The EaRTH Center is a go.
Last night, at the end of a three-hour special meeting, the Eureka City Council voted unanimously to approve the ambitious transit and housing development on two city-owned parking lots on Third Street between G and H streets, behind Lost Coast Brewery.
The decision came after a sometimes emotional two-hour public comment session, with many downtown business representatives concerned about the impact of the project on downtown parking. But many spoke about the development with great enthusiasm, saying it would be a big shot in the arm for downtown Eureka.
EaRTH Center – a near-acronym
for Eureka Regional Transit &
Housing Center – is
include apartments for students, traveling
medical staff and working residents, and will serve as the city’s
mass transit hub. It’ll have an interior courtyard, rooftop
greenspace, a space
food trucks and room for new retail establishments. It’s scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2024.
Garrett Scharton of Servitas, the development group that led the design of the facility, kicked off last night’s meeting with an overview of the $30 million development, which will be built in cooperation with the Humboldt Transit Authority. The buildings will be made of brick, matching the feel of adjacent Old Town properties, Scharton said.
After Scharton, City Manager Miles Slattery gave a presentation on how the development fits in with the city’s current general plan, which emphasizes “getting back to our roots” in terms of design standards. He presented a slide showing dense, tall development in Old Town, and contrasted that with a slide showing post-1950s development along Broadway. In that era, Slattery said, local building codes were changed to actually require developers to build smaller, shorter buildings on sprawling lots.
Most members of the public who came to express concern about the project were there to talk about its impact on downtown parking. The project is the most ambitious so far in the city’s recent push to develop housing on city-owned properties around town — either on vacant parcels or parking lots.
“This is the busiest parking lot in the city of Eureka,” said Barbara Groom, owner of Lost Coast Brewery, during the two-hour public comment session. “You’re coming into the middle of the busiest part of town and gutting our parking — why? It doesn’t have to be there. There are just better places for it. It’s a wonderful project, but let’s think about the businesses that are down there paying the taxes and putting bread on people’s tables.”
Groom added that she was also opposed, particularly, to the inclusion of food trucks in the project’s design.
But the council ended up being swayed by a presentation earlier in the meeting by Scott Ellsmore, transportation manager from the city’s public works department, who spoke to data on the current state of parking in the downtown and Old Town areas, as well as mitigation measures being considered.
In the first place, Ellsmore said, the data developed in the city’s recent parking study didn’t indicate that parking is at crisis levels. In 2019 — before COVID — 13 public lots in the Old Town and downtown areas, none of which are proposed for development, had about 50 percent of their spaces available throughout the day, dipping to around 47 percent availability during peak parking times around noon. The city is continuing to study parking and is working on a master parking plan downtown, Ellsmore said, and this will be a subject of future council meetings. (The website for that study, with opportunities to provide feedback, can be found at this link.)
Along with the EaRTH Center development, the city and the Humboldt Transit Authority are proposing to institute a free shuttle service around Old Town, downtown and the waterfront, hitting all the public parking lots in the area.
But though many downtown business owners spoke against the development on parking grounds — many, like Groom, expressed enthusiasm for the project’s design, rather than its location — a sizable portion of the comments were very strongly supportive of the entire proposal.
Connie Stewart, executive director of initiatives for Cal Poly Humboldt, said that the university was excited about strengthening its ties with Eureka through the EaRTH Center.
“Cal Poly Humboldt wants to be Cal Poly Humboldt,” Stewart said. “We don’t want to be Cal Poly Arcata. We want to bring a lot of our economic development power to Eureka, and we’re looking at this project as one way of doing it, and we want to bring more projects here.”
Other local residents in favor of the project spoke about its impact on the city’s housing shortage, about the improved mass transit system, and about the aesthetic and economic benefits of more population in the downtown area.
Councilmember Kim Bergel said that she heard the downtown community’s concerns, but that the EaRTH Center was too good to pass up.
“I worked in in Old Town 15 years now, and it was hard to find a parking place,” said Councilmember Kim Bergel. “And so I hear what business owners are saying. And I want the project. So I want us to be able to mitigate those issues together and move through, so that we can have a win-win situation. So I’m all-in on this project, with that caveat.”
With that passed, the city looks to be turning some of its focus to the city’s in-progress Waterfront Specific Plan. The first of the public meetings on the subject will be held in March, and city staff and councilmembers assured the public that parking will be a major component of study.