Arcata City
CA

Staff Report
1679
Direction Given
Feb 13, 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

Information

Department:Community DevelopmentSponsors:
Category:Public Hearing

Introduction

At its January 23, 2018, meeting, the Planning Commission received a staff report, public testimony, and completed deliberations on several topics relating to environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). A discussion concerning the project’s consistency with the Design Element of the General Plan as it relates to the Land Use & Planning section of the Draft EIR is where the Commission ended its last meeting. In an effort to inform this last DEIR topic discussion and at the request of the Vice Chair, the February 13th meeting will start off with an introduction to the Design Review findings, return to the final deliberation on the Land Use & Planning section of the DEIR, and wrap up with a recommendation on the remaining land use actions and draft Development Agreement terms.

This hearing is a continuation of the Planning Commission deliberations from the January 23, 2018, hearing. The Commission may open public comment at the end of deliberations, time permitting.

Discussion/Fiscal Impact

DISCUSSION:

General Plan Consistency for CEQA and Design Review. At its last meeting, the Planning Commission concluded deliberations on the Aesthetics section of the DEIR by acknowledging that potential impacts to the quality of the site and its surroundings and the potential creation of substantial light or glare affecting nighttime views could be better addressed through the Design Review Permit. The Commission then moved on to the Land Use & Planning section, but got mired in the finding requiring consistency with the General Plan as it relates to the Design Element and many of the same issues that were previously discussed in the Aesthetics section.

In an effort to assist the Commission’s deliberations, staff recommends discussing the Design Review Permit before concluding the DEIR discussion as it will likely resolve many of the issues that the Commission had relating to the scale and massing of the proposed buildings. The outline from the last meeting (Attachment A) has been reordered to coincide with this new path.

Design Review Permit. The role of the Commission is to balance the general goals and objectives of the General Plan with the development standards of the Land Use Code (zoning ordinance) which implement those goals and policies. In order to complete both the CEQA finding for consistency with the General Plan as it relates to the Land Use & Planning section of the DEIR and the required consistency finding for Design Review and other permits, the Commission should keep in mind that perfect conformity is not required, but the project must be found to be consistent with the general plan map and the general plan’s objectives, goals, policies, and implementation programs. (Institute for Local Government, Understanding the Basics of Land Use and Planning: Guide to Local Planning (2010) (Attachment B)

The Village may be larger in scale than other residential structures in the immediate vicinity, but by being taller and consolidating significant density in one location than the more typical residential development, off the HSU campus, it promotes the other infill policies and objectives of the General Plan through the preservation of the rural character and the protection of the resource lands in the Planning Area (outside City limits), by locating new urban development contiguous to existing urban uses, and through the protection of flood-prone, steeply sloped, streamside buffer areas and productive natural resource, agricultural, and forest lands from urban development.

Another way to consider a project’s consistency with the General Plan is to consider the higher elevation review that is intended by the General Plan itself. For example, that Land Use Element of the Plan includes a variety of policies pertaining to residential, commercial and industrial development. The following are a handful of policies that are intended to be considered within the context of a particular site or as they relate to a particular project:

LU-1f: Promotion of infill development. The City encourages appropriate redevelopment of certain parcels of land which are either underutilized, brownfields, or vacant but surrounded by existing urban development. These sites represent development opportunities using existing infrastructure, and shall have priority for development over vacant sites that are located outside the urban services boundary which require investment in extension of infrastructure and services. Infill development may include new residential units on upper floors of commercial structures, development of second units on residential lots, and new or expansion of existing residential and commercial structures consistent with the provisions of the applicable land use plan designations. The Planned Development procedure shall be encouraged for coordinated development on larger infill sites.

LU-2b: Diversity and choice in residential environments. The land use plan map shall provide sufficient quantities of land in the various residential use categories to allow for development of a variety of types of new housing units and residential environments. The purpose shall be to maintain an appropriate balance between single-family housing on individual lots and multi-unit housing types. The City shall encourage residential developments which collectively provide a variety of choices for housing consumers in terms of types of units, location, unit sizes, costs, design, amount of privacy, and neighborhood environment…

LU-2d: Planned residential developments. On vacant sites of one acre and larger designated for residential use, the Planned Development combining zone shall be required. The purpose shall be to: incorporate a mix of residential types, unit sizes, and styles in a coordinated manner to allow clustering of units; to provide larger, more usable areas of common open space; and to protect natural resources or site features, such as creekside riparian areas, wetlands, and significant vegetation such as trees. Where planned residential developments are adjacent to non-residential uses, appropriate visual and noise buffers shall be provided between the uses. Other provisions in the General Plan would assure affordable housing.

LU-4b: Conversion and reuse of old industrial sites. The City shall encourage the conversion and reuse of abandoned or inactive industrial sites such as closed lumber mill sites. An environmental site assessment will be required for sites where prior uses may have caused soil contamination. Manufacturing uses may be allowed on older I-G sites, where activities are conducted in enclosed spaces and noise, light, air quality, or traffic impacts do not significantly impact adjacent uses.

These policies are intended to help focus the higher-level Guiding Principles and Goals of the Land Use Element:

A. Establish and maintain a greenbelt around the City that consists of agricultural, forest, and natural resource lands. Preserve, as productive natural resources areas, the open agricultural lands in the Arcata Bottom, the forests on the eastern hillsides, and aquaculture in Arcata Bay. Protect other natural resource lands along the bayfront and watercourses for their value as natural resource lands and community open space.

B. Allow for a range of housing choices that includes affordable dwellings for community residents, accommodates families as well as individuals and groups, and varies in size and type to reflect the diverse character of the community.

C. Encourage retail, service, and professional businesses to locate and stay in the Commercial–Central Area by increasing the amount of housing there.

D. Promote commercial uses in the Westwood, Valley West, Sunny Brae, Bayside, and Greenview neighborhood centers to meet day-to-day retail and service needs of nearby residents.

E. Concentrate industrial uses in existing employment centers and encourage labor intensive and technology-driven industrial and business uses in these areas rather than resource intensive uses.

F. Maintain community facilities such as schools, community centers, parks and recreation areas, and other civic uses and ensure they are located in areas that are accessible to all segments of the community.

G. Encourage infill development of vacant, brownfield, and underutilized land designated for development as a way of meeting housing and employment needs without major extensions of infrastructure and services.

H. Retain agricultural and natural resource lands within the City.

I. Promote mixed use by encouraging residential units on upper floors in commercial areas.

There are many goals, policies and objectives in the General Plan that a housing development will neither directly affect nor be affected by; this relationship does not create an inconsistency, either within the Elements of the Plan (horizontal consistency) or between the zoning ordinance or other plans and policies and the Plan (vertical consistency).

In the case of the Village project, the applicant seeks to change the general plan and zoning maps to Residential High Density (RH), a designation that allows for the type of development that is proposed. The only exception that the applicant is asking for is to the height limit of the RH zoning district and the individual open space (balcony) requirements for multi-family developments. These exceptions are fairly common-place in the Commission’s practice of permit review. The proposed high-density development is generally consistent with the multi-family housing design criteria found in Policies D-5a of the Design Element of the General Plan and further described here (excerpted from the January 23, 2018, staff report):

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.

Furthermore, the large building setbacks of ±190 feet from the west property line and ±50 feet from the south property line contribute to the reduction in scale and massing, similar to the examples of the HealthSport and Community Center buildings addressed in the last meeting. These buildings are roughly 26,000 sf and 24,000 sf in size, respectively, and roughly 35 feet in height. Given their location away from the street frontage, their height and bulkiness are slightly reduced if viewed from these public areas. The Village development’s main public views will be from the US 101 side where the setbacks are shorter and the majority of the development will be located.

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. The Plaza Point development is adjacent to two small, potentially historic houses. If the Plaza Point project was required, literally, to maintain the scale and character of other residential structures in the immediate vicinity and avoid abrupt changes in height and bulk between structures, it could have possibly been denied.

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 C.

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 C). 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, and constraints, etc.

In addition to finding general consistency with the policies of the General Plan above, the Design Review Permit, in accordance to Section 9.72.040.F of the Land Use Code, should consider the following “standards”. The following standards track the objectives of the General Plan’s Design Element discussed above:

1.         Providing architectural design, building height and massing, and scale appropriate to and compatible with other structures on the site and in the immediate vicinity of the site;

Like the first item above, the Commission may not be able to find that the project, as proposed, is appropriate for the site and immediate vicinity as it relates to height and massing. The Commission may find, however, that a reduced size project that alleviates perhaps some of the concerns of the neighbors to the west, is more compatible. If this is possible, the Commission can recommend that the City Council approve a version of the project that meets this objective.

2.         Providing attractive and desirable site layout and design, including, but not limited to, building arrangement, exterior appearance and setbacks, drainage, fences and walls, grading, landscaping, lighting, signs, etc.;

The site design features mentioned have been included in the project and should be considered in the Commission’s deliberations on the Design Review Permit. The Commission should also make a recommendation on its preferred exterior elevation from the four options available to it: the original design and the three alternative designs (Attachment D)

3.         Providing efficient and safe public access, circulation, and parking;

Through the development of a portion of the Rail with Trail, a new pedestrian trail to Maple Lane, and a new transit stop on St. Louis Rd., the project proposes significant non-vehicular and transit improvements to help meet the City’s multi-modal goals. Although considerable public testimony suggests that there will not be enough parking/vehicle storage provided onsite, at 369 spaces (plus 185 bike and 20 motorcycle spaces), the project does propose over the number of spaces required by the zoning code.

4.         Providing appropriate open space and landscaping, including the use of water efficient landscaping;

According to the Landscape Plan, approximately 36% of the ten acre property will be left in a permeable condition which entails a combination of landscaped and natural areas. This exceeds the 10% minimum requirement of the zoning code. The project’s irrigation and maintenance plans incorporate requirements of the City of Arcata's Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (WELO).

 

5.         Showing consistency with the General Plan, Local Coastal Program, and any applicable specific plan; and

Consistency with the General Plan is a subjective consideration that the Planning Commission has made for every permit that it has reviewed as every permit type includes a consistency finding. On smaller projects, the consistency with and conformance to the General Plan finding is no less important that on larger, controversial projects. A complete guide to

6.    Complying with any applicable design guidelines or design review policies.

       The Design Guidelines and design review policies currently reside in the Design Element of the General Plan described in depth in the section above.

Finalize the Land Use & Planning Section of the DEIR. Once the Commission has completed its review of the Design Review Permit and provided staff with a majority vote, it should return quickly to the Land Use & Planning section of the DEIR. The table below reflects the findings as they currently exist in the DEIR:

 

 

 

 

IX. LAND USE AND PLANNING - Would the project:

 

Potentially Significant Impact

                     Less Than Significant with Mitigation Incorporated

 

Less Than

Significant Impact

 

 

No

Impact

 

a) Physically divide an established community?

 

 

x

 

b) Conflict with any applicable land use plan, policy, or regulation of an agency with jurisdiction over the project (including, but not limited to the general plan, specific plan, local coastal program, or zoning ordinance) adopted for the purpose of avoiding or mitigating an environmental effect?

 

 

x

 

c) Conflict with any applicable habitat conservation plan or natural community conservation plan?

 

 

x

 

 

Staff recommends that, given the previous discussions, examples and definitions of consistency, that the Planning Commission find that the project is in conformance with the General Plan, including the Design Element, and that – either as proposed or as a reduced version of the proposed – will have a less than significant impact on the environment.

Development Agreement Draft Terms. The draft Terms remain the same (Attachment E)

Draft Findings and Conditions of Approval. The most recent draft Findings and Conditions of Approval are included as Attachment F.

Resolution. When the Commission has finalized its recommendations on all aspects of the project, it will adopt Resolution PC-17-06 as the instrument by which its recommendations will be forwarded to the City Council.

Public Comment. All public comment letters received at or after the January 23, 2018, Planning Commission meeting are included as Attachment G. Please note that the comment period for the DEIR ended on January 16th and, subsequently, all letters with comments on the DEIR have been submitted to the EIR consultant.

ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW (CEQA): Once deliberations have concluded and recommendations for any substantive revisions to the DEIR have been provided to staff, the Final EIR will be prepared. The Commission will hold one final meeting at which it will review the FEIR and make a recommendation to the Council as to the FEIR’s adequacy. The content of the FEIR includes the revised body of the EIR and formal responses to all substantive comments received from the public and throughout the public hearing process. The FEIR will be presented to the City Council for its certification along with the Commission’s recommendations on the permits and Development Agreement term sheet.

 

 

Meeting History

Feb 13, 2018 6:00 PM Video Planning Commission Regular Meeting

Prior to the start of the public hearing for the Village project, Commissioner Orth recused herself due to a new conflict pertaining to her employment. Commissioner Baker joined the meeting at this time. Vice Chair Mayer opened the public hearing and asked for a staff report which was delivered by Director Loya. Mayer then requested a presentation by the applicant which was provided. The Commission asked several questions of the applicant and then brought the item back to the Commissioners for deliberation. With the goal of completing discussions on the Design Review permit, the Commission deliberated on the following items: the three architectural styles, landscaping, solar panels, and other items. A punch list of items for the applicant to return with was suggested and provided. The Commission then worked through the General Plan Policies in Section D-5a of the Design Element (pgs 107- 109 of the hearing packet) and concluded that, other than policy #1 pertaining the scale and character of the buildings, the project as revised (3 stories on the west and 4 stories on the east), generally meets the design policies for multi-family development.

The Vice Chair then opened the floor for public testimony and several members of the public spoke on the project. Vice Chair Mayer asked for a motion to the item to the next meeting. On a motion by McCavour, a second by Baker, and Tangney declining, on a 4-1 vote, the Village project was continued to the February 27, 2018, meeting.

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

RESULT:DIRECTION GIVEN [4 TO 1]
MOVER:Melanie McCavour, Commissioner
SECONDER:Robin Baker, Commissioner
AYES:Judith Mayer, John Barstow, Robin Baker, Melanie McCavour
NAYS:Daniel Tangney
ABSENT:Robert Flint, Kristen Orth-Gordinier