Arcata City
CA

Staff Report
2068
Direction Given
Jun 5, 2019 6:00 PM

Consider Approval of the Village Housing Project Design

Information

Department:Community DevelopmentSponsors:
Category:Report

Introduction

The Council considered alternatives for the Village housing project at its February 6, 2019, meeting and provided specifications for approval to the applicant on March 6, 2019. The specifications were modified at the April 17, 2019, meeting. The applicant has provided a project that meets the parameters specified by the Council at the April 17 meeting (Attachment A to the staff report). This report provides the Council the draft form of the approval documents to consider accepting or amending.

The Council cannot take action on the project until the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) review is complete. This item is to provide the Council the opportunity to review the project approval documents and the current project. Staff will incorporate Council direction in a future meeting to consider certification of the EIR and final approval of the project.

Discussion/Fiscal Impact

BACKGROUND:

The applicant has revised the unit mix to reflect direction given at the April 17, 2019, Council meeting (Attachment A). Based on the Council’s discussion of how to calculate population using unit density of 1.5 persons per 1-BR, 3 persons per 2-BR, and 5 persons per 3-BR, the project as currently proposed meets the objectives discussed at the April meeting (Table 1). Having met the Council’s criteria for consideration, this staff report focuses on the Action, Findings, Conditions, and other approval documents necessary to approve the project, as well as responses to some of the comments on the EIR since July 2018.

 

Table 1. Project Specifications. The criteria outlined in the April 17, 2019, City Council meeting along with the project’s compliance are shown in this table and Attachment B.

Council Criterion

Threshold

Project Statistic

Student Beds

400

392

Open-Market Bedrooms

150

100

Bedrooms in 1-BR units

fewer or equal to 50%

49%

Student/Open-Market population

Aim For 65/35

65/35

Total population

602 Max

602

 

DISCUSSION:

Project Specifications

The project includes a mix of open market and student-restricted housing in a mix of buildings ranging from 1- to 4-stories (Attachment A). Each building has resident amenities, including indoor and outdoor recreational space. The student-restricted housing has amenities targeting students, such as study rooms, internet café, and a gym. The open market buildings include an internet café and fitness center. The outdoor areas include landscaped pathways, picnicking areas, and various outdoor game courts. The rail to trail and the trail to Maple lane along the eastern and northern boundaries, respectively, are open to the public, as are the internal roads and trails through the project.

The landscaping and elevations have not been updated for this review. The plan sets from previous iterations of the project are included here to provide a conceptual review of those aspects of the project (Attachment A, sheets 2-6). The applicant is seeking approval before investing in revising these documents.

 

POLICY IMPLICATIONS:

Traffic

Several comments in the record surround traffic impacts. The traffic for the Village and other central Arcata development projects (Canyon Creek, Sunset Terrace, Open Door Community Health Center, Twin Parks Apartments, and Creek Side Homes) was analyzed in the Central Arcata Areawide Traffic Impact Study (W-Trans 2017). This study is Appendix L to the Draft EIR and is available online at the Community Development Department or online:

http://www.cityofarcata.org/DocumentCenter/View/5246/Central-Arcata-Areawide-TIS-3-13-17?bidId=

Concerns have been raised that the change in project description to now include open market means that the traffic study needs to be redone and the EIR recirculated. In fact, the traffic study evaluated the Village as “apartments” according to the Institute of Transportation Engineers Trip Generation Manual, 9th Edition, 2012 (hereafter referred to as the Trip Generation Manual, which is cited in W-Trans 2017, p 19). The assumption used in the traffic model was that the highest impact scenario should be used to evaluate the traffic impact of the project. Despite the likelihood that the student residents will use alternative transportation modes, the traffic model assumed trip generation based on a standard apartment. The study does not need to be amended to reflect the modified project.

Mr. Howard Wilkins III provided a letter on July 17, 2018, in which he provided a letter of the same date by Neal Liddicoat challenging the adequacy of the traffic study used in the EIR (Attachment C). Staff requested W-Trans to review the July 17, 2018, letter and respond (Attachment D). In addition, staff drafted responses to items that the W-Trans evaluation did not address (Attachment E). In summary of these two responses, staff recommends the Council recognize the difference in opinion among experts and accept the conclusions of the W-Trans 2017 study pursuant to the CEQA Guidelines Section 15151, as discussed above. The Final EIR will include clarification based on the W-Trans and staff responses.

Mr. Douglas Chermak, of Lozeau Drury, provided an independent analysis of the W-Trans study produced by Daniel Smith, Jr., a Traffic Engineer, who argued that the trip generation was underestimated, that the impacts identified in the EIR were significant and unavoidable at L.K. Wood and Sunset (Attachment F). For these reasons, Mr. Smith, Jr. concludes the project has unavoidable significant impacts that were not disclosed, and should not be approved under a statement of overriding considerations.

Mr. Smith suggests developing a special trip generation method instead of using the Trip Generation Manual standard method. Mr. Smith claims the standard method underestimates the actual vehicle trips, citing that students may make multiple trips per day to and from campus. Mr. Smith also indicated that the City of Davis recommends a higher trip generation variable, but did not provide citation to this method, nor did Mr. Smith provide an analysis of the similarities in the factual conditions that would warrant using the City of Davis’ approach for the Village. In addition, others have argued that the trip generation model results were too high since students will likely walk, arguing that the impact of non-vehicular traffic was not considered.

W-Trans used a nationally accepted and industry standard practice for estimating trip generation. To develop project by project methods would lead to unreliable and undefendable results across projects. Instead, using an accepted standard methodology results in comparable and defendable results. Staff recommends acknowledging the difference in opinion between the City’s Engineer, W-Trans, and the Lozeau Drury Engineer’s opinions on the matter and accept the method used in the W-Trans 2017 Report.

It is worth noting here that Mr. Chermak, in his summary, misrepresents Mr. Smith’s point, stating the EIR “fails to adequately describe the environmental setting of the project by failing to accurately describe the traffic baseline conditions”. In fact, Mr. Smith’s concern is with future conditions, not baseline conditions. Mr. Chermak goes on to state that “the EIR does not demonstrate that Caltrans plans to or would be willing to construct such a roundabout [at L.K.Wood and Sunset]. It does not indicate that the City consulted with Caltrans”. In the next sentence, Mr. Chermak acknowledges the response from Caltrans to the W-Trans report, which included the roundabout and several other mid- and long-term mitigations, including a traffic signal, all of which were demonstrated through the modeling to reduce the LOS impact at the intersection. Each of these options for reducing the impact at the intersection are feasible mitigation measures that are considered in the EIR. While it is true that CalTrans would require an intersection control evaluation prior to implementing any one of the mitigation options, it is not true that this equates to deferred mitigation. The Administrative Record contrasts with Mr. Chermak’s claims.

Mr. Smith further concludes that the mitigation proposed is beyond the City’s direct control to effect. As such, the mitigation cannot be built prior to the impacts, if ever, he speculates. For this reason, he correctly cites, as does the Draft EIR, that there is an unmitigatable impact. The letter also correctly cites that the project can only be approved with a statement of overriding considerations. Mr. Smith then concludes that his difference in opinion as to which method to use to calculate trip volume equates to an undisclosed impact, therefore, the overriding considerations should not be used.

Staff recommends the Council acknowledge the Trip Generation Model method used in the W-Trans report. The W-Trans report does result in a Level Of Service (LOS) F, the highest congestion rating. The City’s EIR does recognize this as a significant, unmitigatable impact. The Development Agreement proposes to secure partial funding based on the project’s relative impact. However, the mitigation project will not likely be completed until 2023.

Many other members of the public have expressed concerns about traffic without citing specific expert analysis. In particular, the intersection at California and L.K.Wood, Granite and L.K.Wood, and the general concern of speed on L.K.Wood have been raised by the public. The W-Trans report identified the study intersections (W-Trans 2016, Figure 1) based on previous traffic studies and in consultation with City Engineering Department and CalTrans. The City Engineer has evaluated these concerns and responded publicly multiple times. The L.K.Wood intersections have adequate visibility and do not warrant any environmental concerns. However, the California intersection has been studied in the past, and the City has plans to provide additional traffic calming and other Travel Demand Management measures. The City will continue to conduct warrant studies and implement traffic calming where appropriate.

Wastewater Treatment & Fee

Staff prepared the 2016 Wastewater Treatment Memo provided for the group of projects identified in January 2016 (Attachment G). The memo identifies that the projects will likely bring the City to its planned population of 20,000, within a margin of error. The memo identifies that the treatment plant has the capacity to accommodate the proposed group of projects, but that the City needed some immediate offsets for capacity as well as funds to conduct the long-range planning to accommodate future growth. The fees identified in the wastewater memo are in addition to the standard connection fees.

The connection fees are used to fund operations and equipment for treatment. They cannot be used for planning purposes. For this reason, the wastewater memo identified a fee based on proportionality for the projects that would result in a higher than previously planned treatment need. The annexation and upzones would contribute to this planning effort to ensure the wastewater treatment plant can continue to meet the City’s needs in the future.

To address capacity concerns in more technical depth, but presented in lay terms, the staff has prepared a Wastewater Capacity Memo 2019 (Attachment H). The information for this report was sourced from LACO/Carollo, the City Engineer/Engineering Director, the Environmental Services Director, Bob Gearheart, all of whom have been involved in the Wastewater Treatment Facility Plan.

Parking

Some commenters have focused on the impact the project may have on parking. The concern is that more cars will be brought to the project than the parking plans for, and that the parking will spill into the adjacent neighborhoods. Other commenters are concerned that there is too much parking. These commenters reason that providing an abundance of parking encourages single-rider vehicle use and does not support the City’s Travel Demand Management plans, mode shift, or alternative transportation.

The proposed project meets the Code. The project proposes the maximum number of parking spaces allowable under the code. Currently, there are two parking spaces proposed for each unit. Of these, 45 are buried tandem spaces suitable for long-term parking. While the City does not control how many individual vehicle trips or length of stay for any use, it does specify the required minimum and maximum number of parking stalls required based on land use activity. This project meets the City standard.

In addition to meeting the City standard for parking, the City direction to date has been to design the project with alternative transportation in mind. The project includes off-site trail, sidewalk, and bus improvements. The project is currently proposed to be conditioned to require decoupling of parking from unit lease. The intent of this condition is to segregate the value of the unit from that of the parking space and to discourage residents from bringing a car in the first place. These project features were intended to reduce the project’s residences’ reliance on cars in general.

The administrative record includes several public comments acknowledging that the Eye/Jay Streets neighborhood is currently a non-resident, student parking area. Similar to Spring Street, and several others within walking distance of the university, this area provides near campus free parking for students. This public comment suggest the existing conditions are impacted by parking related to HSU. The project could result in additional impacts to the Westwood neighborhood, extending the off-site parking down the bluff. In addition, the project may lessen the demand for the Eye/Jay Neighborhood impact by providing a nearby multifamily residential development with accommodation for individuals who now do not live in Arcata and would therefore not need to bring a car.

The Council has asked in previous meetings that the City evaluate traffic and consider options such as preferential or timed parking. While the residents in the nearby neighborhoods do not own the on-street parking, the concern that there will be no nearby on-street parking available as a result of the project could be ameliorated by a parking management plan. Staff suggests continuing monitoring and evaluation of the parking impact to determine post development which type of parking management is most appropriate given the impacts if any materialize.

Parking impacts are not an environmental impact and were not addressed in depth in the EIR. However, parking availability for one user to the detriment of another group is a clear neighborhood impact associated with the employment and educational center housed in Arcata. Also, the change in conditions related to a project have real personal impacts on the neighbors that are used to a set of conditions that change.

Actions

The Council should consider the proposed actions (Attachment I), ask to clarify the impact of the conditions and agreements, and provide staff direction for any changes to the action documents that have been part of the record to date. Director Loya and City Attorney Diamond have reviewed and cleaned up the documents for this review. However, the basic conditions are largely the same as they have been over the period of the Council’s review.

The actions include responses to many of the issues raised by the public. For example, the Development Agreement includes terms related to the potential disposition of the property to a tax exempt entity. The Conditions of Approval include the requirement that water/wastewater connection fees be paid prior to occupancy. The Conditions of Approval also contain the requirements for the trail and other non-motorized access points. The terms and conditions included address many of the concerns raised by the public. These documents have been updated to reflect the current project and to address more specifically some issues raised by the public. But these documents are largely unchanged from the Council’s first review.

The Council should consider confirming these are the approval documents staff should use as the basis for the project approvals and the environmental review.

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, which are not suitable to families with children and other household arrangements. The project would partially comprise units of different sizes.

Staff has continued to receive public input on the project (Attachment J).

 

COMMITTEE/COMMISSION REVIEW:

The project was considered by the Planning Commission, which recommended certification of the EIR, but denial of the project as proposed at that time. The project currently proposed has been modified by the Council’s deliberations and is a blend of the alternatives evaluated in the EIR.

ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW (CEQA):

The issues raised regarding Land Use Code Section 9.78.130.B.1.a are under review. Staff will provide a more in depth review of the EIR after a full review is completed.

 

BUDGET/FISCAL IMPACT:

Planning permits are charged full cost recovery pursuant to the City’s fee resolution. The project will increase the property tax base and remove the need for abatement. The project would likely have secondary positive fiscal impacts. The project will require additional City services. These are anticipated to be offset by the taxes, fees, and service revenues associated with the project.

 

 

Meeting History

Jun 5, 2019 6:00 PM Video City Council Regular and Special Meeting

Councilmember Winkler recused himself from the discussion and vote on this item due to the fact that he had done work in the past for the applicant. He left the Council Chamber at 6:37 p.m.

Director of Community Development Loya said staff was not requesting any action by the Council that evening. He told the Council that staff was working to address a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) procedural issue wherein the steps outlined in Land Use Code section 9.78.130 were not adhered to. However, he noted that there was no violation of the CEQA process. He said staff proposed the City enter into a contract with a consultant for ongoing, on-call CEQA services and have that CEQA specialist perform an independent analysis of the draft and final EIR and the special studies associated with those documents, and take into consideration the public comment received since the circulation period for the EIR had closed. He announced that a Request for Proposals had gone out and staff expected the Council would award a contract in July for such consultant. Director Loya reminded the Council that there had been public comments made and issues raised about the adequacy of the EIR. He said that a CEQA specialist could perform an independent analysis of the comments that had come in on the EIR and perform any corrective measures deemed necessary.

BY GENERAL CONSENSUS, THE COUNCIL CONCURRED WITH HAVING A CEQA SPECIALIST HIRED BY THE CITY ANALYZE THE DRAFT AND FINAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT, AS WELL AS THE PUBLIC COMMENTS MADE AFTER THE CLOSE OF CIRCULATION OF THE DOCUMENT, AND PERFORM ANY CORRECTIVE MEASURES NECESSARY.

Director Loya stated that the project then before the Council appeared to meet its criteria outlined at its April 17, 2019, meeting. He said the Council could not approve the project that night because it did not yet have an approved EIR, but it could state whether or not the project was acceptable based on its criteria.

Regarding traffic, Director Loya said the traffic impacts from the project could not be mitigated. He explained that the City commissioned an area-wide traffic study by W-Trans which used standard methodology. He drew the Council's attention to letters written by Neal K. Liddicoat, P.E. and Daniel Smith, Jr., a traffic engineer, which were critical of the traffic study, and W-Trans' response to claims in those letters. He said that staff had evaluated the letters and the response, and was comfortable continuing to recommend to the Council that the traffic study was adequate and accurate.

Regarding the wastewater treatment plant, Director Loya said the evaluation of the wastewater treatment plant's (WWTP) capacity was based on a full build-out of the City with a population of 20,267.

City Manager Diemer said staff gave questions to the experts who had been working on the WWTP upgrades and their answers addressed both the plant's hydraulic movement and holding capacity, and the treatment capacity. She said that the rehabilitation projects, including the inflow/infiltration project and the WWTP upgrades, were attempts to address those two capacity-limiting concerns. She said that the results from all the experts indicated this would be an adaptive project as the City rolled out the improvements to the system. She said the City was monitoring and looking at what these projects would bring to the treatment plant's capacity. She stated that staff believed the WWTP would support full build-out as outlined in the General Plan: 2020, including The Village project. Further, staff believed the restorative maintenance being done throughout the naturalized system would yield higher values to the capacity of treating wastewater than were in the engineered designs for the rehabilitated system itself.

Director Loya confirmed that all of the proposed housing projects would pay full capital connection fees to the water and wastewater system, as well as a fee negotiated to offset the future planning for development needs of the facilities.

Regarding parking, he said the City encouraged this developer to plan for a transit mode shift with the project and provide fewer parking spaces. He noted the parking had been decoupled from the unit rent so a resident with a car would have to pay extra for a parking space. This was to discourage residents from having a car. He said that staff had discussed instituting preferential parking for the surrounding neighborhoods. He said the current project proposed the maximum number of parking spaces allowed for a development of its type.

Director Loya listed the actions the Council would have to take at a future meeting if it approved of the project. These were: 1) certify the Environmental Impact Report; 2) change the land use designation in the General Plan to Residential High with a Planned Development overlay (RH:PD); 3) amend the zoning from Industrial Limited to Residential High:Planned Development (IL to RH:PD); 4) approve Planning Permits and Design Review Permits; 5) adopt Findings for Planning Permits and Conditions of Approval; 6) adopt ordinance adopting the Development Agreement

City Manager Diemer said staff was looking for the Council's concurrence with the revised design of the project in concept.

Mayor Watson invited public comment.

David Moon, representing the applicant, appeared before the Council and said they had redesigned the project to meet the parameters given to them by the Council and they were anxious to help provide quality housing in Arcata.

An unidentified member of the audience appeared before the Council and asked if the project was taking climate change into account in order to help keep the planet livable.

An unidentified member of the audience appeared before the Council and expressed several concerns, among those being traffic impacts, traffic in adjoining neighborhoods, neighborhood compatibility, policing and safety.

Jane Woodward appeared before the Council and distributed copies of her comments. She requested the Council not approve the project until the public had been able to review the revised EIR, Conditions of Approval, and the Development Agreement.

John Bergenske, representing Arcata Citizens for Responsible Housing, appeared before the Council and spoke about the water/wastewater capital connection fees that he felt the developers should be required to pay.

Tim Needham, attorney for Steve Strombeck, appeared before the Council and said the independent CEQA review was appropriate and he was glad staff was proposing it. He expressed concerns he still had regarding parking and said he looked forward to the creative ways staff intended to address the parking issues.

Jack Roscoe appeared before the Council and presented a petition with 87 signatures calling for an updated traffic study.

Vernon Price appeared before the Council and called for an amicable conclusion to the parking, traffic, and housing shortage issues.

Bonnie McRaith appeared before the Council and objected to the project's size and potential for noise. She asked the Council to deny the project.

An unidentified member of the audience appeared before the Council and objected to the project because it would displace many craftsmen in the Craftsman's Mall, the impacts to the Sunset Avenue/L. K. Wood Boulevard intersection, and the impacts to parking.

John Rosa appeared before the Council and said he had not seen the new design of the project so could not comment on it.

Gwen Roscoe appeared before the Council and stated that it was backwards to try to fit a project into a community that had not been designed by the community.

Written communications in opposition to the project were received from Christine Ng, Ronald A. and Edith M. Fritzsche, Susan Hansen, Lisa and Michael Kinneman, Bill Kowinski, Jack Roscoe, and Charlie Jordan.

A written communication was received from Holland and Knight, LLP, on behalf of its client AMCAL Equities, LLC and its partner Colerain Capital Group, requesting the City issue a request for proposals for an EIR consultant to perform an independent review of the EIR.

Mayor Watson closed the public comment period.

Councilmember Ornelas requested staff insure the bus service to the project be well designed and that the trail be developed along with the project. Also, she wanted to make sure the documents guaranteed that the City would continue to receive property tax if the property were sold. She also asked that the developer consider food truck sites. She said she hoped to see some small food dispensary for the students. She asked staff to explore the preferential parking program for the adjoining neighborhoods.

On inquiry by Mayor Watson, City Engineer Class confirmed that lighting and safety at night on the trail would be part of the scope of its development.

BY GENERAL CONSENSUS, THE COUNCIL GAVE ITS APPROVAL TO MOVE FORWARD WITH THE PROJECT AS IT WAS CURRENTLY PRESENTED AS FAR AS THE NUMBER OF UNITS, TYPE OF UNITS, PERCENTAGE SPLIT, ETC., AS LAID OUT BY THE COUNCIL IN APRIL 2019.

Councilmember Winkler returned to the Council Chamber at 8:00 p.m.

RESULT:DIRECTION GIVEN