Arcata City

Staff Report
Direction Given
Mar 6, 2019 6:00 PM

Provide Direction on Village Housing Project Options.


Department:Community DevelopmentSponsors:


At the Council’s February 6, 2019, meeting, Council directed staff to notice a hearing on the revised Village Housing Project indicating their willingness to reconsider approval of the project as revised. Councilmembers provided various thoughts on the type of project it would consider for approval. Several Councilmembers suggested a reduction in the mixed occupancy project’s total population. The applicant has evaluated the project feasibility and has provided two options it would like the Council to consider. In response to the two primary concerns raised at the last meeting, the two options focus on either providing mixed-occupancy or fixed-occupancy (Attachment A and Attachment B to the staff report, respectively). The Council should provide direction on which project, if any, to continue to analyze.


Discussion/Fiscal Impact


Based on the Council’s direction at its February 6, 2019, meeting, staff noticed this hearing on the Village housing project. However, due to the ambiguity in direction received, staff has not initiated a full reevaluation of the environmental or approval documents. The clear direction staff and the applicant did receive is to reduce the project’s density.

Though not unanimous, the Council’s apparent top priorities for the project were mixed occupancy and keeping the number of beds to around 600. The applicant has communicated to staff that they cannot make a mixed occupancy project work at 600. However, they report that they can make the student-restricted project work at 600. In short, they cannot accomplish both priorities in the same project. The applicant has asked Council to consider both projects and give direction.


The applicant has reviewed its revised project, evaluating the feasibility of reducing the density of a mixed occupancy project (Attachment A), as well as the previously considered 602 bed, student-restricted project (Attachment B).

Density & Population

The project’s density has been a central focus. At the last hearing, there was concern over the total person density that might occupy the mixed-occupancy project. There were suggestions for limiting the density on the open market side of the project and there were several different proposals for how to calculate person density. The community and Councilmembers asked for an assessment of the project density and clarification on terms around density.

The City uses different methods to estimate population depending on the objective and program for which estimate is being made. The City’s affordable housing program has used the Housing and Community Development (HCD) method to ensure projects do not provide under housing (overcrowding) or over housing (more bedrooms than persons). This method uses a maximum of two persons per bedroom to prevent overcrowding. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also uses a persons per room method to define overcrowding. In land use planning, the City often estimates the population of a project using the census or Area Community Survey estimate of persons per household. This method uses unit count instead of unit size multiplied by the arithmetic average of persons per household. This method has been used to estimate total population at maximum build out. Most recently, this method was applied to the Water/Wastewater Memorandum analysis (see Draft EIR, Appendix L – not attached).

The open-market maximum population ranges from 281 to 456 using these methods (Table 1). Adding the student-restricted population would result in a maximum population of 879. The Village maximum population density using these methods is comparable to other multi-family projects in the City (Table 1). If the project was approved as a 602 bed student restricted project, the population density would be 55 persons per acre.

The maximum population of 879 is a reasonable upper estimate if every unit was rented to overcrowding. While there have been higher population estimates discussed, including one based on three persons per bedroom, the methods for those estimates are not well supported. Overcrowding is not a desirable condition for the residents or the project owners. There are no other examples in the City of such overcrowding. Staff suggests that the market conditions in Arcata are not driving such extreme overcrowding and that by adding units to the housing stock, overcrowding pressures are reduced. So the overcrowding estimates are not realistic estimates of actual project population.

The details on the HUD overcrowding methods (Attachment C) and the calculations that created Table 1 (Attachment D) are available for further discussion. In sum, the proposed housing and population density are within the scale of many other multifamily housing projects in the City.



The policy implications of the project are discussed in detail in the record and in the resolutions presented to the Council at its August 29, 2018, meeting. Those staff reports and resolutions are archived on the City’s watch meetings web page under the Council Meeting for August 29, 2018. The project would provide a mix of student restricted housing and open market housing with a range of room sizes to accommodate a range of household needs. The majority of apartments built or designed in the last several years are strictly one bedroom apartments. These are not suitable to families with children and other household arrangements.



The Council may take action on the recommendation of the Planning Commission, received in 2018. The project approvals require a recommendation from the Planning Commission. The Commission recommended the Council certify the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), but the vote to recommend approval of the project did not pass.  While there are many changes in the site design and management plan in the revised project, the amended project is similar to the project and alternatives considered by the Commission. The Council is not required to send the project back to the Planning Commission for review.



Staff has not completed its evaluation of the EIR and the revised project. On the face, the changes appear to be consistent with the environmental analysis of the previous project version. There are several edits that will be required to reflect the revised project, but the analysis appears to apply to the current project.  Staff will provide a more in depth review of the EIR if Council directs the continuation of the project.



This hearing, the public engagement held on January 30, 2019, and any subsequent hearings will be billed to the applicant on a fee for service pursuant to our planning permit application filed on the project and the City’s fee resolution.



Meeting History

Mar 6, 2019 6:00 PM Video City Council Regular and Special Meeting

Councilmember Winkler recused himself from the discussion and vote on this item because he had done work for AMCAL in the past. He left the Council Chamber at 6:41 p.m.

Director of Community Development Loya said the Council previously gave direction to the applicant to include different housing types and try to limit the number of occupants. He said the applicant had reviewed its two proposals--one consisting of 242 units of student-only housing and 145 open market units, and one consisting of 602 beds of purpose-built student housing. He said the applicant had evaluated the projects and their feasibility and at this point was asking for direction from the Council on one of the two options. He went on to explain the methodology staff used for determining occupancy, which was the census persons per household data times the number of units and explained that this methodology was codified in the Subdivision Map Act. He noted this methodology gave a range of 700 to 880 people living at the project. He said that an occupancy of 880 would mean that every single unit would be completely maximized, which was an unlikely outcome.

Mayor Watson invited the applicant to speak.

David Moon appeared before the Council and said they were still enthusiastic about helping Arcata with its housing needs. He said Option 1, the purpose-built student housing project would result in an occupancy of 53.75 per acre. The second option of a mixed housing project would result in 63 occupants per acre. As comparisons, he said the Sunset Terrace Project was approved at 90.4 occupants per acre. He said that given what the Council had approved in the past and the need for housing, they felt their proposals resulted in a reasonable number of occupants for a project of that size. He said they would complete either of these two projects if the Council saw fit.

Councilmember Ornelas revealed ex parte communications stating that she met with John Bergenske and they spoke about the project. She said she sent an email to the Moons partly responding to Mr. Jules's concern that the approval process was taking too long. She distributed copies of her emails. She reported she participated in a conference call with the Moons and Percy Vaz. She said that what mattered to her was that she wanted to count, realistically, how many people would occupy the project. She said she came up with a number of 1.2 persons per unit, or 1.5. She described how she built a model of the mixed-use project to exemplify a proposal she could feel proud of.

Councilmember Pitino revealed his ex parte communications stating he spoke with Carl Douglas about the two options.

Councilmember Pereira said she gave an update on the status of the project at a meeting of the Board of Directors of Arcata House Partnership.

Director Loya explained why he felt 2.26 persons per unit was an accurate methodology to determine density for this project.

Mayor Watson invited public comment.

Rollin Richmond appeared before the Council and spoke of how critically important it was for Arcata to have more reasonable housing. He encouraged the Council to support one of the two options.

Tim Needham, attorney for Steve Strombeck, appeared before the Council and urged the Council to send the project back to the Planning Commission because at this time it was a different project than what the Planning Commission had initially reviewed. He referred to a letter he submitted stating that the rules were not being applied consistently to projects. He noted his client had a project 400 feet from this project and was concerned about parking from The Village spilling over onto his property.

Chris Wolte appeared before the Council and expressed her concerns about traffic on L.K. Wood Boulevard and the difficulty it presented for bicyclists. She also said she felt the project was too dense.

Oz of Plaza Point appeared before the Council and advocated for a parking infrastructure remodel stating that people and vehicles did not mix in the 21st century.

J.B. Mathers appeared before the Council and spoke of the homeless student population. He reported on his tour of AMCAL's Vista project in Turlock stating it was beautiful and that it would be nice if Arcata could have a similar facility.

Julie Vaissade-Elcock appeared before the Council and declared this project needed a new environmental impact report. She refuted the belief that overbuilding would drive down rents. She said Arcata needed affordable housing for both students and families.

Kimberly Taes appeared before the Council and said she felt bad for the neighbors who would have to live near such a large project. She said she could only support the project if the size were drastically reduced. She recommended the Council direct the developer to return with a smaller project of original design.

An unidentified member of the audience appeared before the Council and said the solution was to make the project smaller. She also said all these discussions should be held at the Planning Commission level. She noted the lack of improvements to the Sunset Avenue interchange.

Keenan Hilton, representing the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities, appeared before the Council and spoke of how climate change dictated that high-density developments needed to be built where people needed to be. He advocated for unbundling parking from the living units so that people who had a car would pay higher rent.

Jack Roscoe appeared before the Council and said the project would create a flow of students, cars, sound and light that would impact the community. He urged the Council to consider how this project would impact the community going forward.

Steve Martin appeared before the Council and stated that higher density was more appropriate for smaller projects. He said the Sunset/L.K.Wood intersection would be a nightmare for pedestrians and cars. He rejected the statement that 19 percent of HSU students were homeless.

Jane Woodward appeared before the Council and asked it to deny both projects stating they were a massive behemoth out of character for Arcata. She said the impacts of the project had not been factored in and the project could house 879 occupants. She said Arcata needed more homes that could be purchased, not rented.

John Bergenske, a member of Arcata Citizens for Responsible Housing (ACRH), appeared before the Council and distributed a copy of his written comments. He said that ACRH was supportive of housing on the site, but disagreed with The Village. He declared that the plan developed by Greenway Partners represented the community's vision for the site, but the Council was not paying attention to this plan. He asked the Council to consider the Greenway Partners plan and deny both of The Village options.

Eric Jules, President of ACRH, appeared before the Council and distributed a copy of his written comments. He spoke of how AMCAL's proposed mixed-use project resulted in a large increase in size. He said ACRH did not support the new proposal. He said that infill development with high-density housing was a lot to ask the Community to accept and the surrounding neighbors were asking that the size of the development be much smaller, somewhere between 400 and 500 occupants.

Written communications in opposition to the project were received from Jane Woodward, Bonnie MacRaith, Christine Ng and Todd Anderson, Carlisle Douglas, Judith C. Williamson, Jim and Edy Vaissade, Paul Bachemin, Maureen Jules, and Timothy Needham, attorney for Steve Strombeck.

Mayor Watson closed the public comment period.

The Council held a lengthy discussion and decided to give the applicant clear criteria for a project the Council could find acceptable.


RECESS: The Council recessed from 8:55 to 9:05 p.m.