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Building Height

What a destructive fire in a 4-story apartment building looks like

Three videos of the fire from June 19, 2024, in Miami. "I did get a chance  to speak to one gentleman who tells me he was actually sleeping at the  time. He awoke not because he smelled the smoke, not because he heard the commotion, but because he heard a firefighter knocking at his front door. That's what prompted him to get up, get outside."

Arcata Fire District letter to the City Council, May 28, 2024: Don’t approve Gateway

From the Arcata Fire District May 28, 2024 letter: "We are writing to request that approval of these elements be denied at this time and put on hold until the AP Triton Standard of Coverage (SOC) for the AFPD is completed and the Arcata City Council and AFPD Board of Directors achieve consensus on a plan for the likely expansion of the District's capacity."

Gateway Plan and General Plan Updates – Newsletter – May 27, 2024

THIS NEWSLATTER WAS SENT OUT ON MONDAY, MAY 27, 2024. The two scheduled public hearings with the Arcata City Council take place on Wednesdays -- May 29 and June 5, 2024. If needed, the public hearing meetings will be continued. The City Council will consider, take public comment on, discuss, and perhaps vote to adopt the Gateway Area Plan, the Gateway Zoning Code, the Arcata General Plan 2045, and the Final Environmental Report.

Four-Story Buildings do not belong in the Bayview, Sunset, and Upper I & J Street Neighborhoods

The LU-9 Implementation Measure in the draft General Plan would allow 4 and 5-story buildings in the Bayview, Northtown, Upper I & J Street, and Sunset neighborhoods. A rezoning would allow "Local-serving commercial uses such as corner grocery stores and coffee shops" throughout those neighborhoods. **** LU-9 does not belong in Arcata's General Plan **** WITH IMAGES OF WHAT COULD BE BUILT.

Director Loya provides misleading information to the Planning Commission on the Arcata Fire District’s letter

The Arcata Fire District wrote a letter that they wanted the Planning Commissioners to see. The Community Development Director did not send them the letter. Instead, he wrote a watered-down summary -- leaving out what is important, and adding in a summary that is not what the AFD said.

To the Planning Commissioners: The missing letter from the Arcata Fire District

3 MINUTES TO READ -- On April 9, 2024, the Arcata Fire District Board sent a letter to the City Council, stating that the AFD cannot ensure the safety of people living in a building that is over 40 feet tall — a three-story building. On April 18, 2024, the Arcata Fire District Board wrote to Community Development Director with a simple request:  To provide that April 9, 2024, letter to the Planning Commissioners. Director Loya did not honor this simple request.

A simple request from the Arcata Fire District — David Loya denies it.

The Arcata Fire District sent a letter to the City, stating that the AFD cannot ensure the safety of people living in a building that is over 40 feet tall, which would be a three-story building. A subsequent letter requested that the earlier letter be provided to the Planning Commissioners. The Community Development Director David Loya did not do this. Instead he wrote a watered-down version as a summary, and created a summation that was not in the letter.

Arcata Fire District tells the Council: No building permits, no occupancy of 4-story and taller buildings, please

At the April 9, 2024, Arcata Fire District's Board of Directors meeting, the Board discussed and approved a letter to be sent to the Arcata Mayor and Arcata City Council. That letter is re-printed here ----This letter formalizes and re-states what the AFD has been telling the City Council over these past two years. At the current time, the AFD cannot ensure the safety of people living in a building that is over 40 feet tall, which would be a three-story building.

Video: FM3 sales-tax survey at the Council’s goal-setting session — with questions on building height and parking desired

Here is a video of the presentation from FM3 Research of the question on having a sales-tax increase measure on the November 2024 ballot. Also includes two non-tax-related questions on 7-story building height and street parking.

FM3 survey: Putting a sales tax increase on the November 2024 ballot, and more

Survey results for the potential sales-tax increase November 2024 ballot measure. Also: How did questions about street parking, parking lots, and 7-story Building Height get onto a survey about potential tax measures? Why does the survey conclude that Street Parking is "low priority" when 85% of the respondents say it is important?

What’s in the Community Benefits Program for the Gateway Area Plan?

The Community Benefits Program for Arcata's Gateway Area Plan has gone through many twists and turns and iterations. The basic idea is that if a developer wants to build at four stories and above, there must be some "community benefits" included in the project. The community benefits evolved from a list that was developed by the Community Development Staff and the Planning Commissioners -- with, in theory, input from the public.

Maps of the Gateway Area – Selected Articles

Maps of the Gateway Area - Aerial Views - 3D images

3D images from the Gateway Code — and no Linear Park !

For two years we have been waiting for 3D images of what a build-out might look like for the design of the Gateway Area Plan. Finally, here in February 2024, we have some 3D images of what multiple buildings in the Gateway area might look like.

The Gateway Code (Form-Based Code) – THIRD DRAFT from Ben Noble, February 2024

This is the 3rd draft of the "Gateway Code" -- the form-based code for the Gateway Area Plan, as delivered from the City's consultant Ben Noble. Dated January 31, 2023. This article contains the 3rd draft, the 2nd draft from September 2023, and the 1st draft from June 2023.

The Gateway Barrel District “Illustrative Plan” of 1,500 apartment units

The new General Plan 2045 draft Environmental Impact Report contains an image of an "illustrative plan" that shows a possible build-out design for the Gateway Barrel District. We've been waiting two years for what a potential build-out might look like. This image, plus the new images from Version 3 of the Gateway Code, have finally given us a clue.

The 3D images in the draft Environmental Impact Report

A series of 3D images that show the potential construction of four buildings in the Gateway Area. Rare views of a partial look of potential 7-story buildings. ******** MUST SEE ********

Extend the Gateway Area Plan policies to ALL of Arcata? Absolutely not!

Arcata’s Community Development Directory, David Loya, is asking the City Council whether the policies that are in process of being developed for the Gateway area should be put into the General Plan – so that the policies can be in place throughout all of Arcata. And, yes, he is asking for 4, 5, 6, and possibly 7-story buildings be allowed -- everywhere in Arcata.

The September 25, 2023, Gateway Open House meeting – Synopsis and photos

Reading time: 6-8 minutes or longer -- Last night's Gateway Open House meeting was a minor success. Despite being held with just 2-1/2 weeks' notice and on a date that ignored a major religious holiday -- and on a weekday late-afternoon, meaning that it was largely inaccessible to community members with regular jobs and people with a child or children -- there was a good turnout. Over the 4 PM to 6 PM time of the two-hour drop-in meeting, an estimated 60 people attended.

Gateway Code form-based code – September 22, 2023 version — What’s changed

Reading time:  15-30 minutes. -- The second draft of the Gateway Code (form-based code) came out on September 22, 2023. This article compares the details of this draft as compared with the June 5 1st draft. There is much that is missing. This Gateway code is in need of much work. In my view, it is inadequate, and will lead to sub-standard results. 

Density: How many units per acre for apartments around Humboldt

Here are examples of the density, shown in units per acre, of local known buildings in Humboldt County and specific buildings outside of our area. Includes a discussion of Net units per acre vs. Gross units per acre, and number of bedrooms vs. number of units.

Louis Sauer, architect: Low-rise dense housing in an urban setting

Reading time: 5 minutes -- The architect Louis Sauer specialized in high-quality, high-density, low rise housing. His urban designs were typically just three stories tall, with configurations of intertwined townhomes, set in patterns so that each home had a separate and private yard. 

“Mio” apartments in Seattle — Density of 205 units per acre

Reading time: 5 minutes -- The "Mio" apartments in Seattle are 41 units with a density of 205 units per acre. I present it here not as something we can copy for Arcata, but as an example of what can be done. I do not like all of the design choices, nor believe that this design in its entirety would be suitable for us. Yet I feel we can learn and profit by looking at its design.

“Gateway Housing” Open House meeting: September 25th, 4 to 6 p.m.

The City of Arcata is holding an open house on “Gateway Housing” at the D Street Neighborhood Center, on the university side of 101 at 13th & D.  This will be on Monday afternoon, September 25th, from 4 to 6 p.m. If you are not able to attend that meeting , you can enter your comments here on

Solar Shading Impacts – video and still images

Three 35-second videos - QUICK to watch. Plus descriptions, images, and commentary on Solar Shading situation. Arcata's northern latitude makes for a low angle of sun in the Winter months. Any building will make a shadow in the space next to it. The taller the building, the longer the shadow. *** In terms of determining what the solar shading caused by taller buildings on specific sites, unless we have some kind of images of the extent of the solar shading we are "flying blind." 

David Loya “Solar Shading Impacts 3D GIS Analysis” video

Reading/viewing time: 6 minutes -- Transcription and all images from the video of Shading Analysis. This is a step in the right direction, but completely inadequate. It fails to fully illustrate what the results of solar shading would be with multiple 6-story buildings in the Gateway area.

Big Issues of the Gateway Plan: Fire Protection — and a solution

Reading time: 8 minutes -- It is my opinion that, given time, the AFD, the City of Arcata, and Cal Poly will find a solution to the Fire Protection issue. In this BRIEF article, a possible solution is offered so that taller buildings can be planned for in the Gateway area. **** WITH VIDEO from the August 22, 2023, City Council / Planning Commission joint study session.

The Gateway Area Plan: A modest proposal

Partial build-out of the Gateway Area Plan. The Plan was finally adopted in 2031, following nine years of discussion and community input. A minor typographical error in the final version resulted in a 70-story maximum height, rather than the previously agreed-upon 7 stories. As anticipated, many developers opted to build smaller buildings than the allowable maximum.

3D Modeling and Visualizations have been removed from the draft Gateway Area Plan

The 3D Modeling and Visualizations have been removed from the draft Gateway Area Plan. There was a placeholder page titled "Visualizations" (Page 42) and now that page is gone. On Tuesday, August 22, 2023, the Council & Commission are being asked -- once again -- to discuss building heights. And they do not have the basic tools that any planner would need in order to accomplish this.

3D image showing step-backs on the the St. Vinnie’s parcel

This image was presented as a one-page handout at the June 13, 2023, Planning Commission meeting. It is a still image from the video presentation “Building and Massing” of the St. Vinnie's site on K Street.

Missing Middle Housing: A proven strategy for Affordability and Walkable Neighborhoods

Video from CivicWell. 1 hour 26 minutes. Also incudes the audio file -- Download and listen as a Podcast.

A vision of sustainable housing for all of humanity – Vishaan Chakrabarti

Vishaan Chakrabarti in a 10-minute TED talk. I believe that the answer is hiding in plain sight, that there is what I call a “Goldilocks” scale that sits between the scale of housing and towers: two- to three-story housing that should actually look very familiar to most of you, because we built the most beloved parts of our cities with it.

Former Commissioner John Barstow: Building Height, the Form-Based Code

John Barstow served Arcata on the Planning Commission and the earlier Design Review Committee for 30 years. He retired in October, 2022. He favored a four-story building height and was not optimistic about the Community Benefits program. He also recognized that "The development of the Form-Based Code is really the hard part of this process."

Urban Field Studio Report: A critique

A critique of the Urban Field Studio report from the July 11, 2023, Planning Commission packet. There is further critique following the Urban Field Studio presentation at that PC meeting, available also on

Urban Field Studio Report – Gateway Code Site Testing

Urban Field Studio evaluated the feasibility of the current draft Form-Based Code. They were assigned four specific sites, and asked to show whether the aims and goals of the draft Gateway Area Plan could, in their view, be achieved at those sites, particularly on being able to achieve the density of housing that the draft Plan calls for.

Gateway Density and Feasibility Study – Introduction

This is the introduction to the lengthy article on the Urban Field Studio "Code Site Test. PLEASE READ THE FULL ARTICLE ALSO. It will take about 30-45 minutes to read. The full article has both critique and support by an expert of the Gateway Plan, and a good Q&A from Arcata's Planning Commissioners.

Density and Feasibility Study – from Ryan Call of Urban Field Studio – July 11, 2023

IMPORTANT presentation to the Planning Commission, July 11, 2023. Can high-density tall buildings be constructed in the Gateway Area? This report presents findings on four specific sites. The answer: In theory, yes. On a practical, economically-feasible, realistic basis -- the answer is NO.

Will upper floor step-backs vanish from the Gateway Code?

During the past more than one-and-a-half years of discussion on the draft Gateway Plan, we've seen a variety of important aspects of the plan come and go. Critical issues seemed to have arrived as firm promises and later vanished like smoke following a Planning Commission conversation of just a minute or two. Or vanished with no conversation whatsoever. *** An area that's near and dear to the hearts of Arcatans are building heights and the set-back and step-back requirements for new buildings.