Screenshot of Tuesday’s Arcata Planning Commission meeting.

After discussing elements of the Gateway Area Plan for the better part of a year, Arcata’s Planning Commission and City Council are ready to get into the nitty-gritty. 

If you haven’t kept up with our somewhat incessant coverage of the Gateway Area Plan in the last couple of weeks, here’s a rundown: The Gateway Area Plan is a housing initiative by the City of Arcata to rezone 138 acres of underutilized land in and around the Creamery District to accommodate high-density housing in the years and decades to come. The plan will streamline future development efforts and serve as an outline of what Arcatans do and do not want built within the Gateway Plan Area.

The Arcata Planning Commission met this week to consider Responsible Growth Arcata’s request to form a Gateway Area Plan advisory group. One of the group’s members, Scott McBain, emphasized that Responsible Growth Arcata’s intent is “to help the city produce a balanced, high-quality Gateway Plan that we can be proud of in 20 years and beyond.”

McBain | Screenshot

“This advisory committee [would] mirror previous City of Arcata task forces…that have successfully improved large-scale infrastructure and planning efforts,” McBain told commissioners. “Part of the vision here is to do that again and to build community support towards a better outcome, which is why we’re all here.”

The advisory committee would be composed of seven to nine council-appointed members. The committee would work to bridge the gap between local government bodies and the public and, ideally, allow staff to focus on the city’s General Plan update.

McBain acknowledged the city’s extensive public outreach efforts surrounding the Gateway Area Plan but felt as though public feedback “is going into a black hole.”

“We would like to see more collaboration and partnership with the public in identifying solutions so we can spend our time trying to solve problems instead of coming here for every meeting [to speak] for two minutes. The net result of this is to build community trust,” he said. “The next objective is to address and recommend solutions to priority issues that have been raised.”

Commissioner Daniel Tangney said he was concerned about the potential for bias within the advisory committee, noting that many of Responsible Growth Arcata’s members already have strong views surrounding the Gateway Area Plan.

“There’s some angle already exposed here,” he said. “If Responsible Growth Arcata is crafting this in any way I feel like we’re heading towards a train wreck because some of these things that you’ve outlined [in your letter] are totally antithetical…to what the Gateway Area Plan presently proposes.”

He acknowledged that the committee “sounded really great for developing community input and trust and everything else” but maintained that there was already “a deck stacked against what has already been proposed.”

Vice-Chair Scott Davies worried that the advisory committee would be redundant.

“There are any number of committees already in the City of Arcata…all involving city volunteers, all of whom have spent time interacting with city staff already…and I’m curious, why do you feel that those individual groups reviewing the Gateway Plan are not able to bring the same process to bear that the committee you’re proposing does?” Davies asked. “How is this not going to be redundant to efforts that have already been made by all these citizens of Arcata in all of these already existing committees?”

McBain maintained that a Gateway-specific committee would allow its members to really delve into the particulars of the project and “roll up our sleeves and try to figure out how to do this.”

Commissioner Kimberley White spoke in favor of the advisory committee and said it had the potential to get more community members involved.

“Some people feel as though this is just going to slow down the process. I think rather than slowing it down, it’s actually going to speed it up,” she said. “This [plan] is going to affect Arcata forever. …If we don’t do the process correctly and we don’t have all the voices heard, we’re not going to have housing anytime in the near future. I think this is the way to move forward and a way to include all of the voices.”

Public comment was split as well. About half of the commenters agreed with White and felt a Gateway advisory committee could enhance public outreach efforts. Others felt the committee would just slow down the planning process.

The commission ultimately decided not to make a recommendation for or against the formation of an advisory committee, leaving the decision to the City Council. The City Council will likely discuss the matter during its regular Aug. 17 meeting.

Delo Freitas, senior planner for the City of Arcata, asked commissioners to mull over a few questions that will be discussed during the upcoming study session with the Arcata City Council. The study session will focus on building height, amenities and the timeline and process for the review of the draft Gateway Area Plan.

Freitas asked commissioners the following questions:

  • Do we want to recommend limiting the maximum building height
  • Do we want to recommend limiting the maximum building height in certain districts?
  • Which amenities, if any or all, do we consider actual amenities and which, if any, do we consider “standard requirements”?
  • Should we require setbacks from the sidewalk or shall we allow structures to be built right up to the sidewalk?
  • Do we want to recommend maximum residential density caps?

After a bit of deliberation, Freitas reminded commissioners that the primary purpose of the discussion was to get everybody on the same page ahead of the joint study session. “Our goal is to try and understand, you know, what are the main sources of concern and areas where [staff] needs to go back and find more information to be prepared for that session.”

The commission agreed to move forward without taking a vote or offering any firm recommendations to staff. 

What’s next? Arcata’s Community Development Department will host another informational webinar surrounding the next steps in developing form-based code for the Arcata Gateway Area on Tuesday, Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. (Here’s a link to the previous webinar.) The big joint study session will take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 23.

Do you have strong feelings (or really any feeling at all) about the Gateway Area Plan? Tell commissioners! Tell the council! Tell Community Development Director David Loya! You can find all those email addresses at this link.