Ask someone who lives on or near Old Arcata Road and they will likely tell you that much of it is in dire need of an upgrade — that it’s cracked, bumpy and dangerous, lacking adequate bike lanes or walkways. The City of Arcata is well aware of this, which is why staff has been working for years to design a plan to improve Old Arcata Road. The latest version of the Old Arcata Road Improvement Project will come before the Arcata City Council for approval during tonight’s meeting.
If approved, the project would make changes to approximately one mile of Old Arcata Road — starting at Samoa Boulevard and extending just past Jacoby Creek Road — including repaving the roadway, adding bike lanes and improving and extending the existing sidewalk. The project would also include construction of a new roundabout at the intersection of Old Arcata Road and Jacoby Creek Road and the addition of crosswalks, lighting, signage and paved walkways as part of the roundabout installation.
Some folks who live near the project area are not too happy about the design — particularly the installation of the roundabout — and a group of about a dozen citizens, called “Bayside Cares,” has lodged complaints with the City over the design.
“We’re primarily concerned about [losing] the rural residential feel,” Kathleen Stanton, a member of Bayside Cares and a longtime resident of the area, told the Outpost in a phone interview last month. “Bayside Corners is kind of the historic, cultural and civic nucleus of Bayside. It’s been the hub since 1970. And we just feel that a roundabout is a really urban design and intrusive. We don’t feel it fits.”
Stanton, who has worked as a historic resources consultant for 40 years, has concerns about the project’s impact on some historically significant structures in Bayside — including Jacoby Creek School, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Bayside Temperance Hall, which has been determined to be eligible for the register, Stanton said. Although the project wouldn’t make any changes to these buildings, Stanton worries because the surroundings of a building also impact its eligibility to be registered as a historic place.
“It’s not just the physical building,” Stanton said. “It’s the setting. It’s the atmosphere. When things are put up around it, it loses its sense of an agricultural past.”
Stanton has submitted many public comments to the City about her concerns, which actually prompted the City to conduct a full EIR, when it had initially submitted a Mitigated Negative Declaration — a declaration filed when planners determine that a project will have no significant environmental impacts.
The potential threat to Bayside’s rural character is not Bayside Cares’s only concern, Stanton said. The group also is worried about the impact the roundabout may have on the nearby school, the Mistwood Center for Education. Stanton said that construction of the roundabout would require a slight rerouting of Old Arcata Road, bringing it within 35 feet of the school’s front door. This could not only present a safety issue, Stanton said, but could also cause noise and vibrations from large trucks that might disturb the students. “Those little kids really don’t need the potential noise or the hazard of large trucks speeding by,” Stanton said.
Despite concerns over the roundabout’s potential historic and safety impacts, the City holds that installing a roundabout would be the safest option (there are two alternative plans outlined in the report, but the roundabout is the recommended plan) and that the City and developers have made extensive efforts to include community feedback in the design. The Arcata Historic Landmarks Committee considered and rejected the argument that the project would significantly impact historic resources and is recommending the project with the roundabout. During its Oct. 26 meeting, the Arcata Planning Commission also recommended approval of the project.
To be clear, the Old Arcata Road project is only 30 percent designed currently, so if the council approves the project, construction won’t be happening right away — City staff hopes it can begin sometime in 2022. After taking public comment tonight, the council will vote on whether to approve the project design so far, certify the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and approve the Coastal Development Permit for the project.
The Arcata City Council meets tonight (Wednesday, Dec. 1) over Zoom at 6 p.m. You can view the full agenda and directions on how to participate here.