Following public outcry over the City of Eureka’s in-progress plans to turn a bunch of city-owned parking lots into low-income housing, city staff proposes to remove three of the parking lots – at Fourth and G Streets, Fifth and H Streets and Fifth and K Streets – from that plan, exchanging them for four parcels near Winco owned by Pierson Properties and Development, LLC.
During its next meeting, the Eureka City Council will consider approval of the property transfer agreement between the City and Pierson Properties “for the purpose of preserving parking in the Eureka Old Town area while still providing the City alternative property locations to develop affordable housing,” the draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) states.
The lots are three of 12 city-owned parking lots that the City planned to use for housing developments, with three lots to be released each year– a proposal approved in 2019 as a part of the Housing Element of the City’s General Plan, in an effort to meet state and regional housing requirements. If the council approves the property transfer, the City would enter into the MOU with Pierson Properties and Development to exchange the three lots for four parcels on Fairfield Street between Harris and Henderson. Pending approval from the California Department of Housing and Community Development, the three lots would be removed from the housing element and replaced by the new properties.
The parcels owned by Pierson Properties that will likely be the new site of affordable housing units.
Since the City first proposed this plan and released the first batch of lots – which will be developed by Linc Housing – it has drawn ire from some community members, mainly those who live or own businesses near the lots concerned over the loss of parking spaces. This particular group of three lots, the second batch to be released by the City, have arguably been the most controversial, and during several community meetings some residents expressed outrage at the proposal. The lot on Fourth and G – across from the Arkley Center for Performing Arts – caused an especial uproar, even prompting owner Rob Arkley to threaten a lawsuit against the City.
After receiving this response, city staff put those parking lots on hold and told the public it would pursue alternative options. According to the staff report, the Pierson property is the only property that met the City’s criteria of allowing for creation of the same number or more units than the three parking lots.
“This exchange will result in an increase of both very low-income units (at least 14) and low-income units (at least 25) that will count towards the City’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA),” the staff report states. The three parking lots are a combined 41,943 square feet in size, and the Pierson parcels are a combined 154,538 square feet.
Of course, many community members supported converting the parking lots into housing and some of them are not thrilled by the property transfer plans. Tom Wheeler, executive director of Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) and Colin Fiske of the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities (CRTP) are concerned about the property exchange, feeling that it may result in the creation of less housing units and that it sets a “bad precedent” for the future conversion of parking lots into housing.
“This puts the City on record declaring that parking is more important than affordable housing in the downtown area,” Fiske wrote in an email to the Eureka City Council and City Manager Miles Slattery. “This is not only untrue and frankly offensive, but also an unwise precedent to set. Using public funds to maintain extensive parking spaces downtown is an economic loser for the City, while housing people in dense, walkable environments is an economic winner.”
Another argument Fiske makes is that the best option for the community would be for all of the properties in question to be converted into housing. By exchanging the properties, the City is effectively taking the option to use the parking lots for housing off of the table, whereas if the lots were converted into housing – as originally planned – the Pierson property would also likely be developed into housing as well. Greg Pierson submitted plans for a 43-unit apartment complex on the property to the Eureka Design Review Committee in July 2020.
Fiske also told the Outpost that from the CRTP’s standpoint of encouraging alternative forms of transportation, the parking lot sites are a much better location, more central and closer to services. “They’re not quite as dangerous for walking and biking,” Fiske said in a recent phone interview. “[The Pierson property] is really in a much more car-designed part of town.”
But City Manager Miles Slattery disagrees, arguing that the Pierson site is actually more ideal for access to services. It is walking distance from the Eureka Mall – which holds several useful stores and restaurants, including Winco Foods – and is also very close to both Highland Park and 20/30 Park. The property’s proximity to Harris, Henderson and Broadway streets would also make public transportation very accessible to the residents. “HTA [Humboldt Transit Authority] has told me that the best access to the most mass transit is on Henderson and Harris,” Slattery told the Outpost in a phone interview late last week.
Slattery also said that the property exchange would not necessarily mean that the parking lots could not be converted into housing in the future. Although the MOU states that the the property exchange is “for the purpose of preserving parking in the Eureka Old Town area, while still providing the City alternative property locations to develop affordable housing,” Slattery insisted that there is nothing binding in the agreement that says the lots must be maintained as parking site or that prohibits development of housing on the sites.
Assuming the Council approves the property exchange and the MOU, Slattery said, the next step will be for the change to go before the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for approval, which should take 30 days. The City will also declare the parking lot parcels as “exempt surplus land,” which should streamline the process for releasing the lots. After obtaining the necessary approvals, the City will either start working with a developer or put out a request for proposals for development of the Pierson site.
More than anything, Slattery wanted to emphasize that the City’s decision is based on the desire to create the housing that the community needs and that is necessary for the City to meet its state housing requirements. The Pierson property is larger than the three parking lots, has more land that is developable and will result in more housing units in the near future, and the fact that the property exchange will also appease (at least for now) the people who complained about the loss of parking, is just the icing on the cake.
“We’re making this decision because it creates more housing,” Slattery told the Outpost. “I think it’s a logical decision to be able to still achieve our goals without pissing off all these other people … If there’s a way that we can have our cake and eat it too, then let’s do it.”
The Eureka City Council meets tonight (Tuesday), Dec. 21 at 6 p.m. You can view the full agenda and directions on how to participate here.
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