Arcata City

Staff Report
Direction Given
May 8, 2018 6:00 PM

Consider a Recommendation to the City Council for Approval of the Village Student Housing Project at 2715-2920 St. Louis Rd., File No. 156-179.


Department:Community DevelopmentSponsors:


This item was continued from the April 24, 2018, Planning Commission meeting.

At its February 27, 2018, meeting, the Planning Commission finalized its review of the permits, general plan and zoning amendments, draft Development Agreement term sheet, and draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). The majority of the members of the Commission that were present recommended approval of the project, as modified, and directed staff to return on March 27th with the Final EIR and the appropriate resolutions needed to finalize its recommendation(s) to the City Council. These final documents were not ready for final action on March 27th; the Commission received public testimony and continued the item to its April 10, 2018, meeting. The item was continued again, without discussion or testimony, to the April 24, 2018, meeting.


Discussion/Fiscal Impact


Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR). The draft EIR was circulated as required by the Office of Planning & Research, provided at City Hall, the Humboldt Room in the HSU Library and at the Arcata Branch of the Humboldt County Library, and online ( for public review and provided to the Planning Commission at its first hearing on the project on November 28, 2017. The public provided over 90 written and oral communications on the DEIR. These, as well as the deliberations undertaken by the Commission, were incorporated into responses to comments and have been presented in the form of a Final EIR (Attachment D). The Final EIR was posted to the City’s website (, the three locations described above, and the Commission and public were noticed that it was available on April 6, 2018.

The Commission went through the Draft EIR finding by finding and concluded that the project will have a significant and unavoidable impact in terms of traffic and a potentially less than significant impact on biological resources with mitigation incorporated. Although the applicant will pay its fair share of identified intersection improvements into a dedicated account to offset traffic impacts, these improvements will not be completed prior to the project becoming operational, resulting in a significant impact. At its February 27, 2018, meeting, a majority of the Commissioners present found that the social and economic benefits of providing housing outweigh the possibility of environmental impact from the traffic impacts at certain intersections pursuant to the CEQA Guidelines § 15093 and the Land Use Code § 9.78.170.C.

The Commission should consider its recommendation to the City Council. The Findings of Fact and Statement of Overriding Considerations as required by CEQA are included as Attachment E. In adopting Resolution PC 18-02 (Attachment A), the Commission would be recommending the Council certify the Environmental Impact Report for the Village Student Housing Project based on the Draft EIR provided November 20, 2017 and the Final EIR (Attachment D) based on the Findings of Fact and Statement of Overriding Considerations (Attachment E).

General Plan and Zoning Amendments. At the Planning Commission’s December 5, 2017, hearing, in a “straw” vote, the Commission concluded unanimously that the redevelopment of the site to accommodate multi-family residential use was reasonable. The meetings that followed focused on finalizing an appropriate density for the site based on its location, proximity to HSU, and what impacts there might be to the surrounding neighborhoods. The Residential High-Density (RH) land use and zoning classifications were approved, in concept, along with the Planned Development (:PD) combining zone.

The findings for general plan and zoning amendments are included as Exhibit 1 in Resolution PC-18-03 (Attachment B). A map indicating the change from Industrial Limited (IL)/Residential Low-Density (RL) is included as Exhibit 2.

Design Review Permit, Parcel Merger, Planned Development Permit, St. Louis Rd. Vacation, and Development Agreement. At its February 27, 2018, meeting, a majority of the Commissioners present moved to approve the Design Review Permit based on the modifications to the project that were presented at that meeting by the applicant. The modifications included a reduction in the height of the two westerly buildings from four stories to three stories, a significant change to the architectural style and exterior materials, and changes to the landscaping plan. These revisions to the original Design Review submittal, as well as the recommendation of approval for the vacation of St. Louis Road, the Parcel Merger, the Planned Development Permit and the draft terms of the Development Agreement, are referenced in Resolution PC-18-04 (Attachment C). The Development Agreement Terms Sheet has been updated to reflect final terms on which the agreement will be based. The final EIR will be updated to reflect these terms as approved by the Planning Commission. The Commission should review the terms and request clarification as necessary.

Arcata Citizens for Responsible Housing Public Comment. The Arcata Citizens for Responsible Housing (ACRH), an organization formed around opposition to the Village, provided public comment at the March 27, 2018, Planning Commission meeting, and presented an alternative proposal for the Village project site. The ACRH requested that their proposed alternative design be included as an alternative in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared for the Village project and that the Draft EIR be recirculated.  The ACRH provided a thoughtful and detailed alternative for the City’s consideration.

Although the public comment period, which was extended to afford additional time for public input on the Draft EIR, ended on January 16, 2018, the ACRH public comment was a substantive consideration for an alternative to the proposed project. The proposal was not timely, having missed both the scoping meetings and the EIR circulation. While the City is not required to respond to alternatives submitted after the Draft EIR comment period, (California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Guidelines, §15207; South County Citizens for Smart Growth v. County of Nevada (2013) 221 CA4th 316), staff recommends the Commission consider the ACRH proposal and make a recommendation whether to include it as an alternative in the EIR to further facilitate the public process. Whether the Council ultimately decides to recirculate the draft EIR with the ACRH proposal included as an alternative, the Commission and Council should recognize the ACRH proposal as a statement of the organization’s, and its members,’ response to the project.

CEQA requires an EIR to describe a range of reasonable alternatives to the project that would “feasibly attain most of the basic objectives of the project but would avoid or substantially lessen any of the significant effects of the project, and evaluate the comparative merits of the alternatives” (CEQA Guidelines, § 15126.6(a)).  The CEQA Guidelines also note in Section 15126.6(a) that an EIR “need not consider every conceivable alternative to a project” and that “[a]n EIR is not required to consider alternatives which are infeasible.”  The development of alternatives is to provide ways of “avoiding or substantially lessening any significant effects of the project” (CEQA Guidelines, § 15126.6(b)).  In sum, the City’s EIR for this approval does not need to evaluate all conceivable alternatives, but only those that reduce the impact, are potentially feasible, and accomplish the primary objectives of the proposed project.

Alternatives Considered in the Draft EIR

To address whether the comment raises new information that needs to be considered, staff has evaluated the ACRH proposal against the Draft EIR alternatives analysis. Recirculation of an EIR is required if “significant new information” is presented to the lead agency (CEQA Guidelines, §15088.5).  “Significant new information” requiring recirculation includes a feasible project alternative considerably different from other previously analyzed that would clearly lessen the environmental impacts of the project, but the project’s proponents decline to adopt it.

The ACRH proposal is a residential development with a range of unit types from single-family residential to three-story apartment complexes.  The ACRH design proposes 92 units with a total of 276 bedrooms.  This equates to a density of approximately 8.4 units per acre, and a population density of 193 (2.1 persons per household; Census 2010).  The ACRH presentation describes their alternative project as housing that is “multigenerational,” “green,” “walkable,” “affordable,” has “blended density,” and incorporates “view shed protections.”  Generally, the ACRH design proposes residential units that are lower in height and density on the western portion of the site and taller, higher density units on the eastern portion of the site.

The ACRH proposal is predominantly a multifamily project with a range of building sizes and eight single-family structures. The total density is in the lower range of the City’s Residential Medium density zoning. The proposal does not include any specific student programing and is not otherwise restricted. In effect, it is open-market, mix of predominantly multifamily housing with a planned design. This is similar to either the Medium Density Residential Development, which is evaluated in the Draft EIR on page 6-6 (Chapter 6) or the Traditional Multifamily Housing alternative (Alternative 4, Chapter 6).

The EIR evaluates and rejects the medium density development option. It acknowledges that the impact would be less than the proposed project but cites the inconsistencies with the objectives of the project. As a result, the alternative was eliminated from further review and is not included as an alternative. While the EIR does not consider what specifically the design of the multifamily mixed-use project would look like, it does identify that it “would provide typical single-family and limited multi-family residential development.” The ACRH proposal is the same as the rejected Medium Density Residential Development that was evaluated in the EIR with a specified mix of single- and multifamily structures. The ACRH proposal has a mixed unit size approach, with lower density, and so lesser impacts, than the medium density project evaluated in the EIR. Despite the differences, and the more explicit design, between the EIR analysis and the ACRH proposal, they are substantively the same in terms of the kind of development. The EIR is not required to address all points on the continuum of alternatives conceivable. Rather, it is required to evaluate a reasonable range of alternatives that are potentially feasible.

Project Objectives

Determination of whether the ACRH proposal should be analyzed as an EIR alternative requires first considering whether the ACRH proposal meets the project objectives. CEQA requires that the EIR describe a range of reasonable alternatives to the project that would “feasibly attain most of the basic objectives of the project.” As cited above, the ACRH proposal is similar to the evaluated but rejected Medium Density Residential Development. This alterative was rejected because it did not meet the project objectives.

The following summarizes the primary project objectives for the Village project as it relates to analysis of the ACRH proposal. The project is designed to:

·         assist the City with implementation of the General Plan Housing Element goals by providing more housing units for students and returning single-family homes for ownership opportunities;

·         maximize student housing development within walking distance of Humboldt State University to reduce impacts of traffic and parking on local roads and significantly reduce carbon footprint;

·         get the most out of infill development opportunities to reduce urban sprawl and create sustainable communities;

·         make the best use of student housing development to sites in close proximity to Humboldt State University in order to create linkages between residential and educational spaces;

·         create a strong sense of community through open space and indoor and outdoor recreational facilities within the development;

·         boost student performance and success rates through a purpose-built and programmed student housing community.

The ACRH proposal meets some, but not the majority of key Village project objectives. The ACRH proposal provides additional housing, but it is not purpose built or programmed housing, which is a key objective of the Village project. The proposal does not maximize student housing within walking distance to HSU. The density in the ACRH proposal (8.4 units/acre) is at the low end of the Residential Medium density zoning range of 7.25; and is less than the Residential Low density range with a standard density bonus. This density does not maximize housing within walking distance to HSU. Related, and for the same reason, the ACRH proposal does not address the infill objective. While the ACRH project includes providing a sense of community through design elements that provide community oriented private open space and other amenities open to the public, it does not appear to provide outdoor and indoor recreational opportunities. In sum, the ACRH proposal does not appear to satisfy the requirement that an alternative feasibly attain most of the basic objectives.

Significant Impacts

The next part of determining whether the ACRH proposal should be analyzed as an alternative in the EIR (CEQA Guidelines, § 15126.6(a)) is analyzing whether the significant effects of the project could be avoided or substantially lessened. The Draft EIR describes the potentially significant impacts of the proposed project related to transportation-traffic and biological resources.  Mitigation has been included for the proposed project requiring the applicant to pay a fair-share contribution for transportation improvements at the intersections of Sunset Ave/LK Wood Blvd and Foster Ave/Alliance Rd (see Mitigation Measure 3.1a), construct on-site pedestrian/bicycle improvements (see Mitigation Measure 3.1b), and conduct a pre-construction biological survey (see Mitigation Measure 4.3.1a). 

The ACRH alternative design may reduce the severity of some of the potential impacts of the proposed project; however, the impacts of the ACRH project would still be significant for Biological Resources and Traffic. The biological impacts of both the ACRH and the alternatives evaluated in the EIR are similar. They would require pre-disturbance surveys and the mitigation would be the same if species of concern are found. Since the impact would be similar, and the ACRH proposal would not reduce the biological impacts relative to the proposed project, the ACRH project is not discussed in depth here.

While staff has not reevaluated the traffic model with the ACRH proposal, we evaluated relative impacts of housing development using a conceptual model based on the Central Arcata Areawide Traffic Study (“Traffic Study”), which is Appendix L to the Draft EIR. The Traffic Study method uses 6.57 Average Daily Trips (ADT) for apartments and 9.52 ADT for single-family units. The ACRH alternative design (84 apartments and 8 single-family units) would generate approximately 627 trips per day. This is less than the trips generated by Creekside and Sunset Terrace projects, but more than the Canyon Creek and Twin Parks projects. While this analysis does not consider trip distribution, it would have relatively proportional individual and cumulative impacts as are identified for the other projects in the Traffic Study.

Although the ACRH proposal would result in a reduced traffic volume, it would still result in a direct significant impact and cumulatively considerable traffic impact. The ACRH project would require the same mitigation measures as the preferred alternative, and the traffic-transportation impact would remain significant and unavoidable. Therefore, the ACRH alternative design would also require the payment of a fair share contribution to improve nearby intersections as mitigation.  As described in the Draft EIR, the timing of implementation of the transportation improvements cannot be guaranteed and, thus, traffic impacts from the ACRH alternative design would also be significant and unavoidable. So, while the project would lessen the impact by reducing the total number of people, it would still have a significant effect on the environment.

The traffic impacts analysis evaluates discrete Level of Service (LOS) categories for thresholds of significance, ranging from CF. An impact could be considered to have substantially less impact if the project would result in a lesser category, despite still being above the significance threshold. The ACRH proposal would fall in the LOS F category, as interpolated between the other analyzed projects. The preferred and the reduced size alternatives both result in LOS F. Therefore, while the ACRH proposal would clearly have fewer trips than the preferred alternative, it would not substantially lessen the significant effects.

In summary, the ACRH project does not meet key objectives, does not substantially lessen the environmental impact, and is similar to an alternative included in the Draft EIR. For these reasons, the ACRH proposal does not warrant inclusion as a new alternative in the EIR. If a proposed alternative does not meet the project objectives or offer significant environmental advantages over the proposed project or the alternatives that are presented in the EIR, it can be rejected as a new alternative (Guidelines §15126.6(b); Tracy First v. City of Tracy (2009) 177 Cal.App.4th 912, 929). The Draft EIR is not required to include variations of the evaluated alternatives (Marin Mun. Water Dist. v. KG Land Cal. Corp. (1991) 235 Cal.App.3d 1652 [final EIR properly rejected several suggested alternatives that were variations on alternative discussed in draft EIR]), and it arguably does not serve the public interest to evaluate multiple iterations of substantively the same alternative. 

Correspondence that has been received since March 16, 2018, is included at Attachment F.

Meeting History

May 8, 2018 6:00 PM Video Planning Commission Regular Meeting

After receiving a staff report and public testimony, the Commission deliberated on items pertaining to Resolutions PC-18-02, PC-18-03, PC-18-04 and voted on each resolution individually representing its final recommendation(s) to the City Council on the Village Student Housing Project.

On a motion by Barstow and a second by McCavour, Resolution PC-18-02 was unanimously approved.

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

A motion to adopt Resolution PC-18-03 was made by McCavour and seconded by Barstow, but the motion failed due to a tie vote.

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

A motion to adopt Resolution PC-18-04 was made by McCavour and seconded by Barstow, but the motion failed due to a tie vote.

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

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