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HomeGateway PlanCity PlanningPlanwest 3D Massing Diagrams are non-existent -- No 3D diagrams to evaluate the Gateway...

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

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The following is a letter to the City Council and the Planning Commission. Sent Monday, August 21, 2023, prior to the first Gateway-specific City Council / Planning Commission joint study session.

Honorable Mayor Schaefer, Vice-Mayor Matthews, Councilmembers Atkins-Salazar, Stillman, and White. Planning Commissioners. Community Development Staff Loya, Dart, Freitas
Fred Weis

Subject: Planwest 3D Massing Diagrams are non-existent. No 3D diagrams to evaluate the Gateway heights and massing.
This was part of the $118,000 allocation of funds approved in December, 2022.

This image is an example of what we would need to properly evaluate the Gateway Area Plan. The orange buildings are on infill parcels.

The “Gateway Area Form-Based Code Enhanced Content & Outreach” contract amendment with Planwest was approved at the December 21, 2022 Council meeting — eight months ago. The amendment included:

  • Enhanced Code Graphics
  • Testing Opportunity Sites
  • Plan Area Massing Diagram
The “Plan Area Massing Diagram” would be especially useful at this time, as we are discussing massing and building heights.
This is where a 3D image really is needed.
Below is an example, from the contract, of what was promised as a deliverable in the contract. 
What have we received, after eight months?  Nothing.
The stated cost was $8,560 (plus contingency and management). Relative to the $118,000 total amendment cost, not very much.
And it would be immensely useful — right now.
We may hear the opinion that it does not make sense to develop better graphics until we know for sure what our standards are — building height, massing, etc.
But this is kind of a cart-before-the-horse argument. Without better graphics — specifically on the area massing diagram — it is impossible to determine what level of building height, massing, and open space might be appropriate. Without a diagram of this sort, we’re just guessing at what might work.
Without a building area massing 3D diagram, it is not really possible to evaluate building height.
In this sample diagram:
White are existing buildings. Yellow are new buildings. Orange is anticipated infill. Green is open space and parks.
It is very easy to see and understand.
Note how the building heights of new buildings (orange and yellow) match or approximate the heights of the existing buildings (white). The taller yellow buildings at the rear of the image fit in with other taller buildings. The more squat orange buildings are 2-story, 3-story, and sometimes 4-story buildings that fit in with the buildings on the block where they are placed.
The orange buildings are infill — and they fit in.
Below is an example as shown of Street Section graphics. Two-story and three-story buildings. Clear and informative. Note what looks to be a full-size city bus in the left traffic lane — taking up the width of the lane. There are no bike lanes in this image, only sharrows… so this wouldn’t be suitable for Arcata.
But the impact of the 3D image immediately transmits the design concepts — wide sidewalks, street trees, outside furniture, removing parking at pedestrian crosswalks, and the rest.
Below, here is what we received for street section graphics. Nothing custom about this at all. How tall are the buildings, and how does the street fit into the overall massing of the buildings?  No clue whatsoever.
This is from a standard planning software package. The little white cars, as I’ve noted, are the size of some of the smallest cars on the road. The size of a Honda Fit — smaller than a Toyota Corolla or a Honda Civic, much smaller than a Subaru wagon, and very much smaller than a full-size pickup truck.
To contract amendment for the $118,000 amendment to the Planwest contract is below. The page numbers shown are the page numbers from the original City Council agenda packet.

As an aside, the 12/21/2022 Staff Report says “This contract amendment and budget adjustment were recommended by the Planning Commission.”

For those Commissioners who were not present at that meeting, and as a reminder for those who were there (including current Councilmember Kimberley White — she was a Commissioner at that time of the PC meeting) — there was no discussion of the specifics of this contract amendment at the Commission meeting, and this contract amendment was most certainly not recommended.  It wasn’t discussed — so it certainly could not have been recommended. Having the City’s Form-Based Code consultant, Ben Noble, come to Arcata for an in-person meeting — that was discussed. But not this contract amendment.

I am very much in favor of getting better information and better graphics and diagrams on Gateway issues. In fact, I believe it is more or less impossible to make educated decisions given the inadequacy of the material that the Community Development department has offered.

We’ve contracted for it and it’s possible Arcata has even paid for it. But we haven’t seen it.

Please — can we see this “Plan Area Massing Diagram”?  Soon?


To see this contract amendment in the Agenda Packet for that meeting: 
Pages 278 to 319.
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