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Friday, February 3, 2023

Why this website exists

Because this is what Ministerial Review looks like.

Photo: Sharon King

This former office had been a teen center.  Now it is a nothing.

The data center building on 11th Street goes against everything that’s important to us. No jobs, no vitality.

The draft Gateway plan refers to the “blight” in the Gateway area, and uses that word nine times.  This recently-approved development, the data center:  This is the blight in Arcata.

And this project was approved through Ministerial Review. No public comment, no Planning Commission Review.  The codes in place at the time didn’t require that, and so it wasn’t done.

In the past this location has been an active and vital lumberyard and hardware store, with dozens of employees.  (Yes, I know that Myrtletown Lumber elected to stop their business, but it wasn’t because it was a bad site or a bad building.  At some point — especially now, with Arcata growing, another business would have opened the doors again.) 

And the little “log cabin” building on the corner was the teen center.

Now:  A handful of employees in a windowless building. Expansive parking behind a security fence.  No vitality.  An industrial building in a high-traffic thoroughfare.

And not even a gate in that fence so someone could walk in the front door.

The site was zoned Light-Industrial. The zoning should have been changed.  On 11th Street, the three blocks between K and N are still zoned Industrial Limited.  Why?  It is a commercial district.  11th Street is an extension of downtown — and downtown is all Commercial Central and Commercial General.

A few years ago, if I remember correctly, this area was looked at for possible re-zoning — to re-zone the area to something that makes sense.  But it was not re-zoned. And this is the result.

If the EdgeConnex developers had only bought a lot and built around the corner (or elsewhere), we wouldn’t be faced with this view every time we walk, bike, or drive down 11th Street.  Parents and children coming to the Little Learners Pre-School — located across the street — wouldn’t be seeing this. Nor would people who come to enjoy festivities at the historic 1916 Portuguese Hall, also across the street, on 11th Street.

Or if the City had pre-emptively changed the zoning on these three blocks of 11th Street to a more sensible zoning, this couldn’t have happened at this location.

The view from 12th Street, looking through the EdgeConnex yard, and through the fence on the other side, on 11th Street, and then to the 1916 Portuguese Hall building. Photo: Sharon King

The Site Plans and Illustrations can be seen on the City of Arcata’s website, here.

Here is the Elevation drawing, below  There are two views of the north side of the building and a view of the west side of the building.  What’s missing?  A view of the south side — the side along 11th Street, where the gated entrance is.  The side that 99% of the people of Arcata will view.  The developer didn’t put that view in, and the City didn’t see its absence and request it.

And the fence. We’re told that the 8-foot tall spiked fence was an oversight during the plan check.  A fence can be removed or lowered.  What would happen if the oversight resulted in something more permanent?  Say a building that was intended to have a 16-foot setback — to provide a nice public-access space and less solar shading for its neighbors — instead went through the plan-check process and no one noticed that the plans showed a 6-foot setback instead.  When would this be noticed? When the foundations were poured?  After the walls started going up?  Or not until the building was completed.  The point is:  If there’s an error or an oversight, we can ask for a fence to be changed.  We can’t ask for a building to be moved.

The specs for the fence are listed twice in the Elevation drawing, above.  Here are two enlargements, with the fence specs highlighted.  The original drawing is 30 x 42 inches.

What’s not to miss ?

Photo: Sharon King

Now — under any proposed Gateway plan that gets passed, it’s unlikely anything like this could be built in the future.  A Form-Based Code will be installed so that it just couldn’t happen. But you can be sure that whatever codes are put into a plan, there will be developers who will want to push the limits.  And they will likely be looking for loopholes.

If full Ministerial Review is put into existence with a Gateway plan, then just one or two people will be relied on to be sure that any developer’s plans comply with what will then be the Codes, and that they also comply with the wishes and intentions of the plan.

But if there turns out to be a section where the code’s intentions were insufficiently clear, well, I suppose we will just find out that afterwards — just like with this EdgeConnex Data Center on 11th Street — when a developer figures out how to get around this or that intention.

No person and no process can be perfect — all the time.  There will be oversights.  

And that is why some degree of Planning Commission review and public comment are needed.