View of Arcata showing the Gateway Area boundary | Images from the draft Gateway Area Plan


The planning process for Arcata’s Gateway Area Plan is getting kicked into high gear over the next several months, and some major changes are happening around upcoming city meetings and opportunities for community engagement. 

If you read the Outpost’s most recent article on the Gateway Plan, you might have seen a schedule of upcoming workshops and Arcata Planning Commission study sessions, including one for this Saturday, March 18. So the first thing you should know is that the study session is not happening! Do not go to Arcata City Hall tomorrow morning, because no one will be there. The session has been canceled. 

Now, on to other changes related to the Gateway Plan. It turns out that this reporter was a little confused about the outcome of the council’s Gateway Plan discussion on March 1. But after talking to a couple members of the planning department staff, it was made clear that all the other upcoming public workshops will also be canceled and the planning commission will redirect its efforts toward producing drafts of the Gateway Plan documents. 

“The council has given the planning commission specific directions to give its recommendations on General Plan updates, form-based code and the Gateway Area Plan by July 18,” David Loya, community development director for the City of Arcata, told the Outpost in a recent phone interview. 

To be clear, the Gateway Area Plan – which aims to rezone 138 acres of Arcata to facilitate the development of more housing – is one component of the city’s General Plan, which is used to guide goals, policies and physical development in the city.  The form-based code is the framework the city will use to rezone and guide future development in the Gateway Area. Over the last few months, planning commission meetings and public workshops have been primarily focused on establishing the form-based code, going over details like how far the buildings are setback from the sidewalk, what the roofs and windows look like, the landscaping, building heights, etc. 

Map showing the Gateway Area and its four sub-neighborhoods

During the Arcata City Council meeting on March 1, the council brought up concerns that the public was growing restless, that community engagement was dwindling and that discussions surrounding the form-based code were not as they would like them to be. The council members decided that for them and for the public to be able to make suggestions about form-based code, they would need to be able to actually see the code. So, the council requested that the planning commission halt its upcoming workshops and study sessions and focus on providing direction to Ben Noble, the City’s design consultant, who will develop a draft of the form-based code as soon as possible. 

That code can then be used for creation of a new draft of the Gateway Area Plan and for the updated General Plan. All of this is supposed to be complete by the end of June and then the commission will look over all these documents at its meeting on July 11 and provide a recommendation to the city council for adoption. 

This may seem like a lot for the planning commission to accomplish between now and early July, and that’s true! It is a lot and to get it done the commission will need to be focused and diligent. During its most recent meeting on March 14, the commission voted to change its meeting start time from 6 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. to provide a little more time for this work, and the commissioners agreed to a decision-making framework and a set of “ground rules” to keep the meetings on track. 

The Planning Commission “ground rules” to meet the tight timeline |Screenshot from Mar. 14 meeting

The commission also agreed to implement a “bike rack” concept, which is the alternative name Loya came up with for a parking lot concept – a meeting strategy where any topic that comes up in discussion that can’t be addressed right away is added to a list to be addressed again later. Once the commission has gotten through its major agenda items, it will return to the “bike rack” items and work through them. 

Loya said that the commission will also be adding a few special meetings between now and July, as needed to meet the deadline and the commission will be holding a study session on Saturday, April 22 to provide its direction to Noble on the form-based code. 

Once these drafts are all available for public review, the city will again offer more public workshops and opportunities for community feedback before any of the plans are adopted. Loya also wanted to be clear that even though the planning commission will be recommending that the council adopt the documents in July, the council will not actually be able to adopt them until the council adopts the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the city’s General Plan. 

The draft EIR should be released by July and then will need to be circulated for six months, receive comments and then have updates made, before returning to the council for adoption. The goal is for the EIR, the updated General Plan and the Gateway Area Plan to be adopted by spring 2024. The purpose of the council looking over the draft plan in July is to then be able to provide concrete feedback and direction on the plan’s development. Then some questions that have so far been unclear, like how many stories are the buildings going to be? should finally be answered. 

“It’s just that there are several major outstanding issues that we need to stop having open-ended conversations about,” Loya said. “The city council needs to tell us, ‘this is the direction we want you to go with these long-term planning documents.’”

As always, Loya encourages members of the community to email comments to You can also keep up-to-date on meetings and workshops related to the Gateway Plan by signing up for e-notifications from the City of Arcata. Follow this link and sign up for Long-Range Planning & Community Visioning emails.