ARCATA – The Gateway Area Plan (GAP) came under more detailed review last week by the Arcata Planning Commission. A new element of the city’s general plan, the GAP outlines the land use policy for a 138-acre redevelopment area near downtown Arcata. The plan was released in December 2021 and is currently being reviewed by City Commissions, Commissions and City Council.
While last week’s planning commission meeting focused on mobility, upcoming sessions will look at streetscape employment, arts, open spaces, infrastructure, housing, design and the EIR of the project.
GAP skeptics have raised a number of nightmarish scenarios that they say would beset Arcata if GAP’s plan were passed as is, portraying the plan as, among other things, unfriendly to business.
GAP activist Chris Richards has suggested that existing businesses will be required to add accommodation if they wish to expand their business, and “be forced into stagnant business”. In written comments to the EDC, he said that “erasing rare light industrial zoned lands leaves companies with no options and would be forced out of Arcata.”
Community development manager David Loya said, as he has done in previous meetings, that no currently non-compliant businesses will be forced to relocate. He directed the curious to the project’s online FAQ, which answers the question.
Loya said major non-compliant manufacturers in the region could still have their expansion plans dealt with via discretionary review. He said city staff would likely support business expansion plans, as would Planco.
“It would just be a planning process like you have to do right now,” Loya said.
On the topic of the day, mobility, Loya said the GAP includes a range of “prepared” policies that will enable infrastructure to support sustainable neighborhoods’ alternative modes of transport such as public transport, walking paths and the bike. It also reduces parking needs and encourages carpooling, he said.
“There’s a lot of thought that has gone into creating options for a car-free lifestyle,” Loya said.
The “complete streets” policy being considered by the city council highlights ways in which communities have implemented alternative transportation features such as bulbouts and bike boulevards, Loya said. These include various layouts for street design incorporating sidewalks, cycle paths and roads.
Loya said GAP policies encourage such features, but they would be specified in detail in all development plans.
Further discussion focused on potential traffic impacts on busy streets in the gateway area. A public speaker was skeptical that security issues could be fixed and that some situations are likely to be overlooked. He said traffic control, an essential element, is lacking — especially with the imminent arrival of thousands more Cal Poly Humboldt students and their vehicles.
“I don’t see it working,” he said, citing F, H and K streets and Alliance Road as “a really dangerous situation.” “If you’re a resident living on one of those streets, you’re going to have more pollution, you’re going to have more noise.” He said he was told by city officials such as the police department and city council, “You’re absolutely right and we’re not going to do anything about it.”
Richards said traffic issues in the area are currently not related to capacity, but to speed and disregard of laws. “The problem really isn’t too much traffic,” he said. “It’s not a realistic thing.”
He also questioned why the results of the public outreach of a two-day open house at the Arcata Community Center in January were not incorporated into the staff report of the meeting. “You spend all this time repeating this over and over again, but you miss some of the main points of the small public participation introduction that you created,” Richards said.
Former planning commissioner Ann King Smith also called for more public comment to be incorporated into the deliberations. These comments, she said, generally oppose density-enhancing measures such as taller buildings and larger housing developments, and if heeded would likely go against them. of the GAP objective of enabling the creation of 3,500 housing units. “I just don’t think we’ll get to that 3,500 units,” she said.
She said mobility policies were “excellent”, but she objected to pushing developers to add features such as electric vehicle charging stations and bicycle parking in exchange for denser developments. “These are simply development standards at Arcata; they are not extras, and I think they should be mandatory,” she said. She also wanted the city to invest more in public amenities such as meeting places, schools, playgrounds or a new library branch.
Patricia Cambianca also requested a summary of the results of the open day, as well as the long-promised 3D modeling studies. She said the plan’s FAQ “doesn’t really seem to reflect the questions the community is really asking.” She said a “robust community import” is vital, but “it hasn’t really been there.”
“There are a lot of people in the audience who still haven’t heard of the Gateway Area Plan,” she said, with opaque processes stifling community participation. “The transparency was dismal, it was vague, it was dismissive, it was kind of like us ‘explaining the plan,'” Cambianca said.
Aaron DeBruyn urged public comment disclosure and asked if a single-family home is a non-compliant use that could trigger forms-based code requirements if extended.
Matt Simmons of the Redwood Coalition for Climate and Environmental Responsibility (RCCER) hailed the GAP as “the most bike- and pedestrian-friendly plan ever offered in our region.” It said its easily accessible transport options put people first over cars and would spur citizens to make more environmentally friendly decisions.
But, he said, density is essential for it to work. “If you have people who live closer to where they are going…they are more likely to walk, cycle and take public transport.” This density, he said, would also ensure greater use of public transport. “It makes all of these mobility options of walking, cycling, and public transit feasible,” Simmons said.
Loya admitted that “we missed those deadlines” in releasing all of the promised data, but that her department “is working diligently to deliver a large volume of work.”
“We’re going to deliver these things and these are critical paths, so the documents won’t pass without seeing them,” Loya said. Creation of 3D GIS models showing clutter and mass is “in progress”, with visualizations still being refined. He said they should be ready “soon” and will be used in an upcoming community design process, and the full GAP database will eventually be available during city council deliberations.
In response to a question from Vice President Judith Mayer, Loya said the GAP process is flexible, with meetings and follow-ups scheduled in response to the somewhat unpredictable amount of discussion the different components may require. “The timeline is going to be modified to reflect this new information during this public hearing process,” Loya said, citing the design as an example. “I can’t really preload that.”
The community design process will address different elements of the form-based code of the plan – streetscape, massing and massing, and building articulation – in an interactive public forum. This will include public meetings and other ongoing opportunities to comment. This commitment will then be summarized for the committee to consider. In late summer or early fall, he said, Planco and the board could then hold joint design review sessions.
Commissioner Kimberley White said with up to 9,000 new residents coming in, she wanted to see public toilets incorporated into the plan. “I hope we bring that to the conversation,” she said.
The next Planco meeting will continue the discussion on mobility and perhaps move on to jobs, arts and open spaces.