Tall Buildings are Unfeasible in the Gateway Plan
Sea Level Rise expert Aldaron Laird, Danco president Chris Dart, and the Arcata Fire District Board of Directors, Chief, and Staff all agree — for three different reasons.
The January 10th meeting of the Planning Commission was especially informative about the prospect of taller buildings in the Gateway area.
We heard from Eric Loudenslager, Board of Directors of the Arcata Fire District, who told us that the AFD could not safely protect the occupants of a building taller than four stories. Even at four stories it is a dicey situation. “We’ve basically been lucky,” he said. “We’re telling them not to build another four-story Sorrel until we have a bigger fire department.” (Referring to the 2022-built Sorrel Place on 7th Street.)
I spoke to the Commissioners concerning a two-hour conversation with renown sea level rise and Humboldt/Arcata Bay expert Aldaron Laird. In addition to the known threat of sea level rise, we have here in Arcata the matters of rising ground water (from increased flooding and from sea level rise) and the breaching of the dikes that keep the rising bay water away from low-lying land areas. The 2005 New Year’s Eve king tide / storm — declared a “state of disaster” after bay waters came over Highway 101 — was the highest water elevation recorded to that date. Our average king tide heights now are less than a foot lower than that flooding event. It’s likely that we will have regular flooding of the low land areas in Arcata within 20 years, and sea level rise into portions of the Gateway area within 30 or 40 years.
Having groundwater just a few feet below the surface affects the design and cost of constructing foundations. Sea level rise to levels where much of the new Gateway zoning would be located is just about certain to occur during the useful life of any buildings constructed in those locations. And the Coastal Commission, which has jurisdiction over any proposed project south of 8th Street (this includes the AmeriGas site, the Greenway site, the Wing Inflatables site, the trailer park, and more) has shown from recent considerations that they are looking at the 100-year sea level rise projections to assess safety and viability. To put that in perspective, in 100 years, by current projections, about 80% of the entire Gateway area will be under water.
To add to all this, the recent OLLI presentation about affordable housing was also brought up at this Planning Commission meeting. At that presentation, Danco president Chris Dart stated that any residential construction over four stories is not economically feasible in Arcata. (The deep financial resources of the university are the exception.) That is to say, housing priced so people can afford to live there cannot be done with taller buildings. Danco has built more affordable housing and more taller buildings than any other developer up here. I’d say Chris Dart knows what he’s talking about.
By continuing to disregard acknowledged experts, Arcata Community Development Directory David Loya insists on promoting a plan which cannot — in its current form — possibly succeed. Is it a 20-year plan for 500 apartments, or a 60-year plan for 3,500 apartments? Will homes actually be offered for purchase from a plan that only “encourages” condominium home-ownership? Or will it be the case, as David Loya stated on June 28th, “when I met with the Humboldt Association of Realtors, they told me that there’s no way you’re going to get condominium projects.”
Arcata needs a good plan. This Gateway plan is not it. It’s not feasible, and a plan that can’t be built is not really a plan at all. A good Gateway plan needs to be simpler, more practical, and actually possible — and with true affordable housing and home-ownership opportunities, as David Loya and the City’s plan have promised, over and over. They have promised this, and they are incapable of making good on this promise.
I say: Let’s make a better plan and move forward.