Plans for the North McKay Ranch Subdivision include up to 320 residential units, including up to 172 multi-family units, along with 22,000 square feet of commercial development on a total of about 81 acres. | Image via County of Humboldt.


The Board of Supervisors today approved a development agreement between the county and Kramer Properties, Inc., for the North McKay Ranch Subdivision, a planned 81-acre mixed-use development that could include up to 320 residential units and 22,000 square feet of commercial space in Cutten. 

Local developer Kurt Kramer, the man behind Kramer Properties, attended the hearing remotely, and while he thanked county staff for their help getting the project to this point, he said the gamut of regulatory obstacles he’s had to face leaves the future of this development uncertain.

Supervisors had given the project a conditional green light last March but only after adding a condition whereby the developer could choose to make improvements to pedestrian and bicycle connectivity rather than installing a pair of new traffic signals. The details of those improvements have yet to be hashed out.

After last year’s hearing, however, the county was contacted by a coalition of six nonprofit environmental groups that took issue with findings in the project’s Final Environmental Impact Report. In a letter, the six organizations — EPIC, Humboldt Baykeeper, CRTP, Northcoast Environmental Center, 350 Humboldt and Earthjustice — called for the development to be fully electrified, with no gas hookups or wood stoves, as a means of lowering its greenhouse gas emissions.

Kramer had objected to that request during last year’s hearing, saying it would render the project financially infeasible, but after subsequent negotiations between the various parties he wound up agreeing to make the project hookups all-electric.

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said it will likely be six to 10 years before the property can get adequate electricity to begin construction. Planning Director John Ford said he’s not sure if it will take that long, though he acknowledged that some off-site utility improvements must be made. The county may be able to use tax-generated housing funds to help finance those improvements, Ford said.

During the public comment period, Colin Fiske, executive director of CRTP (the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities), said that while he appreciates the changes made to the project, he and others still have concerns about the environmental documentation.

Fiske called for more transportation-related mitigations, including requiring the developer to provide bus passes to future residents of multi-family units and reducing the number of parking spaces.

Bohn speculated that the project may never get built with private financing alone, saying Kramer may have to collaborate with public agencies to “push it through.” Noting that the Lundbar Hills development approved nearly 50 years ago has yet to be fully built as planned, Bohn said, “I just want people to know that you’re not going to see 300 units. This is a 30-year build-out, and I don’t think we’re gonna see more than 10 to 12 units a year.”

Bohn manages the 11-acre Redwood Fields recreation facility that sits in the center of this development like the hole in a donut, though he doesn’t stand to gain financially from the project. He said he fully supports it, as he has since it was first proposed nearly three decades ago. 

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson said he appreciated Fiske’s comments but believes “the needle has been moved pretty significantly” toward green alternatives already, with room for further negotiations down the line.

Fourth District Supervisor Natalie Arroyo thanked Kramer and county staff for their work bringing the project this far, and then she invited Kramer to share his thoughts. Speaking via Zoom, he obliged.

“You know,” he said, “as a developer in this community for the last 40 years, I just continue to be amazed at the obstacles and hurdles that are put in front of development.” 

He said that he could have built the project as put forward last year, but “now, with the added requirement of all-electric [hookups], it’s like, I don’t know how this gets done.”

Kramer said he’s still trying to get the Humboldt Community Services District to bring the project site into its service boundaries, and he’ll have to figure out how to avoid negatively impacting traffic in the Cutten area. He’s also worried about PG&E’s ability to provide the necessary power, given the recent revelation that the utility might be unable to meet demand in Southern Humboldt. 

“How much risk is involved in this project? I would argue a ton,” Kramer said. “If I had to do it all over again, would I do it? Not a chance.”

He said that the development community has been effectively chased out of Humboldt County, leaving no one capable of building the housing that’s allegedly so desperately needed.

“And I think we need it, but we continually get in the way of it and we don’t consult with the development community,” he said. “We just start laying out these rules without really fully understanding the impacts.”

The North McKay Ranch project has a 20-year development window, and Kramer said it will likely take “every bit” of that to see it finished given the regulatory obstacles from the county and particularly the state, which recently implemented new building energy efficiency standards.

“You won’t see a shovel turned out there for years,” Kramer said.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone suggested that future developments of this kind may require private-public partnerships.

The vote to approve the development agreement and associated resolutions and ordinances was unanimous.


Interactive map of the project site (outlined in red):