on your desktop for a bigger view. Learn more about our city.

No menu items!


Form-Based Code and Ministerial Review

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. 

The Gateway Code (Form-Based Code) – 2nd draft from Ben Noble, September 22, 2023

This is the 2nd draft of the Form-Based Code for the Gateway Area Plan, as delivered from the City's consultant Ben Noble. Dated September 22, 2023. You can view both the 2nd version and the 1st version here.

“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

Inclusionary Zoning, objective design standards approved in Santa Cruz

Read time: 7 minutes. Skim: 2 minutes. -- We can look at how Santa Cruz has dealt with some of the same issues we face here in Arcata. Santa Cruz already had an existing 20% inclusionary requirement. New proposal: Projects with a 25% inclusionary requirement get a 30% density bonus. Projects with a 30% inclusionary requirement get a 50% density bonus. Other issues: Public hearings for new larger construction.

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.

Planwest 3D Massing Diagrams are non-existent — No 3D diagrams to evaluate the Gateway heights and massing

Reading time: 4 minutes -- The "Gateway Area Form-Based Code Enhanced Content & Outreach" contract amendment with Planwest for $118,000 was approved at the December 21, 2022 Council meeting. The "Plan Area Massing Diagram" would be especially useful at this time, as we are discussing massing and building heights. Eight months later, and it's never been delivered.

The Gateway Code along L Street: What could be built

The Form-Based Code for the Gateway area is now called the Gateway Code. It specifies the building height and massing for each of the four districts in the Gateway area:  Barrel, Corridor, Hub, and Neighborhood. I am not implying that 5-story or 7-story buildings will be built -- only that, by code, they can be built.

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.

State Density Bonus Laws / Inclusionary Zoning / Community Benefits — David Loya presentation

“And our design standards and Community Benefits programs are unlikely to be implemented due to waivers and concessions.” --- Arcata's Director of Community Development David Loya has provided this video presentation of the various affordable housing programs. 15-1/2 minutes, July 28, 2023. VIDEO and full TRANSCRIPTION.

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."

Podium Construction: New apartment buildings all look the same

The buildings are five to seven stories tall and have a boxy shape. The ground floor is a parking garage, sometimes combined with shops. Four or five stories of apartments or condos sit on top of this concrete “podium,” so they’re often called podium buildings. They cover a large area compared to older apartment buildings, often taking up a considerable portion of a block face. These buildings are prevalent because they maximize developers’ profits by balancing leasable floor area (more is better) with construction cost (less is better). Simply put, podium buildings represent a proven formula for creating marketable housing at a reasonable cost.

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 Parking: 48 Drivers = 6 parking spaces

In the Gateway Area, the minimum number of parking spaces required is Zero. That is, if a developer wants to build a 48-unit apartment building, it's possible that there will be no parking spaces for those tenants. But at the same time, there'd be a MAXIMUM of 12 spaces -- even if the apartments had 2 or 3 bedrooms. My guess? Developers will not build by these constrictive rules.

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.

Councilmembers, Commissioners: What do we want our buildings to look like?

What do we want our buildings to look like? Do we want a boxy building with 5-story walls that go straight up and completely shade the adjoining houses? It is all decided by the Form-Based Code. **** A very brief article with IMAGES that show our choices.

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.

The Planning Commission needs to step up to the plate

The following is a letter sent by Fred Weis to the City Councilmembers. According to the Planning Commission's absurdly accelerated schedule, they are expected to deliver recommendations of a draft of the Form-Based Code, a draft of the Gateway Plan, and a draft of the General Plan following their meeting on July 11th. It is expected that these drafts will be rough and incomplete. With all the work that the Planning Commission has to do, you'd think they'd be working overtime, right? Nope. Their meetings have been shorter than ever. 

Draft Gateway Form-Based Code yields very little Inclusionary Zoning homes

The long-awaited initial draft of the Form-Based Code finally arrived. As promised, it does contain requirements for Inclusionary Zoning in the Gateway Area. *** Unfortunately the Inclusionary Zoning requirements are ridiculously low. To even call this "inclusionary zoning" is a stretch. This would be laughable except that this is a such serious matter -- and so important for the people of Arcata and for the future of Arcata.

Redwood City Downtown Precise Plan – Form-Based Code

Redwood City's Downtown Precise Plan includes Form-Based code and Planning Commission review. It all took 4 years to develop. The Form-Based Code can serve as a model for Arcata.

From high-speed rail to the Olympics, why do big projects go wrong?

"By his reckoning, only 8.5% of projects meet their initial estimates on cost and time, and a piddling 0.5% achieve what they set out to do on cost, time and benefits." -- "Over-optimistic time and cost estimates stem from both psychological and political biases: a reliance on intuition rather than data, and . . . “strategic misrepresentation”. This is when budgets are deliberately lowballed in order to get things going, on the premise that nothing would ever get built if politicians went around being accurate."

The draft Form-Based Code: First Impressions

A letter to Arcata's City Councilmembers and Planning Commissioners: This draft Form-Based Code has about 40% of the information and code that is needed for a good Form-Based Code. It fails to provide for the intents and interests and purposes of the Gateway Plan. It does not fulfil our needs.

The Form-Based Code – draft from Ben Noble, June 5, 2023

This is the initial draft of the Form-Based Code for the Gateway Area Plan, as delivered from the City's consultant Ben Noble. Dated June 5, 2023. This entire Form-Based Code draft is 58 pages.

City Council: Let’s move forward! Written one year ago….

Note: This article was written June 10, 2022 -- almost one year ago. The topics that are brought up then are still current. The same issues that existed in May 2022 still exist in May 2023 -- one year later.

​“Anxiety on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

At their March 1 and April 5, 2023, meetings, the Arcata City Council formally directed the Planning Commission to do as much as it can -- as fast as it can -- to create complete and workable drafts of Arcata's new General Plan update, the new Gateway Area Plan, and the brand-new first-time-ever Form-Based Code for the Gateway area. The Council has requested complete working drafts of these three documents by the end of June, 2023 -- now (at the time of this writing) under 3 months away. ---- As the former Community Development Department long-time employee often said: "ANXIETY ON YOUR PART DOES NOT CONSTITUTE AN EMERGENCY ON MY PART."

Getting rid of parking in Arcata: A social engineering experiment

The Gateway code includes a MAXIMUM number of parking spaces at 1 per every 4 units -- which works out to one per every 4 to 8 tenants. A restaurant with a staff of six and hosting 35 or 40 diners would have a MAXIMUM of ONE space. How will this work out for Arcata?

Form-Based Code Workshop – February 23, 2023 – Streetscape, Mobility and Parking, and Privately-Owned Open Space Standards

This workshop was attended on Zoom by 26 participants, plus five members of the City Staff and the Form-Based Code consultant Ben Noble. -------- The public offered their viewpoints on the topics of Streetscape Design, Mobility and Parking, and Privately-Owned Open Space for a total of only 20 minutes. ------ This is not the way to have the community involved in helping to make decisions that will change the form and life in Arcata. 

Planning Commission Study Session with Ben Noble – February 11, 2023 – Course Materials

Course Materials. Form-Based Code Study Session with the Arcata Planning Commission and Ben Noble. February 11, 2023.

Planning Commission Study Session with Ben Noble – February 11, 2023 – Part 2

Part 2. Arcata Planning Commission with Ben Noble - February 11, 2023 --Form-Based Code Study Session -- 1 hour 43 minute video.

Planning Commission Study Session with Ben Noble – February 11, 2023 – Part 1

Part 1. Arcata Planning Commission with Ben Noble - February 11, 2023 --Form-Based Code Study Session -- 2 hours 3 minute video.

Ben Noble – Form-Based Code Workshop – August 16, 2022

Video of the Form-Based Code presentation by Ben Noble, August 16, 2022. 1 hour 31 minutes. This was the 2nd presentation. With some questionable survey input from about 50 participants.

Building & Massing Presentation videos – August 12, 2022

An excellent presentation of Building Height and Massing in the Gateway area. 47 minutes. With 3D modeling. A "must see" video.

Meriam Park, Chico: Where Form-Based Code didn’t work out so well

Why the Chico Meriam Park development in Chico is a terrible example of Form-Based Code

What makes a good form-based code?

Many form-based codes meander away from the fundamental principles that make them attractive in the first place. From the website of Smart Growth America.

Ben Noble Form-Based Code presentation – June 29, 2022

Here is a one-hour presentation on what a Form-Based Code is, some background of its development, some examples nationally, some Northern California examples, and the nature of the Ministerial Review permitting process. 

3D Images and Aerial Views

3D images and Aerial Views combined with 3D images. Get a visual representation of development in the Gateway area. Includes an imaginary proposal by local architect Julian Berg for the car-wash site.

City Council: Let’s move forward!

To the Planning Commissioners and the City Council members: Let's move forward. While it's all good to be looking at the different pieces of the draft Gateway plan as you've been doing, there are larger unanswered questions present. It is my view that if you can get matters settled, then there'll be more efficient motion toward accomplishing what we all want:  A good plan for the Gateway area.

Why this website exists

Why this website exists? Because this is what Ministerial Review looks like.  The data center building on 11th Street goes against everything that's important to us. No jobs, no vitality. This is the blight in Arcata

Planwest’s schedule: We’re completely off-course

We are completely off from the Planwest schedule for the Gateway plan. Let's re-evaluate where we are, and adjust accordingly. With specific requests for what the City Council can do.

Redwood City has PlanComish review

Redwood City's Downtown Precise Plan was adopted in 2011, after three or four years of development.  It is helpful to us because it incorporates a well-designed Form-Based Code -- and has a blend of Discretionary Review and Ministerial Review.

Planning Commission or 1-Person review?

Which does Arcata want? Ministerial review, to smooth the way for developers, or Planning Commission and public input, which allows for greater oversight? We can have both.

Redwood City DTTP – Explore the document

Redwood City's Downtown Precise Plan includes Form-Based code and Planning Commission review. It all took 4 years to develop. The plan can serve as a model for Arcata.

Parks and Open Space

Parks, Open Space, and Solar Shading  

Form-Based Code – Selected Articles

Form-Based CodePresentations, Workshops, Documents Ministerial ReviewThe discussions on how it would be set up, and how it would work