Despite considerable opposition from some members of the public, the Humboldt County Planning Commission on Thursday approved plans for a new housing development near McKinelyville’s Grace Park neighborhood. The project proposal and conditional use permit were approved in a 6-1 vote, with Commissioner Peggy O’Neil dissenting.
The 2.47-acre parcel, located on the east side of Central Avenue between Pickett and Gwin Roads, will be split into 19 individual parcels ranging from approximately 2,100 square feet to 6,300 square feet in size. The development will include 61 units – four three-bedroom single-family homes, six townhome-style fourplexes with 24 two-bedroom units and eight one-bedroom apartments, also in a fourplex configuration – and shared parking facilities.
The parcel is currently developed with one single-family residence, which will be sited on its own parcel. An existing detached garage and two other outbuildings will be removed from the parcel.
The applicant, local developer Dane Valadao, said he purchased the property in 2019, in part because of the R-3 zoning designation, which allows for multiple-family residences. “I want to point out, [when] this property was listed on the market it was marketed for development,” he said during Thursday’s meeting. “[A]n excerpt from the public listing says this [property] … is zoned R-3, which allows for multi-family use, allowing a minimum of seven units and up to 30 units per acre, subject to design approval by the county.”
Valadao said he had received comments from housing advocacy groups, including the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities, that asked for higher density development and less parking, as well as improvement for bike and pedestrian safety. Although R-3 zoning allows for higher density development, Valadao said he’d rather keep the units at two floors “to conform to the neighborhood.”
“I live in Grace Park myself … so I do understand everybody’s concern,” he said. “A recurring comment is acknowledging the need for housing. Everybody wants it, the issue is nobody wants it in their neighborhood. Humboldt County has a lot going on with the growth of Cal Poly Humboldt, the potential fish farm on the [Samoa] Peninsula and offshore wind. These projects are gonna have a huge impact on the housing stock in the coming years.”
Valadao also quashed rumors that the housing development would be earmarked as “low-income housing” but said the units would be affordable. “It’s more affordable to rent than it is to buy and we need more affordable housing than ever,” he added.
Speaking during the public comment section of the meeting, Carole Huey, a resident of the senior mobile home park down the street, asked the Planning Commission to deny the proposal, adding that the vast majority of Thunderbird Mobile Estates residents oppose the project proposal.
“Housing should not simply be about cramming in as many people as possible to make as much money as one can,” she said. “It should also be about neighborhood aesthetics, as well as the physical and mental wellbeing of the current neighbors and the future residents of the proposed housing development.”
Similarly, Anthony Eggink, another neighborhood resident, said the proposed development was too congested. “There is a difference between what zoning is allowed and what is appropriate, and that is where you all come in,” he said to commissioners. “I’d like you to take your time and make an appropriate decision.”
Cindy Condit, a McKinleyville resident of 27 years, brought up the issue of seasonal flooding on the property and asserted that the existing plans demonstrate a “lack of consideration of the neighboring properties downhill to the east.”
“There are physical problems that have direct impacts on the properties along the west side of Stevens Way, and they can either be exacerbated or relieved with this property development,” she said. “Every rainy season our west-facing yards toward the Valadao property flood for a few weeks, and every third or fourth year the flooding extends under our houses. … In the same flooding years, a seasonal pond forms on that south half of the Valadao property and remains for two or three months, even weeks after the rain stops.”
Condit suggested that Valadao should modify the plan to continue the gutter and sidewalks further east to Stevens Way to alleviate the issue. Later in the meeting, Valadao said a drainage study will be required before the project can move forward.
Several other commenters expressed concerns about road maintenance, noting that that subdivision would only be accessible via Pickett and Gwin roads, the latter of which is technically a private road. Others were worried about an influx in crime with the new development, as well as potential privacy issues.
Tom Wheeler, a representative of the Redwood Coalition for Climate and Environmental Responsibility, was one of two members of the public who spoke in favor of the project during Thursday’s meeting. “We’re in a housing crisis that has been driven by a lack of housing supply,” he said. “New development at this level of density or greater is appropriate for a site that is so close to the proposed future McKinleyville Town Center.”
Following public comment, Valadao said he would accommodate privacy concerns with “top-down, bottom-up” blinds that can be raised from the bottom and lowered from the top to maintain privacy while also letting in natural light from the top of the window.
Regarding the issue of road maintenance, Valadao said he would “try to put together a road maintenance agreement” for the use of Gwin Road, adding: “We will also commit – if we do not get buy-in – that we will fund that per our impact on Gwin Road.”
“We’re not trying to skirt any responsibility on Gwin,” he continued. “That’s something we can work with our engineers to determine what our impact is.”
Commissioner Brian Mitchell asked whether Valadao had considered making the Gwin Road entrance to the subdivision either entrance or exit only. Valadao said he hadn’t considered it but would look into it.
Commissioner O’Neil asked what Valadao considered “affordable housing” and how much the units would go for. “I’d say anywhere from $750 to 950 [per month] for a one-bedroom and anywhere from $1,000 to 1,500 for a two-bedroom,” Valadao responded.
Speaking to a larger issue, Commissioner O’Neil criticized the county for failing to make necessary improvements to McKinleyville’s infrastructure while also expecting the non-incorporated town to shoulder the burden of development.
“A lot of burden is put on McKinleyville for development,” she said. “Those of us that live there, the roads aren’t improving and the walkability is not improving. They’ve done a few bike lanes down Main Street, but that’s about it. … I do agree that we need more housing and I’m totally supportive of housing, but not at the expense of our community and, you know, aesthetics in our community. I sympathize with the people that are going to see the impact and even though it may be zoned for multi-family, it doesn’t have to have this type of impact … .”
After a bit of additional discussion, Commissioner Mitchell expressed his support for the proposal, noting that the applicant had agreed to the staff’s Conditions for Approval, which “more than adequately mitigate” concerns raised, he said.
Commissioner Thomas Mulder agreed and made a motion to approve staff’s recommendation along with the conditions for approval. The motion passed in a 6-1 vote with Commissioner O’Neil dissenting.