development inside the Town Center?

But McKMAC members have warned of “mission creep.” If the committee starts taking up issues outside the Town Center, it may get bogged down and never complete the Town Center master plan.

When it comes defining wetlands outside the Town Center “I think it’s been our consensus that we not discuss this at this time,” said McKMAC member Kevin Dreyer. “That could be a future conversation.”

Defining wetlands

The McKinleyville Community Plan, approved in 2002, defines wetlands as having at least one of three criteria:

1.  The presence of wetland plants; or, 

2.  Soils that are sufficiently wet in the upper part to develop anaerobic conditions during the growing season; or, 

3. Periodic inundation for seven consecutive days.

The “one parameter” wetland definition means that if a wetland plant is growing in an area, it could be deemed a wetland. 

The Humboldt County General Plan, and the Army Corps of Engineers use a less restrictive “three parameter” wetland definition, meaning all three conditions have to be met to deem an area a wetland.

The McMAC is recommending the more flexible three parameter definition.

Trails and paths

The draft policies call for trails and paths in the wetland buffer areas to have pervious surfaces that allow water infiltration.

Anne Pierson, whose family owns most of the undeveloped land in the Town Center, said she was concerned that this policy could make paths inaccessible for the disabled. 

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Pierson said the paths may need a hard surface to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Planning Director John Ford responded that there are various hard surfaces that are pervious. There is even a pervious form of concrete, he said.

Another topic discussed was having raised walkways over the wetlands that would be created to mitigate those that may be filled.

Ford said that while the raised walkways may be a “cool idea,” wetlands covered with a boardwalk would likely not be considered as mitigated wetlands.

Architect Kash Boodjeh also unveiled some new conceptual designs showing trails and wetlands.

Boodjeh said an area that’s going to need special attention is the intersection of City Center Road and Central Avenue. City Center Road is the main entrance to the McKinleyville Shopping Center.

The conceptual plan shows a pedestrian connection between the shopping center and Pierson Park. There is, however, no specific design. 

Planning staff said they would further refine the wetland policies and may bring them back to the committee at its Wednesday, Jan. 27 meeting.

“I think we’re getting close,” said McKMAC member Twila Sanchez.

For documents and maps related to the McKinleyville Town Center, visit


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