Arcata caps maximum number of residents for Village Housing project

Residents voice concerns about traffic, size during city council meeting

The maximum resident population for the Arcata Village Housing project will remain at 602 residents, the Arcata City Council said Wednesday night. (Times-Standard file)
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A major housing development project in Arcata could provide a solution to the city’s student-housing crisis, but the Arcata City Council on Wednesday night directed the city’s staff to cap the proposed complex at just over 600 residents.

Earlier, the council had voted to boost the development’s maximum number of residents by 32, a move that would have scaled the project up by 4 percent. But after hearing from numerous members of the public concerned about the development’s size and potential environmental impacts, the council asked that the number come right back down.

Councilmember Susan Ornelas was the first to say she regretted raising the maximum in the first place.

“I feel like I’m jumping off a cliff trying to do this whole thing,” Ornelas said. “A 602-foot cliff.”

The development, called the Arcata Village Housing Project, would be a sizable development in a city where Humboldt State University students often struggle to find housing. But speakers at Wednesday’s meeting said the project could create traffic, parking and wastewater problems for the city’s taxpayers.

“The (Sunset Drive) over-crossing and the traffic there … is already dangerous, and it’s going to be more dangerous when the housing is completed,” said one speaker.

David Moon of real estate company AMCAL, the project’s developer, said he was listening to public comments and making adjustments to the project accordingly.

But some speakers disagreed.

“Mr. Moon wants to maximize the size of this project whereas the majority of this community do not want the project maximized,” said another speaker. The speaker also said the project doesn’t currently include safeguards to ensure that the development includes both students and families as residents, as intended.

“This project pushes our neighborhood off a 602-foot cliff, and you probably won’t fall with us,” said Dan, another speaker, alluding to Ornelas’ earlier comment.

“What you’re hearing from is a very small percent of the community,” said Jeremy, another speaker, about the dissenters in the room. He said the city needs to provide for HSU students.

Another speaker, Casey, said that without the university, Humboldt County would be just another lumber stop up the coastline.

The project’s environmental impact report — a standard document created for any development with a large enough potential effect on the surrounding environment — was created by Moon, the developer. One speaker, an attorney, said city code doesn’t allow developers to write EIRs for their own projects.

David Loya, the city’s director of community development, said later that he and his staff vetted every page of the report. Going forward, he said, they will look to comply with city code on all EIR matters.

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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