Map of the proposed site plan for the trailers on the Crowley site | Image from city staff presentation

The Betty Kwan Chinn Foundation is one step closer to creating another community housing development to help struggling folks in Eureka. During its Tuesday night meeting, the Eureka City Council took the next step needed to develop the vacant Crowley property on Hilfiker Lane into a transitional housing site — a project the City has been working on for over three years.

The project was proposed when PG&E agreed to donate 12 trailers to Chinn’s foundation to be converted into modular housing units. The trailers were placed on the Crowley site and have been sitting vacant for years, while the City worked through all the necessary steps to allow a housing development on the site, including changing the property’s zoning.

On Tuesday night the Council voted unanimously (4-0, with Councilmember Scott Bauer absent) to adopt the Coastal Development Permit needed for the site, which is located in the coastal zone. The permit will now go to the Coastal Commission for a 10-day appeal period. If no one files an appeal, the permit will be final and the project can move forward.

Once completed, the project will be able to house up to 40 people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Of the 12 trailers, six will be converted such that each will contain two living quarters with a shared kitchen and bathroom. The other six trailers will be combined into one larger structure that will be able to hold up to 28 people, and will include a shared kitchen, bathroom and an office space for an onsite caretaker from the Betty Chinn Foundation. The development will be transitional housing, meaning residents will pay rent and be able to build their rental history.

The trailers are currently located on the north end of the property, but will be moved to a location slightly further south, between the Humboldt Bay Fire Training Facility and the Elk River Wastewater Treatment Plant. The site will need to be paved, and plumbing and electrical will be installed, connecting to the utilities running along Hilfiker Lane. The project will also include the installation of fencing around the housing perimeter and the installation of a new drainage swale.

Image showing the sewer line, fencing and drainage swale for the site

Kristen Goetz, principal planner for the City of Eureka gave a presentation on the project, addressing some of the coastal hazards associated with the site’s location near the Humboldt Bay. Because of projected sea level rise, the Coastal Development Permit will expire after 30 years, at which point, a reevaluation of the site will be necessary. The housing development will also need to be elevated 1.5 to 2.5 feet above flood level and will require a site-specific tsunami evacuation plan, Goetz said.

To minimize environmental impacts, the project will have limitations on landscaping and lighting, Goetz said, and there will be construction phase requirements in place to ensure that the project doesn’t disturb nesting birds, or cause erosion or runoff. The project also includes a 30-foot buffer from all pocket wetlands, a minimum 100-foot buffer from extensive wetlands and a 60 to 80-foot buffer from the Elk River salt marsh habitat.

A couple of community members spoke during the meeting, expressing concern over the project’s potential impact on the wetlands and its proximity to the Hikshari Trail. One commenter read a letter submitted by Anne White, who could not attend the meeting.

“This project wholly ignores the Coastal Act,” she read from White’s letter. “It will destroy wildlife and their habitat. The project will degrade aesthetics and impact public use of the bay…The Crowley site should be zoned for open spaces.”

Several members of the council explained that the City has very limited space that is suitable for housing and that a lot of work went into identifying and zoning the Crowley property for this project. Addressing the view of the property from the Hikshari Trail, Councilmember Natalie Arroyo said that she felt this project would drastically improve the aesthetics of the industrial property.

Before making a motion to approve the Coastal Development Permit, Councilmember Leslie Castellano commented that this project is absolutely necessary for the City to meet its housing needs and urged the community to be more supportive of housing development projects.

“I really think that — through this particular project, but on a wider level as well — it’s time to step up,” Castellano said during the meeting. “I appreciate that the City is really ready and willing to work on this and that members of council have voiced their support. I think this is an invitation to ask for larger support from the community for housing in general and for this project.”

The trailers currently sitting on the site | Photo: Stephanie McGeary