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Originally published July 14, 2023.
Last updated 7/14/2023 9:50 a.m.

Gateway Density and Feasibility Study
Code Site Tests

Presented by Ryan Call of Urban Field Studio to the Arcata Planning Commission
July 11, 2023

This is a lengthy article. It is arranged by the table of contents so you can read or watch that section of the article that is of interest to you. There is a full transcription of Ryan Call’s presentation and a transcription of the Commissioners’ questions and Ryan’s responses, along with an audio recording so you can listen and read. The original video recording is also here. Also here are the comments from the public, initial comments about the presentation by myself (Fred Weis), and my written comments to the Planning Commission after first seeing the Urban Field Studio Report.

This study is important in many ways. It represents an analysis of whether the plans for the Gateway Area can achieve the density and feasibility that are desired. And, in small asides in this presentation, whether it can achieve the degree of affordability that we’re looking for.

I find the study and presentation to be both sobering and disappointing. Disappointing in that the authors are clearly urban-oriented and do not seem to grasp our unique situation here in Arcata. Disappointing in that it does not appear that they did their “homework” in preparing this study, nor does the study show an understanding of some of the overall goals of the Gateway Area Plan.

As an example, the presenter regularly refers to the distance from the Downtown as being a factor for whether ground-floor retail, restaurants, and so on are desirable and viable for the buildings in the Gateway Area. We are seeking to create a vibrant, active, community-oriented world right there — in the Gateway Area. Walking into town is great, and there will also be all kinds of action and activity right there in Gateway. The presenter considers the Tomas Building site as being “just a little too far from your city core” to support ground-level retail. As we know, this site is across the street from the successful restaurant “The Pub” and a variety of retail and commercial operations in the Creamery Building. We are creating an adjunct community to downtown. The Gateway Area will be a destination in itself.

And the presentation is sobering in that many specifics of what’s promoted in the Gateway Area Plan not likely to be economically feasible. Construction over four stories or possibly five stories becomes expensive — more costly than the income (i.e. rents) will support. The banks/financial institutions who are funding the projects are likely going to want to see more parking, to protect their interests in lending on a project that needs to be financially viable. The presentation keeps talking about multi-story parking structures — and not only can this area not support the cost ($50,000 per space) of that kind of parking, we also don’t even want that much parking, nor want the cost attached to a rental price.

Further, there’s a promotion of narrow setbacks (the distance from the curb to the front of the building) to allow for more buildable land for the developer — to produce more housing, to potentially lower the cost (rents) of the housing. And to remove or substantially lessen the requirement for upper-floor step-backs — the “step-back” from the front of the building on upper stories that gives more sky view and possibly more sunlight to the people on the street…and helps reduce the “canyon-like” feel of a block-long building. The presenter said:

“Looking at some of your setbacks throughout your city, and how the the narrow sidewalks and the narrow setbacks actually bring people together in a way that you can’t really avoid each other, which I think is actually a really good thing for a community.”

I believe that it is incorrect to “scapegoat” the setbacks and step-backs as impeding development. There are many, many other factors. Whether or not setbacks and step-backs negatively impact the economics of the development — and lead to higher rents being necessary — is to some extent up to the skill of the architect and the interests of the developer. I don’t think we can take it as a given that a narrow sidewalk and no step-backs will “make or break” the feasibility of a project, as the presenter implies.  Once again, see the Julian Berg design for the car wash site, here. It has both setbacks from the street and step-backs above the 3rd story.

The proposals also do not include the privately owned publicly-accessible “parklet” spaces that will be so important in the Gateway area.

And so, disappointing and sobering.

Please read or watch this material, so that we can go onward and create a better plan for Arcata.

Thank you.



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  1. Introduction
  2. The Presentation  ~ 25 minutes
  3. Questions from the Commissioners   ~ 23 minutes
  4. Video of comments from the public   ~ 34 minutes
    Comments related to the presentation, and general comments on the Gateway Area Plan.
  5. Video of comments by Fred Weis specifically on the presentation  3 minutes
  6. E-mail from Fred Weis to the Planning Commission    July 9, 2023
    Written after seeing the Urban Field Studio report, in the Planning Commission agenda packet, before seeing this presentation.


A.  The written Urban Field Studio report
     From the Planning Commission agenda packet for the July 11, 2023, meeting.  11 pages.

B.  Ryan Call’s presentation to the Planning Commission, July 11, 2023
     If you prefer to watch the video rather than read and listen.
     Cued up to the start of his presentation.





The Berkeley, California, architectural firm of Urban Field Studio performed a “Site Test” on four selected “Opportunity Sites” within the Gateway area. The idea was to establish whether buildings constructed along the guidelines of the Gateway’s Form-Based Code (the “Gateway Code”) could indeed be built to create the level of housing density that is desired.

The four test sites are referred to as “Gateway Plan opportunity sites G, I, L N” — and here’s what they really are:

  • G is the car wash site at 10th and K Streets that has Jolly Giant Creek, expected to be fully daylighted. One city block, minus the open space for daylighting.  The “what if” design shown here assumes that Jolly Giant Creek would not be fully daylighted on this lot. Gateway Corridor District.  Shown as 1.42 acres.
  • I is the Tomas site at 8th & L Streets, directly behind (south of) the Creamery block.  Gateway Barrel DistrictIn the Coastal Zone. Owned by Tom Perrett. This site has an architect-designed office/light-manufacturing building (incorrectly described in the draft Gateway Plan as “a one‐story metal industrial building”) and a large (about 1/2 acre) permanent garden space. The “what if” site testing here proposes that the existing Tomas Building would be torn down. It is two APN parcels, of 0.71 acres and 1.97 acres, in total 2.68 acres. Shown as 2.65 acres.
  • L is the current AmeriGas site, between K & L Streets, between 6th & 7th Streets. Actually two APN parcels of 1.30 acres and 0.23 acres.  Gateway Corridor DistrictIn the Coastal Zone.
  • N is the old St. Vinnie’s thrift store site at 5th and K Streets. Gateway Corridor DistrictIncorrectly shown in this study as being in the Neighborhood District. In the Coastal Zone. 0.43 acres, 18,750 sq.ft. 

Introductory Notes

  • Structured Parking” means a multi-story structure designed for automobile parking, either a stand-alone building or as part of lower floors with more residential floors above it. Includes parking garages, parking ramps, and parking decks. As opposed to a single level of parking, typically at grade or slightly below grade, and with residential or commercial occupied space above it. The other type of parking is called “Surface Parking” — which is a regular open parking lot.
  • Three of the four selected sites border on L Street. If the Gateway FBC Code were to accommodate and plan for a linear park on L Street, rather than a major arterial road there, then building heights would be lowered for the areas along the Linear Park. Ideally there would be smaller shops restaurants, and pedestrian-oriented businesses and activities along the Linear Park. Housing densities would likely be numerically lower unless smaller apartments were located along the Linear Park — yielding a greater density along that very walkable, community area.
  • Ryan Coll refers to “workforce housing” and “affordable housing” — but there is nothing in the Gateway code that indicates that these buildings will produce workforce or affordable housing. I believe he is thinking of what “workforce” wages would be in the Bay Area. We can describe workforce housing here as affordable for a person earning, say, $20 to $40 per hour.

    As an example, $25 per hour is approximately $52,000 per year, pre tax. Federal guidelines have rent + utilities at 30% of pre-tax income; in this case that would be $1270 per month for rent and utilities, for one person, or about $1125 or $1150 for rent. We can note that this is 44% of the take-home salary. A medical administrative assistant, or a vocational nurse (not a registered nurse), might earn $19-$25 per hour. So while there are plenty of people who make less than $25/hour, it can be a starting point for the discussion.

    HUD guidelines are 80% of median income as a basis for that 30% figure, as being “Low Income.” Here in Humboldt we have:
    1 person in the household:   $43,650       = $1,090 for rent and utilities
    2 persons in the household:  $49,850       = $1,250 for rent and utilities
    3 persons in the household:   $56,100      = $1,400 for rent and utilities
    4 persons in the household:   $62,300      = $1,560 for rent and utilities

  • For three of the four sites discussed in this report, Urban Field Studio has designed the test buildings with “structured parking” — multi-story parking under the residential stories. But as Ryan Call points out, the cost of structured parking is so high that it would not be cost-effective for a developer to include that form of parking. So why present this as an example of what could be built? If it cannot be built for economic reasons, then it won’t be built. At the same time, he warns us that bank financing of a project may require certain amounts of parking, to assure the bank that the project will be viable — that people will rent the apartment, that the apartments won’t go empty.


The Presentation

To use the audio player, press the Start button. Volume can be adjusted by the slider on the right. The  audio can be downloaded for listening later by using the down-arrow icon on the far right side of the player. To view the images in greater detail, you can go to the PDF of the written report below and expand the view with the + icon.


Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here tonight. My name is Ryan Call with Urban Field Studio. I’m an architect; I specialize in Master Planning. I spent the last 20 years working for a combination of public sector and private sector clients.

What I was tasked to do here tonight was to take the planning criteria that you’ve all been working very hard on and simply test them on the various opportunity sites that you have, and take a look at what we get for results and then see how we respond and what observations we might make from that effort. I’ll go through the shows kind of quickly and briefly as I can. But at the end, we can go into as much depth as you would like.

So one thing I just want to say that Arcata’s urban fabric is incredible. The street grid that you have, the block sizes — it’s one of the most walkable and well-connected cities. And so it’s really exciting to see these very progressive ideas in your planning code take shape and contribute to a built environment that everyone can afford.

So I’ll go ahead and get started. So I was given four opportunity sites in your city to test the various zoning criteria for potential housing, mixed-use projects. And what we’re trying to do through this exercise is really understand:  How would a plan actually take shape on these parcels? How would the retail orient itself? How would the residential units potentially orient themselves with the parking?

One thing I want to say is that there’s more than one way to do this. What we’re showing tonight is one solution for the sites, and we’re learning from it. But it doesn’t mean that it’s the solution that the site will eventually take shape. It’s just, this is a tool to kind of learn from this exercise, and refine our thinking.

So the results that we’re looking for is:  How many units do we produce from one of these sites? Does that match your expectations? The height limits that we have, which we’re testing in their full, permissible state — Do those yield too many units, not enough units, etc.

So it’s a way we can align your expectations with some of the planning results. And then the next part of this is:  Do we foresee any obstacles to development? And specifically to inclusive development — development that is designed and more affordable for workforce, or lower income residents in some cases.

So the four opportunity sites reside in three different zoning areas in your city. Two land in the Corridor zoning area, site G and site L. And one lands in the Barrel and the other in the Neighborhood. So these have slightly —  the Corridor are limited to five-story, 60 feet; the Barrel designation, which is your largest opportunity site, has a slightly higher height limit. And then the Neighborhood designation down at the bottom has your lowest height limited, 40 [feet]. 
[Note:  The site N — the old St. Vinnie’s thrift store — is actually not in the Neighborhood District but is in the Corridor District. The rear of that site backs up to the Neighborhood District.]

Great. Okay. So quick recap, I was just going over the opportunity sites and the different categories that they fall in.

And for reference, just so that there’s less mystery about what units per acre and those kinds of things mean, I’m just going to walk through some of the kind of generalizations of what units per acre look like. And then we can, as we go through the site tests, we can jump back to the slides if you need reference to kind of have an idea of what scale of the architecture that the dwelling units per acre might look like.

So on the lower end, single family homes, duplexes, these fall under about 12 units per acre. Townhomes range in the 13 to 24, depending on the size of the townhome. The 20 to 30 units per acre tends to be a three-story product. A lot of times it’s surface park. And then going over 40 units per acre, you’re really looking at structured parking, where you have multiple levels of parking stacked, either in a podium or a wrap format, which we will demonstrate in the next couple of slides.

So these slides, take it up just a notch from the 40 units per acre. These are really variations of higher densities. Except for the one on the left, this is the 20 to 28 units per acre. This is kind of a workforce format, where they’re smaller units, maybe a 900 to 1000 square foot average, two or three bedroom combinations. And these are 20 to 28 units per acre. And they utilize surface parking for purposes of cost efficiency. The example on the right is a 40 to 60 units per acre product, this is where you have a structured parking garage that is wrapped by the housing.

Slightly taller, you have a Type III, which is a five-story product where it has a little more fire protection. It’s a slightly more expensive form of construction. But it’s a very common wood frame product. It also tends to coexist with a wrap structure behind it if it’s in that five-story category. The example on the right is Type III over a podium. And what a podium means is that you have usually one or two stories of a parking structure in concrete, Type I construction. And over top of that, you’ll have five stories Type III construction. So there’s two construction types and you end up with the seven story building. And this is where the zoning in the Barrel Corridor [he means Barrel District] allows this particular height of building.

Okay. So a really quick background on different types of parking, just so as you hear about it, this will be kind of in your head.

  • Parking in unit. This is where townhomes, part of the wood frame construction will have a parking space for that particular unit, dedicated, and it’s internal to that unit. So that’s In-Unit Parking.
  • Surface parking, in the middle there, is where you have a surface parking lot adjacent — not under, but just adjacent to the apartment construction.
  • Wrapped parking is where you have a freestanding — well, you have an on-ground parking structure. It’s not over any residential units or any other uses, and there is nothing on top of it. It’s a horizontal in its use kind of concept, but there’s a parking structure that is then wrapped. And if you can see my cursor, I’m showing how the residential units wrap on the outside face of that parking structure.

The more dense and more urban product is called a Podium as we described earlier. And what you’ll see here with my cursor is a two-story parking deck — you can you can kind of see the entry right there. And then above that parking deck, you’ll see the residential product. And so you’re stacking the housing over top of the parking deck, which uses the land at a higher efficiency. But it also comes with a greater cost because you’re layering those uses vertically.

And then on the right here is something that we’re seeing a lot more of which is mechanical parking. And essentially you build a tall one story concrete box for your parking, and then you’re able to use mechanical, basically car elevators, to stack the cars vertically over each other. And you can press a button and the elevator goes down, you retrieve your car. So it’s not very common, I would say, in smaller communities. But this is something becoming much more common in urban areas where six or seven story buildings are found.


Our methodology is, I was given the four opportunity sites, and I was given a variety of tables that describe the front, side, rear setbacks, you know, the distances from the property line to start the building. I was given the building heights and any step-back requirements. And step-backs are where you go up a certain height, and then back another eight feet for 75% of the building façade. And then I was given parking requirements and open space requirements.

So I took all of that data, and used AutoCAD to draft up what the building envelope could be, and then how the program could theoretically lay out inside.

So now we’ll jump into the specific site tests for each opportunity Site. Site G. [The car wash site.] This is bounded by 10th, K, L, and Ninth. So it’s about a quarter mile from your Arcata Plaza, which is incredible. It’s extremely walkable to all of those commercial amenities. It’s a little less than one and a half acres, which is a good size.

The one big challenge that came with this site, it’s also an opportunity, is the Jolly Giant Creek. And there’s a desire to daylight as much of that natural feature as possible. But we have to balance that with what a practical building layout might take.

So this is one idea about how a building might maximize the permitted height to generate units for the site. And so we looked at daylighting about half of the creek so that we could have two very efficient legs of housing. And, you know, a central elevator core that serves both legs, and then exit stairs and then basically units on each side of the corridor.

And that efficiency of having a single corridor serve units on both sides really helps keep the cost of the building practical and make the building more feasible. So that’s a concept that we’ve applied in every site test that you’ll see.

The yield here was 87 units. So it’s about 60 units per acre. And the average unit size is about 950 square feet. We kept that consistent through all of the sites, so that’d be kind of apples to apples. And then because of the limited site area available, we are using structured parking to kind of test the capacity of this project.

Some of our observations about this particular site is that it’s a great site for housing. It’s the kind of housing you want, you want it close to all those commercial and local businesses. You want it walkable so that you’re not driving everywhere. And your parking ratios which are quite low really support that culture.

One challenge that we ran into is that the large setbacks reduce the buildable area. What that does is that can sometimes be a limit on lower density projects. For higher density, you can kind of work around that. But on the lower density, three story projects, which may be more financially feasible in your community, you start to run out of room to produce enough units to cover the costs of development. So it can discourage smaller local developers from building a lower story a lower height project.

Structured parking is quite expensive. It can be a challenge to finance if rents are not high enough. The surrounding neighborhood in terms of retail — it’s not a super-strong, walkable, urban retail destination. So there’s a good chance that the retail here would struggle to survive or might suffer from turnover. So you might want to consider whether or not retail is really necessary in this particular location. If there’s other live-work uses or just residential uses that can keep the streets vibrant.

Daylighting the creek up to 10th would basically slice the building into two. Though you could bridge the two buildings, it would present a premium cost which would then drive up rents on the units in order to generate the return necessary to pencil the project. So I think that’s where it’ll be great to have your input as what is that fine balance between getting a building that does more in terms of features, but might come at a higher cost, which requires higher rents.

So we’ll move on to the next Site L. [The AmeriGas site, on K Street between 6th and 7th.] This one is a couple blocks south, it’s also on K Street, it’s has 8th [he means 7th] and the benefit of the L, which is a great bike and pedestrian corridor. It’s also 250 by 250, so a little less than one and a half acres. And it follows some of the same requirements. The big advantage, of course, is there’s no creek. So it gives you a much more robust building footprint to work with.

So to kind of do the exercise of maximizing what the unit count could be with the height that’s given, we went with a structured parking format. And we were able to generate 122 units, which is 84 units per acre, which is on par for a podium construction building. And we’ve got about 6,000 square feet of retail. And this is all in five stories, and in a 60 foot height limit. The building takes kind of a “Backward C” floor plan, where the retail is on K Street. You would perhaps have a residential lobby with your leasing office and mailboxes and all that kind of great stuff that come with the building. And then on the upper levels, a very clean and efficient double-loaded corridor residential layout.

Some of the observations: Again, there’ll be a little repetition here. The large setbacks make it tougher for smaller or lower height buildings to produce enough units to be financially feasible. So that’s just something to consider. The structured parking is expensive, which may require higher rents or luxury units to help cover those costs, if it’s feasible at all. And then a similar issue: Shops and restaurants in this area, it’s a little more industrial on this side of town. And there’s probably not a regular pattern of robust foot traffic to support an urban format of retail. So that’s a it’s a high-risk retail product. And then, looking at setbacks. I think what’s really great about Arcata is all throughout your city, in the older parts of town, porches on homes are actually close enough to sidewalks where you can have a conversation without yelling at each other. And I see that oftentimes in a lot of older cities, where, you know, the outdoor-room concept is prevalent almost on every streetscape. What you don’t see in a lot of modern, more suburban communities is the setbacks actually create a little too much distance between the public realm and the residence. And so that’s the balance that we want to get your input and feedback on and understand where the right balance is between — You’ve got a taller building, but then you’re also kind of pushing people away from the building with the setbacks. 

Site I. [The Tomas Building site, at 8th and L Streets.] This is your biggest site of the four opportunity sites. [The four that were studied.] It is a tremendous opportunity to provide a meaningful amount of workforce housing in your community. It’s consolidated ownership. There’s just a lot of advantages here.

So it’s a little over two and a half acres. And one of the big advantages that comes with that is you have a lot more space for a variety of different solutions. So again, some of the other concepts apply here. But this is a really great site for either a wrapped housing product, podium housing product, or perhaps even a three story product. I think if we can play with reducing the setbacks a little bit.

So our observations here, this is a really great site for the city. The large setbacks and step-backs can add some cost to the building, which then may make affordable housing or workforce housing less efficient and more expensive, which sometimes encourages luxury products. The ground level retail I think, is just a little too far from your city core. [I disagree — and we are not talking about distance to the city core. We’re making a whole new community here in the Gateway. It is across the street from The Pub and the Creamery retail shops.] It’s a real stretch. One of the challenges if the retail is not successful is that the street can be a little less safe, if those are vacant storefronts. And so if you consider solutions where you have a residential or live-work design that’s sensitive to creating those kind of social outdoor rooms, sometimes those can bring more life to the street than high risk retail. And then one consideration, I’m not an economist, but a real consideration for the site is the cost of relocating the existing health center.

Alright, we’re almost there. The fourth site. [The old St. Vinnie’s thrift store site, 5th & K Streets.] This is a small lot example. And I get really excited about these, because when you look at a city like Arcata — with so much building diversity, different eras, different sizes, different widths, different heights — that all comes by having fragmented ownership of the blocks. You know, each landowner building has a different vision for what it should be. And you get a really kind of multifaceted experience with the built environment.

So looking at any way to preserve and encourage small lot development into a quality housing product, where you have maybe four or five projects on the block rather than one super block, I think is really important to preserve the character of Arcata.

So on this test, we just wanted to: — Okay, what if we maximize the units for the allowable height? Is it possible to have retail on this site? And then what would structured parking look like support a project here?

And so we were able to yield 27 dwelling units, which is 62 units per acre. There’s about 3500 square feet of retail space, and just a very small number of internal parking spaces. The challenge is the site’s quite small, the setbacks are quite large, so there isn’t a lot of room for parking.

So observations: The 20 foot setbacks are a little bit out of character with other parts of your city for buildings in this height group. It’s a very generous setback on both sides of the street. That’s a difficult location for retail due to the low foot traffic and lack of nearby kind of urban-type storefronts and restaurants and things.

For a small site like this, I’ve seen other and helped other communities look and consider the use of street parking to meet the parking demands for the building. And what that does is allows a lower height, less expensive residential building to be developed. It decreases cost, but it also increases or can increase your unit count. And then the site may also be a good possibility for townhomes,it that’s a desirable product housing product for your community.

So some general recommendations, we just have a small number here. You know, determine if the smaller setbacks combined with lower height structures permit comparable acceptable density. Essentially, can you meet most of your housing goals with something a little lower, easier to build, more accessible to a locally-based, regionally-based developer, which is often the case on smaller buildings.

Looking at some of your setbacks throughout your city, and how the the narrow sidewalks and the narrow setbacks actually bring people together in a way that you can’t really avoid each other, which I think is actually a really good thing for a community. [We don’t want narrow sidewalks!] So I think there’s some really valuable characteristics we can draw from and influence the zoning criteria, while also supporting the economic feasibility of projects.

Be careful of zoning criteria that reduce efficiency and add cost. These ultimately discourage workforce housing or affordable housing. And they drive either a luxury product or they drive no development at all. And this is something that we’ve seen happen all throughout the San Francisco Bay Area where where I live, but also other communities.

There’s a lot of benefit working with a economist who understands how a developer might look at a particular site. So one recommendation we often provide is having an economist take the site tests and basically say, if the site test is something that you’re excited about in terms of the housing product that it generates, let’s test it and see if the developer would feel the same way. And what can we learn from a developer perspective, in the generation of housing. The, nice thing about an economist is they’re not vested in a financial return. They’re just helping you with the facts. So they can be neutral.

And then lastly, where you have a retail use that may struggle, as in, it’s too far from other retail districts, such as the core of your city, [I disagree — he is missing the point of the Gateway urban design philosophy] maybe consider looking at residential or live-work uses that can create vibrant streets — but of course, a different character and maybe feeling a little more neighborhood-y or local, you know, versus a commercial retail experience. That sometimes that is a better solution than having a vacant storefront in terms of creating a safe and community oriented street. So that’s the show, and I’m happy to take questions.




Questions from the Commissioners

Ryan Call:


And so if a bank is financing the construction of an apartment building, they will want to see at least some level of parking provided to ensure that there is a very strong value in their development.

Scott Davies (Chair)  1:31:03
Appreciate that, Ryan. At this point, we will entertain questions from Commissioners. But also, I want to make sure that we include public comment before we have deliberations. Go ahead, Peter.

Peter Lehman, Planning Commissioner  1:31:26
I have a question about the the size of the units that you described. You describe them as 950 to 1000 square feet. (Ryan Call: On the average.) Yes, on the average. What are they like? Who would live in them?

Ryan Call, Urban Field Studio  1:31:48
So let me just bring up this page.

And essentially, what you’ll see, if you can see my cursor, you know, this is one of the larger three-bedroom units. What I did is I took a recent multifamily project that’s aimed at families and young single people, and also elderly people who might be downsizing. And you’re starting to see more and more of this project along arterial corridors where there’s really good public transit.

And so the 900 square foot average means that you’re going to have some three-bedroom units. And that three-bedroom unit can be really attractive to a family of four, a two-bedroom unit is sometimes really attractive to a young couple who wants to have a guest room or guest office, or they’re just roommates. The studio, it’s important to have a few of those layered in there for people that are just looking for an inexpensive place to start renting. And then, of course, one bedrooms. So the 946 square foot number, it gives you a flexibility to have a variety of unit sizes. If we start to drive that average number down into like 750 or 800, then we’re talking more one-bedrooms, and twos and studios, and that’s a little more limited spectrum. They’ll produce a higher units per acre, but it may not give you the flexibility to serve families.

Peter Lehman, Planning Commissioner  1:33:30
So even if it’s, say, a thousand square feet, it can have three bedrooms?

[Note:  There are many houses in Arcata that are three bedroom single-family residences of less than 1,000 square feet. Many of the original Sunnybrae houses, for example, are three-bedrooms, under 900 square feet. Not to always be referring to Sorrel Place, but it is a recent and obvious example here. The 11 three-bedroom units there are 1,110 sq.ft; the 16 two-bedrooms are 835 plus 2 other units at 959 sq.ft.; and the 16 one-bedrooms are 609 sq.ft. — for an average of 824 square feet.]

Ryan Call, Urban Field Studio  1:33:37
Yes. That’s a very common format in multifamily buildings to have —  you don’t have any stairs, they’re a flat unit. You can have efficient three-bedroom layouts. They’re typically the corner units. Well, and keep in mind that the 950 square feet is an average. So the three-bedroom units are probably more around 1200 square feet. And that average — that instead of the average number being 1200 square feet is brought down because there’s a presence of studios that are smaller, or one-bedrooms that are smaller. So not every unit is 950 square feet. That’s simply the average of all the different units lend. And so I do have the AutoCAD files for these units. These are based on a multifamily project being proposed on El Camino Real. Essentially, your three-bedrooms are, the rooms are no smaller than 11 by 12, and the living rooms — Yeah, so they’re good size units, the average is fairly high.

Scott Davies (Chair)  1:34:52
Do any other Commissioners? Dan, go ahead.

Dan Tangney (Commissioner)  1:34:54
Yeah. Ryan, do you design differently if there’s a goal of occupancy ownership, rather than renters in these buildings?

Ryan Call, Urban Field Studio  1:35:06
You do. And, you know, ownership, a lot of times, a very profitable model for ownership units, is to sell townhomes, essentially urban townhomes, because what you end up with is usually one to two parking spaces that are in a dedicated guaranteed spot, and you have an actually more economical form of construction. And you end up with larger units. A townhouse unit can easily be 1200 to 1600 square feet, or even larger. So I think if you’re looking at workforce housing, that’s where the flats really have an advantage. But if you’re looking for “for-sale,” oftentimes that is a townhouse product. But there are certainly examples of condominiums that are flats [i.e. “Flat” = on one floor, in an apartment building] that are for sale. And oftentimes these apartment buildings are mapped for condominium in the event that the building is converted at a later date into a  for-sale product.

Scott Davies (Chair)  1:36:26
Thank you, Judith, go ahead.

Judith Mayer (Commissioner)  1:36:29
Yeah. I’m wondering if you looked at any of these options, instead of having an average unit size of 900-some square feet, at projects with mainly smaller units. Part of our housing demand here is for students and for single people, and it doesn’t necessarily seem that the 900-some square foot unit would serve them. A lot of a lot of our density aspirations, I think, are linked to developments with smaller units. Did you look at that at all?

Ryan Call, Urban Field Studio  1:37:21
Yeah. So most often, when I — Well, okay, there’s a couple of ways to look at this. But since this is a planning exercise, I think we try to approach it with flexibility. And not knowing exactly what the market is going to want.

[Note: It seems that we — Commissioners and public — have a more clear idea of what “the market is going to want” than this consultant.]

What we what we don’t want to do is kind of misinformed or miss — Say, for instance, we went with an average of 700 square feet. An average of 700 square feet, it’s actually quite common in a place like Berkeley, you know, with the University of California, Berkeley and a large student population. And the challenge with that is it will generate extremely high units per acre for these sites. And what that may do though, is tell people that you have an extremely high density. But then when the market actually comes to development, and the buildings come in with a different blend and a higher square footage average, then folks will wonder, where’s that units per acre.

So for purposes of planning exercises, we like to build in just a little fat into people’s expectations. So that if the building units come in larger, which is oftentimes a little more common in communities that have slightly lower rents, then it just provides flexibility. So if we wanted to test these with a lower, with a smaller unit average, with a more increased blend of one-bedrooms and studios, then certainly we could test what those numbers would be. It would simply drive your units per acre up higher. I don’t think it would change the form of the building at all.

[I disagree — I think that it would indeed change the form of the building if it were to be all one-bedrooms and studios. We see this in other cities, such as Santa Cruz.]

Judith Mayer (Commissioner)  1:39:16
Another linked question. When one of the things that we have been debating are parking requirements for onsite parking. In in all of these scenarios, a bit of the crunch comes for: What do you do with the cars? I’m wondering if you were perhaps thinking of accepting the one site where you suggested on-street parking. What would this look like without having to provide so much parking? Since that did seem to be a determining design factor in three of the four of your designs.

Ryan Call, Urban Field Studio  1:40:06
So, certainly, what I would say is it’s important to do a planning exercise that looks at things from a planning perspective. In terms of: Our goals are to reduce the use of the automobile, to increase the production of housing, to increase the affordability of housing. When you’re looking at a larger site, which is the size of an entire city block, then you’re looking at a much more expensive and complex development. And when you’re looking at a more complex, expensive development, likely you’re looking at a partnership and financing. And a part of this is speculation, but I am trying to create a somewhat more reality-based set of constraints. And so if a bank is financing the construction of an apartment building, they will want to see at least some level of parking provided to ensure that there is a very strong value in their development. In small lot development, I think there’s a little less pressure for that joint financing, where you’re developing one-sixth of the city block. But when you’re developing an entire city block, and they’re one project, then I think it’s hard not to provide at least some parking in the project for that. This is where an economist would be really helpful I think, too.

Scott Davies (Chair)  1:41:42
Do other Commissioners have questions for Ryan? Matt, go ahead.

Matt Simmons  1:41:47
One of the observations in the packet was about the increased costs of step-backs above a certain story. And I was wondering if you could expand on that a bit.

Ryan Call, Urban Field Studio  1:41:58
Sure. So a step-back. A lot of residential developers depend on efficiency to keep costs down. When you add a step-back, essentially, imagine your corridor and the structure for your building, your corridor that is running through the building is going to stack vertically. The bathrooms for cost efficiency will stack vertically so that your plumbing chases, and your heater, everything, you know runs vertically and is efficient. When you have an eight foot step-back above the third level for the fourth level, essentially what you’re doing is shaving off the living room and a huge chunk of the bedrooms for those unit plans, as you go across that portion of the building. And it requires things to be kind of, you know, the units have to get wider horizontally, in order to deal with the lack of depth that they’ve been hit with. It also has the repercussion of shrinking kitchens and things like that.

[Note:  Or the architect can be clever enough to arrange the units so that they “work” within the reduced size of the upper stories. For example, the upper stories can hold larger apartments with larger rooms — and not reduced-size rooms as the consultant is saying. There are apartment buildings with step-backs all over the place. It can be done.]

So the developer looks at their spreadsheet and says 70% of my building is very efficient. And then, you know, 30% of it is inefficient.

[Note: Not necessarily the case.]

And so the way they recoup those costs is usually by angling for higher rents, or they look at ways to waive that requirement in negotiating the City. So one way to do step-backs that might be a little more cost-efficient, is to consider it at a higher level. So as I mentioned in those early slides, Type V construction stops at four stories, the wood frame part of it does. So if your step-back is above that four-story break, at least the developer has an ability to build that Type V construction up to four stories in a very cost-efficient way, which increases the likelihood that that project will get built.

Scott Davies (Chair)  1:44:01
Joel, go ahead.

Joel Yodowitz – Planning Commissioner  1:44:03
Is there an inflection point in construction costs based on the height, the number of stories of a building? In other words, at the third story, if you build above that, is a fourth story significantly more, does it increase the entire cost of the building significantly more, or the fifth story or the sixth story?

Ryan Call, Urban Field Studio  1:44:27
Yes. And what’s really interesting is: There’s a building code for accessibility. And it’s called the rule of three. And essentially, if your building is three stories, but your footprint is less than 3000 square feet, then you’re not required to have an elevator. And it seems like a small thing, but elevators do present a cost for developers that sometimes —  it creates a challenge.

And so developers sometimes look to do three story buildings without elevators, and keep the footprints smaller, and then they have maybe a small break between the buildings. And then also surface parking.

And so parking is the other component. The taller your building gets, the more complex it gets, the parking costs go up. And so if you have parking that is structured, you need to also produce a lot more units, if there’s market demand for those units, in order to cover the cost of that construction. So if you think about a parking space, structured parking is about $40,000 a space. A studio unit might only be 300 square feet. So essentially, you’re building 300 square feet of garage for a 300 square foot studio in order to support it. So that’s where I would say the, you know, taller buildings trigger more parking.

[Note: Unless, as we have been discussing here, there is a lower parking requirement in general, and a building could be built with smaller units and not be required to have parking for those units.]

And then there’s also construction types. When I walked through those earlier slides, the most economical was going to be three stories without an elevator. The next step is four stories, Type V, with an elevator. And then you go up to Type III construction, which is more expensive, but it gives you an extra story. But there’s a lot of math and financial feasibility that has to be considered, I think, by either the developer or an economist.  But I have actually been surprised that there are a lot of markets where they cannot support the extra cost of the fifth story, because the rents aren’t high enough. So they actually will not build those extra units.

Dan Tangney (Commissioner)  1:46:58
Do you know examples of small, perhaps Northern California towns outside of the Bay Area that have built fifth story buildings, or more?

Ryan Call, Urban Field Studio  1:47:09
It’s not very common. No, I’ve done a lot of work in Brentwood. I’ve done a lot of work in Vacaville, and, and even looking at Dublin, California, there’s only a small portion of Dublin, California that will support structured parking.

[Note: Five story commercial buildings are built — but not five or six story residential buildings. And particularly not buildings with multi-level parking.]

[Note: The consultant is not answering the question. Brentwood, Vacaville, and Dublin are not what I would consider “small towns in Northern California outside of the Bay Area” as Commissioner Tangney asked. They are small cities. Vacaville, population 102,000, is 35 miles from Sacramento. Dublin, on the major highway 680, is listed as a suburban city in the East Bay. Population about 72,000. It is currently the fastest growing city in California, and one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Brentwood, current population 76,000, is the 2nd fastest growing city in California. The population growth in these cities is coming for the most part from suburban sprawl. Median household incomes:  Dublin $172,000; Vacaville $97,000, with 14% of the families above $200,000; Brentwood is $125,000.]

Ryan Call, Urban Field Studio  1:47:27
And what’s interesting is 10 years ago, it was a lot cheaper to build structured parking. But in this particular part of the economic cycle, where there’s a shortage of labor and the labor costs are extremely high, the feasibility of structured parking has diminished. And so what you’re seeing a lot more of are these three story walk-up, or a lot of townhouse construction, where you’re not using podiums at all.

[Note: Multi-story structured parking has always been expensive. Current costs are ~$50,000 per space, which is a cost that is very unlikely to be covered by the income is generated by rents here in Arcata. In cities where there are parking garages that hourly fees, those garages are indeed profitable.]

So I suspect I know a little bit where you’re coming at is that the height limits that are in these criteria are quite generous. And so the buildings that we’re showing in these examples are all taller buildings with structured parking, and whether or not those buildings can be built in the immediate future — You know, I’m not an economist, but my speculation is that they’d be difficult to build right now. Will they be able to be constructed in the future? It’s possible.

What I would maybe consider is it’s really your setbacks are one of the big considerations, which I believe that there has been some discussion already about maybe reducing those. But if you can provide a little more area of land to work with, where you can actually fit a lower building, three story building, and some surface parking and circulation needed to get around the site inside, then you’ll have some flexibility to let the market inform how much density can be built on these sites.

Scott Davies (Chair)  1:49:14
Yeah, Ryan, how much of that economic analysis is based on what you consider to be market rate, versus the constraints put on development by potential financial partners?

Ryan Call, Urban Field Studio  1:49:30
Yeah, this is this is where my experience has been adjacent to the experts, and the expert in terms of financial feasibility. And so I often work with a group called Keyser Marston Associates. [“A diverse real estate economics advisory firm, with offices in Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Diego.” ]

And what I do in these processes is I take a set of planning criteria; I do a site test; and I give it to Kaiser Marston. I tell them what the average unit size is the building height, the length of façade, all of those factors I give to them. And they basically run a pro forma. And that pro forma looks at what the acquisition costs are for the land, what the recent history comparables are. It looks at if you have, if you’re tearing down a business, what relocation fees you might have. So it puts in so many considerations that are out of my wheelhouse.

And then they come back and they say, you know, Ryan, we need you to look at a different product, because what we’re seeing is construction costs that may be exceed the return. And so then we try a different site test. So that’s, that’s a process that does take some time and consideration.

I think one way to approach zoning criteria that has a long-term life, is to just make sure that you’ve got flexibility in it. And look at these sites for not just high density solutions, but for moderate density solutions. And make sure that your planning criteria can be responsive to the needs of both so that they can support if an opportunity comes along, you can support it and get that housing produced for your community.

Scott Davies (Chair)  1:51:18
Thank you. Are there any additional questions for Ryan from Commissioners? Go ahead, Dan.

Dan Tangney (Commissioner)  1:51:25
Ryan, roughly speaking, what you see in the Gateway plan and the rezoning that’s being discussed. are you encouraged by the concept?

Ryan Call, Urban Field Studio  1:51:36
Yeah. I think, you know, I wouldn’t close doors on density. And I think you have an incredible commercial district and collection of historic buildings. And you have just outside of that, less than half a mile, these great opportunity sites.

And so I see a lot of value in having an opportunity if one comes along, to build a denser project in most locations, because it’s going to support your transit infrastructure, it’s going to support your local businesses, it’s going to allow people to have some choice in the housing type they live in, and the cost of the housing they live in. So I think those are all extremely admirable aspects of these plans.

I would be very careful, and this is in our recommendations, that the criteria, that when you introduce criteria — such as large setbacks or the step-backs at the higher level — that increase the cost of housing, you need to just be conscious that it sometimes comes to the higher rents or luxury-oriented product. And that’s kind of the balance that you have to take. And that would be —

You know, one concept that we do in some communities is that if you’re under a certain height of building, your setbacks can be less. So there’s less solar impact with a lower building, so let’s give the developer a little more site to work with. So you can squeeze in surface parking, or these other approaches to making the building work.

Scott Davies (Chair)  1:53:13
Great, thank you. At this point, I would like to open this up for public comment. Each speaker will have three minutes, fee feel free, please just state your name for the record. May we have the first speaker please?



Comments from the public, following the presentation and Commissioners’ questions

About 34 minutes. Starting at ~1 hour 53 minutes on the video.
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Comments from Fred Weis on the Urban Field Studio presentation

~ 3 minutes
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Transcription of the comments:

On the Urban Field Studio [report], I thank Ryan for his work.

It seems to me that it’s very urban oriented, doesn’t seem to be based upon Arcata’s needs. We’ve talked about the Gateway area being a thriving vibrant center for all kinds of commercial activity. And he regularly said that this is a half a mile from Arcata’s central district, as has been noted. There’s going to be great retail and restaurants and throughout as part of the walkable aspect of it. That’s what we’re trying to do.

When he uses the word “workforce” affordable, I don’t see workforce affordable development in this area. There’s nothing in our plan to support that.

I think the discussion of building heights was sobering for all of us. At the risk of sounding egotistical, I said this a year ago: This area does not support tall buildings based upon the rents.

He had a focus on parking but as we know, much of the requirement will be one-quarter space per unit. Parking is not as big of an issue. As was noted the structured and mechanical parking is expensive, $40 or $50,000 per space.

If I’m not in error, the St. Vinnie’s site is not in the Neighborhood district as was shown.

The carwash site as has been noted should have all the creek daylighted. The Julian Berg design I’ll refer you to does have it all daylighted in a very good-looking design. His [Julian Berg’s] design has no parking. [View the Julian Berg design here.]

The economic factors are definitely an issue, as Ryan noted. He used the phrase “Structured parking can be a problem if rents are not high enough.” I think structured parking is not a possibility in Arcata.

As was noted, he did refer to L as a pathway and bike corridor, which is great.

He said consider the use of street parking to lower the site needs. We’ve talked about making K Street have no parking on both sides. He talked about the banks wanting to see parking. This is interesting news, which I can understand the banks’ needs.

It doesn’t seem like he’s studied what we’ve actually been doing here. For a lot of, say, the commercial properties, and parking, that sort of thing.

Commissioner Tagney asked about six [five] stories being feasible.  Ryan said probably not.

If you remember, the former Chair asked for outside experts to come in to lead us about this a year ago.

He suggested three stories plus surface parking. I say that is not what we want. That doesn’t solve the problem of creating a vibrant, walkable, beautiful community here. I’m in favor of density, despite what people may think. And if we have to support three story buildings or two story buildings because of economics, I think we need to look further. Thanks.




E-mail from Fred Weis to the Planning Commission, July 9, 2023

Written after seeing the Urban Field Studio report in the Planning Commission agenda packet, before seeing this presentation.

Issues with the Urban Field Studio – Gateway Test Site document
Pages 76-86 in the July 11, 2023, Planning Commission Packet
from:   Fred Weis   July 9, 2023
Commissioners:  The following includes a Summary, major general points, and a discussion on each of the four sites chosen for the Urban Field Studio studies.
I’ve used highlights and bold red so you can skim.


I found this study to be disappointing. Yes, the study does conclude that the Gateway Plan will “facilitate high-density residential development” — but we already knew that. What does this study tell us?
(The quotes shown in this Summary are from the study’s “Conclusions” section.)  The study’s Conclusion further states that there will be “development that is human-scaled, pedestrian-friendly, and sensitive to existing lower-intensity uses.” But there is nothing in this study to back that up.
The study’s conclusion states: “The Gateway Code also contains upper story step back requirements to reduce the appearance of tall buildings at the street, reduce shadow impacts, and provide context-sensitive massing adjacent to lower-intensity residential uses” — and then proceeds to argue for the elimination or strong reduction of the upper story step-back requirements.
“The public benefits achieved with these standards should be weighed against their associated costs.” As Commissioner Lehman pointed out, we don’t know the costs. We know it costs more to have step-backs than it would to not have them. But how much more? We don’t know. And — to put this bluntly — everything that we ask for has a cost associated with it. Do we give up necessary community needs because they cost money? Enclosed bike storage, bike and car electric charging stations, passive solar design, higher-quality materials…. Do we give that up?
The study proposes: “Allow up to 5 stories with no step backs” as a means of reducing costs. Here in Arcata, we need as much of a view of the sky as we can get. Step-backs reduce the “canyon feeling” of being on a street with taller buildings. On the one hand we want pedestrian foot-traffic and extensive walking and biking. But a sheer vertical wall of five stories from the sidewalk does not help that. Go to Sorrel Place on 7th Street, and see if anyone walks on the south side of the street, the sidewalk that is on the north side of the building. Even in July that sidewalk is in shade.
“Consider eliminating the requirement for ground floor active frontages (retail uses) except in well-established retail districts.” I think the authors of this study are missing a major point of what we’re trying to achieve here. We want this to be a walkable, bikeable high-density closed-in section of Arcata, with mini-neighborhoods anchored by restaurants, food shops, retail stores, places to meet and gather, offices and workplaces — a clustered tiny-urban environment. Removing a portion of ground-floor commercial designation substantially changes that.  
We have the examples of Sorrel Place (on 7th Street) versus Plaza Pointe (on 8th). Not an entirely fair comparison, as Plaza Pointe is across the street from the Co-op and is one block from the Plaza. But Sorrel Place will never be a location that offers an enlivened sense of community. A building with a storefront, such as where the Dead Reckoning Tavern is, behind the Co-op at 8th & J, brings people to the neighborhood. Sorrel Place, with no reason to go there except to visit a resident, repels people.
The study does tell us that we’ll be able to achieve higher-density housing with the Gateway Plan, but, as I said, we knew that. In the four Opportunity Sites that are part of this study, many of the ideas proposed come with large caveats. The Tomas site shows a two-story parking structure. As we know, a multi-story parking structure is almost certainly financially infeasible. The car wash site shows Jolly Giant Creek as being half-daylighted. A proper study would show it completely daylighted — because that’s what we’ll be doing, should that parcel be developed.
But most upsetting of all:  The study shows what could happen, if a developer is, as the City is promoting, seeking a higher density. But what if a developer designs a project that is cost-effective (for the developer) at a far lower density?Are we willing to accept a block or two of the Gateway Area built up with the type of housing that we now see on the Foster Avenue Extension, or, worse, similar to the recently-approved Arcata Garden Apartments? 
This study did not have the intention of addressing this lower-end density and it was not tasked with that. I know this. But, to me, it should have. To me, the question is not “Can we achieve a high density?” The answer to that is easy:  Sure we can. The question should be:  What can we do to ensure that we do not have too low of a density.
As it stands, the code allows apartment buildings that are two stories. That can even partially be one level for parking and one level of residential use, as much of Arcata Garden Apartments is. The Kramer “Sunset Terrace” apartments on Foster Avenue are 142 units on 3.55 acres. (It is 2.10 acres of development, and 1.14 acres of “open space” including the space between the buildings, the emergency vehicle turnaround space, those piles of rocks along Foster that can’t be walked on, and so forth.) Those 142 apartments on 3.55 acres makes for a 40 unit per acre density. It also has 142 parking spaces, a rate of one per apartment.
A block-size development of that medium density is not enough to create a neighborhood. How would you like it if the 1.42 acres of the AmeriGas site was covered with rows of two-story apartments, a total of 50 or 60, for a density of 35 or 42 units per acre. Would that be in keeping with the aims and goals of the Gateway Area Plan? No, it would not.
From my point of view, if that were to occur, we would have failed. That is the opposite of what we want to create. And yet the current Form-Based Code and Gateway Area Plan would allow it.
The people at Urban Field Studio are architects. I am not an architect. It does seem that they did not give much time or thought to this study. Or, possibly, not have much thought to what makes Arcata special, and to what we’re trying to achieve.
— Fred Weis
General Discussion
1. The document as shown has no title, no author’s name, no date, no version number.
It could say “Study conducted by Jane Lin of Urban Field Studio for the Gateway Area Plan, City of Arcata, July 1, 2023.” Instead, there is nothing.
2. The purpose of the study is to “to confirm that the proposed Gateway Code standards can physically accommodate the type and intensity of development envisioned by the Gateway Plan.”  That’s all? That the Form-Based Code will accommodate high-density development? I think we already knew that. 
The study has nothing to do with the “human” aspects of the architecture and urban planning of the Gateway Code. The study shows nothing about what it would be to have a 7-story building on the south (blocking the sun) side of the Creamery building, or to have a five-story building on the south side (again, blocking the sun), across the street from the historic Devlin Cottages on 7th Street. Those factors were not a part of the concerns of this study.
I am extremely disappointed by the very limited scope of this study — and by the simplistic outcomes that it portrays. And by the multiple caveats that would affect actual density. Such as:
“This site is large enough for an efficient structured parking solution [i.e. a two-story parking structure].  However, this still may not be financially feasible. With smaller setbacks it may be possible to create enough surface parking to support a three story apartment structure. [That is, three stories versus a seven story apartment, which is what the study shows].
3.  I expected far more. I want to know: How much did this study cost?
4. When you read this message to you in full, you may object to my quibbling about architectural design. After all, this is a feasibility study about possible housing density in the Gateway Area. But I do this for a very simple reason:  If it’s not feasible, then it won’t get built. If it’s not going to get built, it is a poor choice to use as an example of what we can do in the Gateway Area.  If, as an example given as part of this study, it takes a two-story garage structure in order to have enough parking and site space to build a seven-story building, and if a two-story garage structure is not likely to be built because of the cost, then what is this study telling us? That the seven-story building will not get built. In other words, that study — one of four offered here — is of no value to us. 
Similarly, the design calculations for the car wash site are based on half of Jolly Giant Creek being daylighted, and the achieved density is based on that. If instead we daylight the full creek on that block, what good is the density calculation in this study?
5. The density is shown in terms of dwelling units per acre. While this is indeed an industry standard, dwelling units per acre is a poor way to quantitatively illustrate just what we’d be getting. You can see my articles on on this subjectDwelling Units per Acre” – Another terrible way of measuring housingand  “Housing Units” and “Housing Density” – Why these are terrible ways to measure housing success.
A far better way to measure density is by number of bedrooms per acre — often called “doors.” That has its limits also, as a studio, a 1-bedroom, and one bedroom in a family home are all considered as “1 bedroom.”
All four of the studies shown have on-site parking, and they show an average apartment unit size of 946 to 973 square feet. The images show lots of two-bedroom units (they are just for illustrative purposed), and we can take that 946 to 973 sq.ft. average as coming from a blend of studios, 1, 2, 3 bedroom units in some proportion. As a means of comparison, the “Sorrel Place” 44-unit apartment has 1, 2, and 3-bedroom units, with an average size of 824 sq.ft., and a density of 64 units per acre.

Here’s a very simple way this study could have given us any number we want to see
      1. Make the parking in each plan be zero. That will give more land to build on.
      2. Make the setbacks from the property line be zero.
      3. Eliminate all upper-story step-backs for buildings that are five stories or under.
      4. Since step-backs aren’t required on the full perimeter of the building, the building’s design can have a sheer five-story wall on the property line, even when next to a single-family home. That will also give more land to build on.
      5. Have all the units be under-400 sq.ft. one-bedrooms. That will about double the number of “units per acre.” Or, make all the units in an entire building be under-300 sq.ft. studio units. That will almost triple the number of units per acre.
Clearly I am being silly on this. The point is:  It is very easy to manipulate these “units per acre” figures. You can almost pick what you want, and then establish a way to theoretically achieve it.
That said, I can direct the Commissioners to the article “Visualizing Compatible Density” where you can see a building of 41 units, averaging 430 sq.ft., built on a site that is 1/5th of an acre, 8700 sq. ft. (two residential lots put together). It has only 8 parking spaces, as it is walking distance from light-rail transit, and it has a roof garden for open space. It achieves a density of 205 units per acre.

6. “Site tests were prepared for Gateway Plan opportunity sites G, I, L N as shown in the figure below.”
Since we live here in Arcata, let’s call these Test Sites by what they are, rather than “G, I, L, N.”
  • G is the car wash site at 10th and K Streets that has Jolly Giant Creek, expected to be fully daylighted. (Although the Gateway Plan, as written, only “encourages” daylighting.) One city block, 1.44 acres minus the open space for daylighting.  Gateway Corridor District.  Shown as 1.42 acres.
  • I is the Tomas site at 8th & L Streets, directly behind (south of) the Creamery block.  Gateway Barrel DistrictIn the Coastal Zone.  Owned by Tom Perrett. This site has an architect-designed office/light-manufacturing building (incorrectly described in the draft Gateway Plan as “a one‐story metal industrial building”) and a large (about 1/2 acre) permanent garden space. This study does not show this, but it is two APN parcels, of 0.71 acres (30,800 sq.ft.) and 1.97 acres (85,800 sq.ft.), in total 2.68 acres. Shown as 2.65 acres.
  • L is the current AmeriGas site, between K & L Streets, between 6th & 7th Streets. Actually two APN parcels of 1.30 acres and 0.23 acres.  Gateway Corridor DistrictIn the Coastal Zone.
  • N is the old St. Vinnie’s thrift store site at 5th and K Streets. Gateway Corridor DistrictIncorrectly shown in this study as being in the Neighborhood District. In the Coastal Zone. 0.43 acres, 18,750 sq.ft. 
7. Glossary
  • “Structured Parking” means a multi-story structure designed for automobile parking with multiple levels for parking vehicles. Includes parking garages, parking ramps, and parking decks. As opposed to a single level of parking, typically at grade or slightly below grade, and with residential or commercial occupied space above it.

8. General Notes

Three of the four selected sites border on L Street. If the Gateway FBC Code were to accommodate and plan for a linear park on L Street, rather than a major arterial road there, then building heights would be lowered and densities would by necessity be lessened.

If Jolly Giant Creek were to be fully daylighted, Site G, the car wash, would see a reduction in the density. Shown in the study as 61 dwelling units per acre, that is based on about half of the creek being daylighted. If the entire creek flowing through that parcel were daylighted, the density would be lower. (With the design shown. There can be better designs, also.)


9. Notes on specific sites

1. Site I, the Tomas site.

The study shows the existing Tomas building as being entirely torn down, and the beautiful garden run by the Montessori School as being bulldozed. Clearly only Tom Perrett can speak for Tom Perrett, but I will venture to say that there is a very, very small chance that Tom would tear down the existing Tomas building so he can build a 7-story commercial / residential tower. I would put the chance of this happening to be Zero.

So why do a study on a site that is unlikely to see this development? Isn’t there another Opportunity Zone site that would make more sense to do a study on?

The site is over 116,000 square feet (2.67 acres). The building design in this study shows no publicly accessible open space. Per the Publicly Accessible Open Space Requirement table on page 54 of the Form-Based Code section (Page 71 in the July 11 agenda packet), a 7-story building on a site area of greater than 30,000 sq.ft. requires 15% of publicly accessible open space in order to be a part of the community benefits program, or pay an in lieu fee of 1.5% of construction costs. That’s a requirement of 0.40 acres of public open space (over 17,500 sq.ft.) — close to 30% of an Arcata city block. I don’t see that happening in this study. An in-lieu fee might be in the neighborhood of $500-800,000. The result would be a better city park somewhere else, and no public open space here.

The study shows 300 dwelling units and 7,800 sq.ft. of ground floor commercial space. The study says: “The existing commercial uses along 8th street in this particular area are more industrial in nature and may not generate the rent to cover the expense of vertical mixed-use retail. This retail requires expensive mechanical, electrical and plumbing and fire separation systems to be provided creating very high construction costs.”
This is the case with every potential Gateway project. The issue is not specific to this site. It is a major question with regard to the feasibility of the Gateway Plan.

The driveway for the 2-story 150-space parking structure goes out to L Street and crosses the L Street Pathway.

The study says: “This site is large enough for an efficient structured parking solution. However, this still may not be financially feasible. With smaller setbacks it may be possible to create enough surface parking to support a three story apartment structure.”

In other words, this building as shown is not economically feasible. In theory, a 7-story building with a separate 2-story parking garage is “possible.” In practical terms, it is not possible. Rather than the 113 dwelling units per acre as the study shows, in practical terms this site would 40% to 50% of that, or 45 to 55 dwelling units per acre.

Or: Theoretically there could be Zero parking for the 300 apartment unit and the 7,800 sq.ft. of retail or restaurant space. Of course, when considering that there will likely be lessened parking on 7th Street and 8th Street, and possibly no parking at all on K Street and, if L Street indeed becomes a Linear Park then no parking on the L Street Corridor… then no parking for 300 apartments becomes a problem. Or, to put it another way, it becomes a problem for everyone else.

The study comments on step-backs:  “Step-backs require that units at upper levels are custom and few in number. This presents a substantial premium in the cost per unit, negatively impacting the return and potentially leading to cost-cutting on the quality of construction to offset the costs or financial feasibility. These step-backs are especially difficult if they do not occur at the building type height limits set by the building code.”
In this design, yes. The step-backs could lead to an increase in the cost of construction. With a different architectural design, this problem may not be an issue. As to whether a possible increase in cost or complexity could lead to “cost-cutting on the quality of construction” — well, that depends on the developer and the contractor, now, doesn’t it.  This is mere speculation on the part of the authors of the study. And — a different architect might have a more creative and more cost-efficient design.

2. Site G, the car wash site. 10th & K Streets.

As noted above, if Jolly Giant Creek were to be fully daylighted — which is what we are expecting at this site, and what has been previously shown in Julian Berg’s design (see: ), then Site G, the car wash, would see a reduction in the density. It is shown in the study as 61 dwelling units per acre, based on about half of the creek being daylighted.

If all the creek was daylighted, that 61 dwelling units per acre would drop. But this, again, is based on the design shown. Julian Berg’s design shows more units per acre, with full creek daylighting (although with zero parking).

3. Site L, the AmeriGas site.

The block between K and L Streets, between 6th & 7th Streets.

Perhaps has publicly accessible open space. The 72 parking-place lot has its driveway on L Street.


Site N: The former St. Vinnie’s thrift store, at 5th and K Streets

As previously noted, this site is shown as being in the Gateway Neighborhood district. The study is incorrect — it is in the Gateway Corridor District. The study has a design of four stories. Based on the district, it could be five stories, and the rear of the building could be a sheer vertical wall with no step-back whatsoever, even though the parcel is adjacent to two-story and one-story residences.

The study: “Conclusions”

The Urban Field Studio study ends with a page under the heading of “Conclusions.”
See the opening Summary section of this message for my comments on these conclusions.



Urban Field Studio report, from the July 11, 2023, Planning Commission Packet

11 pages. In keeping with a regular, ongoing, unpleasant habit of the Community Development Department when releasing documents, there is no title, no date, no version number, and no context of what this document is or where it comes from.



Ryan Call’s presentation to the Planning Commission, July 11, 2023

To enlarge the YouTube video to be full-screen, use the “square” icon on the lower right corner, and then press Escape or click on the “Exit full screen icon” (lower right corner) to return to this article.

Following Ryan Call’s presentation are the Commissioner’s questions, and after that are comments from the public, both about the presentation and about other Gateway-related topics.