There’s a meeting of the Arcata Planning Committee tonight and it should be interesting. There are two hot items on the agenda, “A” and “B.”
First they’re dealing with marijuana, which will henceforth be known as “cannabis,” and some business with cannabidniz: mostly legalize around the “Commercial Cannabis Activity Permit” and the coming “Cannabis Innovation Zone,” where people will process pot one innovative way or another. It may come as a surprise, but there will probably be little discussion and not much controversy.
The controversy will come with item “B,” officially considering the “Draft Environmental Impact Report and a Recommendation to the City Council for Approval of the Required Permits and Development Agreement Terms for the Village Student Housing Project at 2715-2920 St. Louis Rd.; File No. 156-179-GPA-ZA-PM-DR-PD-DA-GPC.”
If you have some time, you can read the agenda packet by clicking on the link and reading tons of material, including the letters submitted pro and con. I have to admit, I have not read the whole packet and probably won’t. It’s 569 pages long, and I have more interesting books to read. Nevertheless, I’ll share some of my so-called thoughts. This topic has generated a lot of discussion on Facebook (click here) and via Nextdoor, with lots of questions raised by concerned citizens.
The organized opposition on (Facebook anyway) is an anonymous group, “The Village: Changing our Neighborhood – Arcata.”
I learned about it via my friend Greg King, a politically active type, who began a post (with a link to the opposition’s page) with a brief salvo describing the project as “A terrible proposal in a city that appears increasingly willing to accept them.” The discussion that followed brought up a lot of issues and got me interested since the proposed “Village” is basically in my neighborhood. I own a house close the HSU, on the other side of the campus.
For those completely new to this whole thing I’ll offer a quick overview. The Village is a housing project proposed for some land off St. Louis Rd. a ramshackle place known as the Craftsmans Mall.
The company behind the proposal is known as AMCAL (I don’t know what the acronym stands for). They are in the business of building big housing projects, because, as they explain, “College enrollments are growing rapidly but student housing has not kept pace. Recognizing that it could translate its multi-family skills to developing topflight student housing and give schools a competitive advantage, AMCAL entered this market in 2012 and is already a preferred provider among California universities.”
The student housing problem was covered well by some HSU students who wrote a cover story for the North Coast Journal (read it here) called “Homeless State University.” The lede: “HSU’s enrollment push collides with Humboldt’s housing crunch, leaving students in the lurch.”
Forgive me if I gank part of their description, but they summed it up well. “In May, [AMCAL] submitted plans to the city’s planning commission for The Village — four buildings to house 800 students in 240 units at a cost of around $55 million. It would take between 18 and 24 months to construct. But the project will require the approval of the city of Arcata and cooperation from HSU and, at least for now, none of the parties seems to be talking to each other.” That was months ago. The “talking” comes tonight.
Kevin Hoover at the Mad River Union has been following this for awhile. I learned a lot from his piece ‘The Village’ student community – last call for Craftsman’s Mall?
Now the student housing problem is not new, not at all. In fact I wrote a cover story for the Journal in 2004 that detailed my involvement in what I called, “The Battle for Bayview.”
Our admittedly NIMBY battle sounded a bit like the resistance happening now. We pushed back a housing project ironically also called “The Village.” That project was eventually built somewhere else, on the other side of 14th Street on land owned by HSU. When you look behind what are affectionately known as The Gates, you’ll see a soccer field and a collection of apartments, known as the College Creek Complex. Under the original (thwarted) plan, my house was to be demolished and replaced by a soccer field.
At that time, the University asked us to come up with a better place to build the housing project. One of the suggestions made by my neighbor Mark Wheetley (who later became a city councilman) was to build it on some other underused property, for example, off St. Louis Road, where the new version of The Village is proposed.
Now there are a lot of issues in play here and I don’t mean to oversimplify things, but I think it’s time to be happy someone wants to help Arcata with a problem that isn’t going away. We need more more housing, and not just for students. I don’t think we need to go overboard and roll out some red carpet for some corporation coming to our town — we need negotiate mitigations — but we don’t want to slam the door in their face. Think about the future and keep an open mind.
BTW, if you do some research and/or read some of the material posted about the issues, you’ll find that “The Promontory” in Monterey was eventually sold by AMCAL to Cal State University Monterey Bay. (Food for thought.)
The other day a group of students had a protest/sleep-in related to student housing. I’ll let this guy explain…
Here’s another more sketch, someone’s plans…