Rendering showing example of potential building design in the Gateway Area | Images: screenshots from Building and Massing Presentation video on City’s YouTube channel.

Arcata’s Gateway Area Plan may be nearing the next steps to completion,  with the Planning Commission discussing form-based codes, proposed building heights and possibly making an official recommendation during tonight’s meeting,

To recap, the Gateway Area Plan (GAP) is a subsection of the city’s General Plan, which need to be updated every few years to accommodate Arcata’s changing needs. The plan would rezone 138 acres of land in and around the Creamery District to facilitate the development of high density housing. This is necessary for a couple of reasons: First of all, you’ve probably heard that Arcata and Humboldt are expected to see huge population growth in the coming years and people need housing. Secondly, the California Department of Housing and Community Development requires all cities to create a feasible plan to build more housing. If Arcata fails to meet that requirement, it will not be eligible for all kinds of state grant programs and things like that. 

In order to prevent the city from having to build out into the surrounding agricultural lands, city staff worked to identify existing sites within the city that would have the potential for housing development. The part of town in and around the Creamery District, which staff started calling the “Gateway Area,” is ideal, according to staff, because it contains many underutilized sites that are zoned for industrial purposes. 

The Planning Commission’s discussion tonight will focus primarily on form-based codes, something you’ve probably heard mentioned a lot if you’ve been following the gateway plan. If you want to dive deep into form-based codes, you should watch this video from the Form-Based Code Workshop, held on Aug. 16. Basically, form-based codes are a way for a city to have more control over what new buildings look like. Rather than using conventional zoning, which focuses on allowed uses for a site, if Arcata adopts a form-based code, it can bake in requirements for the aesthetic of the buildings like building heights, setbacks and general building design. 

The biggest concern surrounding the city’s plans for the Gateway has been building heights. Staff is recommending that the maximum height be different for different neighborhoods within the Gateway area, ranging between five and eight stories, which some community members and planning commissioners have felt is too high. Staff is also recommending implementing a community benefits program, which would require developments to include a certain number of amenities that would benefit the community – such as green spaces, community gardens, rooftop dining, etc. – to determine the building height and density. The more benefits a developer agrees to provide, the bigger it could build. 

Some planning commissioners have expressed concerns over the community benefit program idea, saying that some of the listed amenities might only benefit residents rather than the entire community, and that some of the listed amenities should be requirements for all new development. The staff report includes a list of concerns and considerations to be discussed at the meeting written by Planning Commissioner Judith Mayer. You can read it here

If the commission feels ready, it may make a concrete recommendation to the Council during tonight’s meeting on any aspect of the plan, including proposed building heights. But that will depend on how the conversation goes. According to the staff report, the commission does not yet feel equipped to make any decisions until all of its concerns, and the concerns of the community have been identified. 

If you have concerns about the Gateway Area Plan, you’ll want to attend tonight’s meeting because the community will also have a chance to voice their concerns through a poll that will be taken during the meeting. 

“The polling results are not intended to show how important any particular issue is, and the results will not be used in this way,” the staff report says. “Instead, the poll will provide the public efficient access to the process to ensure all ideas are on the table among those participating. There will also be a paper option in the meeting to allow those without devices to be heard. Additionally, since users can add as many responses as they wish, the public may share devices in the meeting.” 

The Planning Commission will meet tonight at 6 p.m. You can read the full agenda and directions on how to view and participate, in person or virtually, here.