Arcata City

Staff Report
Direction Given
Jan 23, 2018 6:00 PM

Consider a Recommendation to the City Council for Approval of the Required Permits and Development Agreement Terms and Certification of the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Village Student Housing Project at 2715-2920 St.
Louis Rd.; File No. 156-179-GPA-ZA-PM-DR-PD-DA-GPC


Department:Community DevelopmentSponsors:


At the December 19, 2017, hearing, the Planning Commission completed considerable deliberations on the following items as they relate to CEQA: 1) traffic and transportation impacts; 2) aesthetics and visual impacts; 3) greenhouse gas emissions; 4) land use planning; 5) population and growth inducing developments; and 6) the wastewater treatment plant. The Commission directed staff to return with additional discussion on several DEIR sections, including aesthetics, growth inducing impacts, mandatory findings, and land use and planning. In addition, the Commission asked for a response to the Remy, Moose, Manley letter of November 11, 2017, and the EPIC letter of 12-14-17, 2017. The objectives of this meeting are to: 1) complete deliberations on the Draft EIR, 2) consider each of the proposed permits; and 3) consider the terms of the Development Agreement for the Project.







Discussion/Fiscal Impact

DISCUSSION: The following is a detailed discussion on the items that remain outstanding in the Planning Commission’s review of the Village Student Housing Project. An outline to assist with the organization and flow of the meeting on January 23rd is included as Attachment I.

Environmental Review - The Planning Commission will ultimately make a recommendation to the City Council for certification of the Final Environmental Impact Report. The Final EIR will include the Draft EIR as amended along with responses to comments on the Draft EIR, subject to the requirements of the CEQA Guidelines Sec. 15132. The Commissions Review of the Final EIR will focus on the responses to comments received on the Draft EIR (CEQA Guidelines Sec. 15089(b)). As such, the Commission can substantively complete discussions on the Draft EIR, considering the project, its impacts, and the mitigations to reduce the impacts at this meeting. Staff will return with the Final EIR.

Pursuant to the CEQA Guidelines Sec. 15090, certification of the Final EIR covers a very specific scope. Certification must be done prior to approving a project for which the EIR was prepared and the City would be certifying that the Final EIR:

1.      has been completed in compliance with CEQA;

2.      was reviewed by the decision-making body prior to approving the project; and

3.      reflects the lead agency’s independent judgement and analysis.

Note, the certification itself does not intimate whether the lead agency should approve, approve with conditions, or deny the project. Rather, the certification is simply stating that the EIR is the basis for the decision whether to approve the project or not. The City would be certifying that it has considered the EIR and has adopted it as its independent judgement on the environmental impacts of the project.

Subsequent to certifying the Final EIR, but before approving the project (permits), the City must make one or more of the CEQA Guidelines 15091 Findings. These are in summary:

1.      mitigation has been incorporated into the project to avoid or lessen impacts;

2.      the mitigations are under the responsibility of another agency that has approval authority and that agency can and should make the changes to the project; or

3.      the mitigation measures or project alternatives are infeasible.

The Draft EIR for the project has identified some mitigation measures that reduce the impacts to less than significant and has identified that traffic impacts cannot be mitigated due to economic and other considerations. Ultimately, the City will have to make findings 1 and 3 above prior to considering whether or how to approve the project.

While many of the project impacts that are significant can be mitigated, the impacts on traffic at the LK Wood/Sunset intersection cannot be. Given the unavoidable significant impact related to traffic, the Commission will make a recommendation to the City Council regarding a statement of overriding considerations. The process for making a statement of overriding considerations is found in CEQA Guidelines Sec. 15093. In effect, and overriding considerations statement that the “specific economic, legal, social, technological or other benefits…of [the] project outweigh the unavoidable adverse environmental effects” allows the City to approve the project in spite of the unmitigated environmental impacts. Staff has provided a draft statement of overriding considerations, including the necessary rationale and findings (Attachment A).

The Commission will be making a recommendation to the City Council to Certify the Final EIR. The objective for this meeting is to conclude deliberations on the Draft EIR. To facilitate the Commission’s deliberations, staff has prepared discussion on the items raised at the last hearing on the Village project.


Aesthetics - The decision that the Commission must make regarding Aesthetics section are very specific (see table below) and are described beginning on Pg.2.6-1 of the DEIR. The DEIR currently identifies the following potential impacts:






I. AESTHETICS -- Would the project:

Potentially Significant Impact

Less Than Significant with Mitigation Incorporated

Less Than Significant Impact

No Impact

a) Have a substantial adverse effect on a scenic vista?





b) Substantially damage scenic resources, including, but not limited to, trees, rock outcroppings, and historic buildings within a state scenic highway?





c) Substantially degrade the existing visual character or quality of the site and its surroundings?





d) Create a new source of substantial light or glare which would adversely affect day or nighttime views in the area?







The support for these determinations are on the pages following 2.6-1 in the Draft EIR. If the record does not support these determinations, the Commission should provide staff direction regarding what is lacking in the record. Alternatively, the Commission may find the record sufficient to make its determination.


The City has not established thresholds or a standard method for evaluating aesthetic impacts. The Commission has struggled with the project features and how they affect scenic vistas and the character of the site and surroundings. In addition, the Commission has struggled with the overlap between the EIR findings for aesthetics and the Design Review findings for the discretionary permit. To support its analysis, staff has provided the Commission examples of case law related to aesthetics. Below are excerpts of Bowman et al v. City of Berkeley (Attachment B) that are relevant to considerations related to thresholds and the differences between the environmental review and the Design Review: 


"That some, or perhaps all, environmental impacts have an esthetic facet, does not mean that all adverse esthetic impacts affect environment. That is neither good logic nor good law. Some questions of esthetics do not seem to lend themselves to the detailed analysis required under NEPA for a § 102(C) impact statement. Like psychological factors they 'are not readily translatable into concrete measuring rods.' [Citation.] The difficulty in precisely defining what is beautiful cannot stand in the way of expressions of community choice through zoning regulation. [Citation.] But the difficulties have a bearing on the intention of Congress, and whether it contemplated, for example, a requirement of a detailed 'environmental impact statement,' and concomitant investigation, because of the possibility that each new Federal construction would be ugly to some, or even most, beholders, on such issues as: Is this proposed building beautiful? Or, what is the esthetic effect of placing the 'controversial' Picasso statute in front of the Civic Center building in Chicago? These types of problems lead us to conclude that a 'substantial inquiry' or 'hard look' was not contemplated, as a matter of reasonable construction of NEPA, where the claim of NEPA application is focused on alleged esthetic impact and the matters at hand pertain essentially to issues of individual and potentially diverse tastes." 

……But we do not believe that our Legislature in enacting CEQA, any more than Congress in enacting NEPA, intended to require an EIR where the sole environmental impact is the aesthetic merit of a building in a highly developed area….To rule otherwise would mean that an EIR would be required for every urban building project that is not exempt under CEQA if enough people could be marshaled to complain about how it will look. While there may be situations where it is unclear whether an aesthetic impact like the one alleged here arises in a "particularly sensitive" context (Guidelines, § 15300.2) where it could be considered environmentally significant, this case does not test that boundary. The aesthetic difference between a four story and a three story building on a commercial lot on a major thoroughfare in a developed urban area is not a significant environmental impact, even under the fair argument standard.

…."Virtually every city in this state has enacted zoning ordinances for the purpose of improving the appearance of the urban environment" … and architectural or design review ordinances, adopted "solely to protect aesthetics,” are increasingly common... While those local laws obviously do not preempt CEQA, we agree with the Developer and the amicus curiae brief of the Sierra Club in support of the Project that aesthetic issues like the one raised here are ordinarily the province of local design review, not CEQA. That the cases addressing such issues have arisen under local ordinances rather than CEQA is supportive of that view….Guinnane v. San Francisco City Planning Com. (1989) 209 Cal. App. 3d 732, 735, fn. 2, 742-743 [257 Cal. Rptr. 742] [proposed residence was " 'not in character' " with surrounding development because it was " 'significantly more massive and of a larger scale than adjoining dwellings' "; city "went beyond environmental concerns and focused instead on the suitability of the project within the affected neighborhood" when it denied the permit notwithstanding prior approval of a negative declaration].)

Here, the City found that the Project would not "[s]ubstantially degrade the existing visual character or quality of the site and its surroundings" within the meaning of Appendix G of the Guidelines in part because "[c]onstruction of this project is subject to design review and approval prior to issuance of building permits.” This finding was supported by the record of extensive design review in this case, was sufficient to address the Guideline criterion, and was consistent with a reasonable and practical reading of CEQA. Where a project must undergo design review under local law, that process itself can be found to mitigate purely aesthetic impacts to insignificance, even if some people are dissatisfied with the outcome. 

In addition, for perspective, staff has included a methodology used by Pacific Gas & Electric in its analysis of an individual project’s significance in terms of aesthetic impacts (Attachment C).

Throughout this process, Staff has asked the Commission to make separate findings on the Aesthetics (CEQA) and Neighborhood Compatibility (Design Review Permit) aspects of the project. Although the findings are related, they require different perspectives in their analysis, which is described in detail later in this report. They are, however, bound together by the General Plan, as depicted in the simple diagram above. The General Plan guides and informs all land use decisions; it is a high-level guidance document that helps to influence decisions toward an overall vision or development pattern established by the City Council through its adoption. The General Plan has Infill policies that must be considered alongside the policies relating to multi-family residential development.

Land Use and Planning – the Commission has had some concerns about the proposed project being in conflict with the City’s General Plan and/or Zoning Ordinance (Land Use Code). As explained in the DEIR (Pg 2.1-7) and further in the December 19, 2017, staff report (Packet Pg 8), by requesting an amendment to both of these regulatory frameworks – which is an allowed activity that the Commission has reviewed and recommended approval to the Council on many dozens of times – to a land use designation and zoning category (Residential High Density) that would allow such development to occur. The action of amending these underlying land use and zoning designations brings the proposed project into compliance assuming it meets the standards of the new (RH) zoning district.

In this particular case, the applicant requests an exception to the 35’ height limit of the RH zone to allow for a maximum 50’ height. This is a standard exception that can be addressed through the Type “B” Planned Development Permit (PDP) which is included in this project application and more thoroughly explained in the Findings section (Attachment D).

Furthermore, a full discussion of the project’s compliance with not only the proposed Residential High Density designation, but also the other elements and policies of the General Plan are discussed in great detail in the Land Use and Planning Section of the DEIR commencing on page 2.1-1.

Growth Inducing Impacts – CEQA Guidelines Definition – The CEQA Guidelines require that an environmental impact report (EIR) evaluate the growth inducing impacts of a proposed action (Section 15126.2(d)). A growth-inducing impact is defined by the CEQA Guidelines as:

The ways in which the proposed project could foster economic or population growth, or the construction of additional housing, either directly or indirectly, in the surrounding environment. Included in this are projects which would remove obstacles to population growth (a major expansion of a wastewater treatment plant might, for example, allow for more construction in service areas).  Increases in the population may tax existing community service facilities, requiring construction of new facilities that could cause significant environmental effects.  The characteristic of some projects may encourage and facilitate other activities that could significantly affect the environment, either individually or cumulatively.  It must not be assumed that growth in any area is necessarily beneficial, detrimental, or of little significance to the environment.

A project can have direct and/or indirect growth-inducement potential. Direct growth-inducement would result if a project actually induced or required that additional actions or projects be implemented. For instance, a new housing project could require construction of new electric transmission lines to serve the new population. The new transmission lines would support not only the development itself, but also additional development that would rely on the new transmission lines. In this way, the project itself has the potential to induce growth in addition to providing for the proposed population it is intended to house.

A project can indirectly induce growth if it established substantial new permanent employment opportunities (e.g., commercial, industrial, or governmental enterprises) or if it would involve a substantial construction effort that would indirectly stimulate the need for additional housing and services to support the new employment demand.  Similarly, under CEQA, a project would indirectly induce growth if it would remove an obstacle to additional growth and development, such as increasing the capacity of an essential public service.

Growth Inducing Impacts of the Village Student Housing Project – Because the population increase that would occur from the Village project is within the development and population projections of the Arcata General Plan (~20,000 residents), and because the project does not require additional development of housing to support it, the project will not cause growth inducing impacts.  In addition, the City has been lagging behind in the development of its share of the regional housing need for the last few Housing Element planning cycles.  The proposed project would assist in implementation of the City’s Housing Element by providing a needed housing type in close proximity to the primary destination of its residents.  

Chapter 8 (Other CEQA Considerations) of the Draft EIR (Pgs. 8-1 to 8-2) contains an analysis of the potential growth inducing impacts of the Village Student Housing project which states:

The project proposes an off-campus student housing development on an underutilized industrial site within 0.5 miles of Humboldt State University (HSU). Student housing is identified as a needed housing type in the City of Arcata 2014 Housing Element and the HSU 2004 Master Plan. Humboldt State University (HSU) reports they currently have 2,100 dormitory housing units that are estimated by the CA Department of Finance (DOF) to provide housing for approximately 2,283 students (Appendix K, Pg. 3). As of Fall 2016, HSU had 8,503 students enrolled with 8,020 of these being Full-Time Equivalent Students (HSU, 2016). As such, the dormitory housing units on-campus provide housing for less than 30% of the student population.  This project would provide modern, purpose-built housing for 800 students that will help to meet the demand for student housing in the City.

The project does not propose to provide housing for non-student residents in the City or the surrounding area that could induce population growth. The project will not result in an increase in student enrollment at HSU, but may attract students to this area of the City of Arcata who have been living outside City limits due to existing housing constraints in the City. Providing additional student housing in the City may also help to relieve pressure on the single-family housing market in the area. In relation to the City of Arcata’s resident population of 18,374 (DOF, 2017), the potential increase from the proposed project (~800 persons) would not be substantial (~4.4%).

The project includes all necessary improvements to the existing infrastructure, and no excess capacity that could induce growth will be provided. As indicated by comments from the representatives of the various public service agencies in the project area, the development of the proposed project would not result in the need for new or physically altered governmental facilities (such as new fire or police stations). There are no features of the project that would be expected to cause secondary or growth-inducing impacts. Therefore, the proposed project would not be growth-inducing.

Infill Development Defined – As mentioned by Commissioner McCavour at past meetings on this project, the subject property and the project itself qualify for new statutory infill development exemptions and allowances under CEQA. As defined by Section 21061.3 of the CEQA Guidelines:

An “Infill site” means a site in an urbanized area that meets either of the following criteria:

(a) The site has not been previously developed for urban uses and both of the following apply:

(1) The site is immediately adjacent to parcels that are developed with qualified urban uses, or at least 75 percent of the perimeter of the site adjoins parcels that are developed with qualified urban uses and the remaining 25 percent of the site adjoins parcels that have previously been developed for qualified urban uses.

(2) No parcel within the site has been created within the past 10 years unless the parcel was created as a result of the plan of a redevelopment agency.

(b) The site has been previously developed for qualified urban uses.

A “Qualified urban use” is defined as any residential, commercial, public institutional, transit or transportation passenger facility, or retail use, or any combination of those uses. (Sec. 21072, CEQA Guidelines).

The Guiding Principles and Goals of the Growth Management Element of the General Plan encourage infill development. In order to achieve the resource protections, rural character of the planning area, and to protect flood-prone, steeply sloped, streamside buffer areas and productive natural resource, agricultural, and forest lands from urban development, infill developments must be encouraged. Given other regulatory considerations like stormwater, lot coverage, and parking requirements, new development will need to “go up” rather than out.

This project meets all of the local and state definitions of infill development given its proximity to HSU, its redevelopment of a distressed and underutilized industrial property that is fully served by public utilities and roads, and its contributions to the City’s multi-modal infrastructure through the addition of a new transit stop and the construction of two trails, both of which are identified in the City’s Pedestrian Bicycle Master Plan.

Finalize the general terms of the Development Agreement (Attachment E).

The instrument by which the Planning Commission will convey its recommendations on the above items to the City Council will be a resolution, prepared by Staff, and adopted by the Planning Commission at its next meeting.

Discretionary Permit ReviewThe Commission should finalize review of the following permits and other discretionary review:

a.    Zoning and General Plan Amendments

b.   Parcel Merger

c.    Planned Development Permit

d.   A General Plan Consistency finding for the disposal of a portion of the St. Louis Rd. Right of Way, and

e.    Design Review Permit

Please refer to the Findings section (Attachment D) which provides detail on the requirements of each of the permits, the disposal of the road right of way and the findings for Development Agreements. The draft Findings reflect the original submittal (240 units/800 beds) and will be modified to reflect the project if approved by Council. The Commission has been discussing modifications it would consider for a recommendation to Council that would reduce the size of the project. A revised project would fall within the “Reduced Size” alternative, Alternative 3, which is thoroughly described in the DEIR (Pg 6-24).  A brief summary of the necessary permits follows:

a)      General Plan (GP) and Zoning Map Amendments. At its first meeting on November 28, 2017, the Commission, through a straw vote, indicated its support, in general, of the subject site being redeveloped for an unidentified high density residential use.  In order for this to occur, the existing Industrial Limited (IL) and Residential Low Density (RL) general plan and zoning designations would need to be changed to Residential High Density (RH). The allowed density in the RH plan/zone is up to 32 units/acre which would result in ±320 units for this 10± acre site. The project has been reduced in size through the discretionary review process and is now proposing a 210 unit/700 bed development. This represents a less-than-midpoint density development.

      The subject 10± acre property is large and, therefore, allows a higher number of units. However, there are many other examples of higher density throughout the City. One example the Sunset Terrace (3.5 ac) project which would only be allowed 53 units, but for the Special Considerations combining zone specifying the 142 unit density based on housing type that the Council approved in December 2009.

b)     Parcel Merger (PM). The site currently consists of seven parcels. In order to create an orderly high-density residential development with adequate parking, landscaping, stormwater, recreation and other amenities, the merger of these parcels is required. Parcel Merger is generally a ministerial process and no findings are required. The merger of the subject parcels will result in one parcel approximately 10 acres in size.

c)      Planned Development Combining Zone (:PD) and Planned Development Permit (PDP). The :PD overlay is intended to allow development of land as a single unit by taking advantage of modern site planning techniques to result in a more efficient use of land. The objective is to provide a means for project design to more effectively respond to on-site opportunities and constraints, neighborhood character, and community needs, than a project that is possible only in compliance with the requirements of the primary zoning district. The combining zone is implemented through the Zoning Map amendment. The Type “B” PDP implements the :PD combining zone and allows for the requested height exception and the reduction in private recreation space (balconies).

d)     General Plan Conformance Finding. This is required for the disposal of a portion of the public road right of way which will allow for the buildings to be located as far to the east as possible, the development of a portion of the Rail with Trail, the development of parking, landscaping and stormwater features related to the project and for several public parking spaces for users of the trail(s).

e)      Development Agreement. A Development Agreement must be consistent with the objectives and policies of the General Plan and the requirements of Section 9.72.110.B.3 of this Land Use Code which specifies that it shall be in conjunction with an application for rezoning, a subdivision, a planned development or other discretionary planning permit authorizing the development which is the subject of the Development Agreement. The purpose of this project’s proposed Development Agreement is to provide a binding agreement by which the substantial benefits (the construction of trails and contribution to the wastewater treatment plant) that the project is providing to the public can be enforced as they are not measures intended to mitigate environmental impacts identified in the DEIR.

Before continuing on to the Design Review Permit discussion, Staff recommends that the Commission verbalize an informal recommendation on all of the above land use actions.

f)       Design Review. Through the process of discretionary review, the project has been revised to include a reduction in height of the two westerly buildings from four to three stories and a change to the exterior architectural design, architectural features, materials and style.

The project proponent has provided three alternative designs after having received negative feedback on the original proposal (Attachment F). Two of the designs blend better with the single family look of neighborhoods to the west and north having hip and gable end roofs and character associated with single family housing. The third design contrasts with the residential look and conforms to the industrial look of the site and nearby industrial uses. The Commission should provide input on the most appealing in consideration of the surrounding neighborhood. In making this decision, as well as the basic decision of neighborhood compatibility, the Commission shall consider the following General Plan policies in the Design Element D-5a pertaining to Multi-Family development. These are guidelines and should not be considered as development standards like those found in the zoning ordinance:

Multi-family housing design. Within each neighborhood where multi-family is allowed by the Land-Use Element, multi-unit housing designs should comply with the following criteria:

1.      Buildings should maintain the scale and character of other residential structures in the immediate vicinity and avoid abrupt changes in height and bulk between structures.

Although the scale of the proposed structures may be larger and bulkier than those in the immediate vicinity (other than the existing industrial building), they will be residential in nature. This is in juxtaposition to the existing and potential future industrial uses that have historically, and are currently permitted to, existed on the subject property.

The buildings are designed to include architectural features that break up their bulk and massing and they will be uniform in size and shape in order to avoid abrupt changes in height and bulk between buildings. The “stair-step” alternative from 3-story on the west to 4-story on the east will not result in an abrupt change to these concepts.

Two recent examples of new infill urban development are the Hone & Wolf building (865 9th Street, 41’ tall) and the Plaza Point building (789 I Street, 46’ tall), both of which required Design Review and a finding of compatibility from the design review authority. In the case of Plaza Point, the building is significantly taller than its neighboring development and of a modern, industrial architectural style. Neither of these developments “match” or are “the same” as their surroundings or immediate vicinity; they are both mixed-use with commercial uses on the first floor and residential on upper floors.

2.      Buildings should be grouped compactly to provide more usable open space.

The four buildings are grouped together as far to the east of the property as feasible specifically in order to provide as much open and usable space as possible. The 3- and 4-story design significantly contributes to the amount of usable open space.

3.      Building elevations should be articulated and long, continuous wall and roof planes should be avoided. Architectural features such as bay windows, balconies, porches, and similar elements are encouraged.

The proposed design(s) incorporate a sectional appearance with insets, different exterior materials, changes in roof and eave height, and window size and shapes to avoid continuous wall and roof planes.

4.      Features should be incorporated into site and architectural designs which provide maximum exposure to sunlight and protection from rainstorms and other adverse climatic conditions (such as covered entryways).

The buildings will receive maximum solar exposure and will utilize solar panels to the greatest extent feasible. One of the potential designs includes significant top story eaves as part of its design style and all include ground level eaves over the entrance doors.

5.      Site and building design shall incorporate features to mitigate noise from nearby noise sources (see Noise Element).

The buildings shall be constructed using the most recent building codes for maximum noise attenuation. The major source of noise is from US 101 on the property’s east side. The site plan shows the two buildings on the east side at the minimum feasible setback from this noise source as possible to allow a greater setback from adjoining properties to the west. A Noise Study (App. H of the DEIR) was prepared for the DEIR and its recommendations have been incorporated.

6.      Sufficient useable outdoor open space should be provided to accommodate the recreation and leisure needs of the residents, of the development, and individual households.

The layout currently includes approximately 1.6 acres of developed recreation/open/ garden space, four ±2,400 square foot interior courtyards within each of the building footprints and a variety of other landscaped areas that may be used for passive recreation. These open and recreation spaces can be seen clearly on the full sized landscaping plan included as Attachment G.

7.      Individual units should be designed to be readily distinguishable from one another from the exterior.

The exterior elevations include significant deviations to help distinguish different areas.

8.      Parking should be designed to protect the privacy of residents and prevent intrusion of noise and lights from vehicles.

The parking areas are located around the perimeter of the lot(s) surrounding the buildings and developed areas. The parking areas will be lighted in compliance with the City’s Outdoor Lighting standards in Section 9.30.070. The location of parking around the perimeter helps to provide a setback and buffer for the neighbors from the buildings themselves.

9.      Parking lots shall be landscaped with trees that reach a mature height of at least twenty feet and shall be visually screened from the street by solid walls, fences, or a planted landscape buffer of at least six feet in width. Site design should incorporate safety features that maintain visibility and provide security lighting.

The Landscaping Plan, and the Low Impact Development (LID) features required as part of the stormwater plan, includes the installation of over 200 trees along the property’s perimeter as well as significant landscaping within the buildings’ footprints and parking areas (Attachment G). The plan includes trees that will reach or exceed 20’ tall (Celtis sinensis (Chinese Hackberry) reaches 65’ and Acer rubrum (October Maple) reaches 50’, for example.

10.  Service and storage areas, such as for recycling and garbage, shall be screened by fencing or walls; appropriate landscape planting and setbacks from adjacent properties shall be provided.

These areas are shown on the site plan and will be required to conform to the standards in Section 9.30.100 - Solid Waste/Recyclable Materials Storage. This project is also subject to State requirements pertaining to standard recycling and mandatory organics recycling for multi-family residential developments. Landscaping and setbacks will help screen the parking and outdoor storage/garbage facilities from neighbors. The buildings are setback from the west and south property lines to the greatest extent feasible with distances of over 200’ to Maple Lane and over sixty feet to Eye Street.

The project generally conforms to these guidelines. These are guidelines, not standards, and they leave some room for individual taste, site characteristics, etc.  The Commission must decide, primarily, whether or not the proposal maintains the scale and character of other residential structures in the immediate vicinity. Clearly, there are no other residential buildings of this size and scale in the “immediate vicinity”. The task for the Commission is to find that, with the buildings’ design, site layout, landscaping, open space and other amenities, will the project maintain the character of the neighborhood – which, as an Infill Project under newly adopted State regulations (SB 226) described earlier, would include a far greater geographic area than its immediate surroundings.

In order to encourage the adaptive reuse of derelict and underutilized industrial areas and infill projects that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help preserve the City’s sensitive resource lands to the west and wooded hillsides to the east, the Commission must consider the larger context of this and of any development. It is the Planning Commission’s obligation as the City’s land use authority to use its discretion to weigh all aspects of every project including, but not limited to, neighborhood compatibility, potential environmental impacts, and compliance with all adopted regulations and standards.

If the Commission cannot recommend approval of the Design Review permit, it should state the findings for denial of the permit in its Resolution.

A note on Solar Panels. All of the elevations utilize a parapet wall that would conceal solar panels. Although the solar panels can be concealed, it should be noted that solar panels are exempt from planning permits, including Design Review, per Section 9.20.040.B.6 of the Land Use Code. This section states that the addition of solar collectors to the roof or side of a building, provided that the collectors comply with applicable height limit requirements, can be found exempt from requiring a planning permit. Although the height of the solar panels will exceed the 35’ height limit of the RH zone, they will be below the 50’ total height of the structure’s parapet wall. This height exception is addressed in the Planned Development Permit findings.

Other Outstanding Issues

Remy|Moose|Manley Letter 11-22-17. Please refer to the summary provided by the EIR consultant (Attachment H). A full response to the concerns raised in this letter and in all the verbal and written correspondence received thus far, will be included in the FEIR.

Significant Impact defined. The following information is included to assist the Commission with making the findings pertaining to whether or not an impact should be considered “significant”. Section 15064(b) of the CEQA guidelines states that the determination of whether a project may have a significant effect on the environment calls for careful judgment on the part of the public agency involved, based to the extent possible on scientific and factual data. An ironclad definition of significant effect is not always possible because the significance of an activity may vary with the setting. For example, an activity which may not be significant in an urban area may be significant in a rural area.

And furthermore, Section 15064(d) requires that in evaluating the significance of the environmental effect of a project, the Lead Agency shall consider direct physical changes in the environment which may be caused by the project and reasonably foreseeable indirect physical changes in the environment which may be caused by the project.

A direct physical change in the environment is a physical change in the environment which is caused by and immediately related to the project. Examples of direct physical changes in the environment are the dust, noise, and traffic of heavy equipment that would result from construction of a sewage treatment plant and possible odors from operation of the plant.

An indirect physical change in the environment is a physical change in the environment which is not immediately related to the project, but which is caused indirectly by the project. If a direct physical change in the environment in turn causes another change in the environment, then the other change is an indirect physical change in the environment. For example, the construction of a new sewage treatment plant may facilitate population growth in the service area due to the increase in sewage treatment capacity and may lead to an increase in air pollution.

An indirect physical change is to be considered only if that change is a reasonably foreseeable impact which may be caused by the project. A change which is speculative or unlikely to occur is not reasonably foreseeable.

It is important to note that public controversy alone does not constitute an environmental impact and, according to Sections 15064(4) through (6) of the CEQA Guidelines, only substantiated facts, reasonable assumptions and expert assumptions predicated upon facts shall constitute substantial evidence.

More information on determining the significance of the environmental effects caused by a project can be obtained here:

EPIC’s 12-24-17 Letter Recommending Purchase of Carbon Credits or a Conservation Easement. At the December 19th meeting, Commissioner Baker requested additional information be provided on whether or not EPIC’s request that the project purchase carbon credits or a conservation easement to offset greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Staff directs the Commission to Section 2.8 of the DEIR (pg. 2.8-1) wherein the analysis completed by the consultant indicates that the proposed project will not create a significant impact on the environment in terms of GHG emission and that mitigation is not required. Furthermore, the alterations that the developer has agreed to over the ensuing public hearings in terms of the use of solar will get the project closer to net-zero energy and will even further remediate the less than significant impacts caused by GHG emissions.

If the Commission would like to recommend to the Council that the developer purchase carbon credits, a conservation easement or another similar tool utilized to offset GHG emissions, Staff recommends that it do so in the form of a public amenity to be considered as part of the Development Agreement as there would not be a nexus to the DEIR in terms of environmental impact.

Mandatory Findings of Significance. This item on the CEQA Appendix G Checklist is intended to help identify whether or not a project has the potential to:

a.       Significantly impact specific biological resources;

b.      Have impacts that are individually and/or cumulatively significant; or

c.       Cause a substantial adverse effect on human beings, either individually or cumulatively.

In preparing the checklist for this project, the consultant acknowledged that the potential impacts to traffic and transportation may be cumulatively significant and unavoidable thereby triggering the preparation of an EIR. Once this potential impact is identified, there is no requirement for further discussion of Mandatory Findings of Significance. This item is further described in Section 15065 of the CEQA Guidelines.


Meeting History

Jan 23, 2018 6:00 PM Video Planning Commission Regular Meeting

Vice Chair Mayer opened the public hearing, requested an oral staff report and the Commission received public testimony. After public testimony was received, Vice Chair Mayer asked the Commission to deliberate on the items identified in the outline included as Attachment I of the staff report. The Commission's deliberations on the DEIR resulted in reaching a majority finding of less than significant impact in terms of the project's potential Aesthetic impacts and a majority finding of less than significant in terms of Population/Housing with suggested edits to the Growth Inducing section that removes the term "substantial" to be replaced only with the percentage growth resulting from the project.

The Commission will continue with deliberations on the Land Use/Planning section of the DEIR, specifically compliance with the General Plan, and the planning permits, including Design Review, and the draft terms of the Development Agreement at its next meeting. Given the late hour, the Vice Chair asked for a motion to continue the meeting. On a motion by McCavour and a second by Orth, the item was unanimously continued to the February 13, 2018, meeting.

Ayes: Tangney, McCavour, Mayer, Orth, Baker, Barstow. Noes: None. Absent: Flint (Excused). Abstentions: None.

MOVER:Melanie McCavour, Commissioner
SECONDER:Kristen Orth-Gordinier, Commissioner
AYES:Judith Mayer, Daniel Tangney, John Barstow, Robin Baker, Kristen Orth-Gordinier, Melanie McCavour
ABSENT:Robert Flint