A 23,505 square foot federal courthouse has gotten approval from the county’s Planning Commission, whose chairman said she’s glad to see that the facility’s being located in McKinleyville’s Airport Business Park.
“I so glad to see something else happening in the business park, it’s been a long time coming,” said Commission Chairman Linda Disiere just prior to the unanimous approval vote at the Aug. 1 commission meeting. Commissioners Bob Morris, Susan Masten and Alan Bongio were absent.
Disiere also congratulated Steve Moser, the business park’s original developer, for “hanging in there” and identified McKinleyville as “the place where we have housing opportunity,” emphasizing the link between new jobs and housing.
The U.S. court and U.S. Marshall’s Service facility will include a courtroom, jail space and offices for five governmental agencies. Its development is fairly straightforward, though a special permit was included in the commission’s approval that allows exceptions to parking standards and the 25-person maximum capacity for development in the airport’s approach zone.
A 60-person threshold was approved under the permit, as a much lower occupancy level will be seen most of the time and the higher level is still consistent with the county’s airport compatibility standards.
The most notable aspect of the hearing was the difference in planning approaches reflected in questions from Commissioner Ralph Faust, an environmentally-conscious former Coastal Commission attorney, and Commissioner Lee Ulansey, the founder of the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights.
Noting that a letter from the State Coastal Commission had asked that native plants be used in the project’s landscaping, Faust asked County Planner Michael Richardson why 100 percent native planting wasn’t required.
Richardson said the percentage is now over 50 percent, which represents an increase from original plans. Full native planting isn’t needed because the county doesn’t have a landscaping ordinance requiring it, he continued.
“This will be interesting,” said Ulansey before he asked why more native planting was asked for when the only landscaping requirement in the county’s Local Coastal Plan is to ensure a “park-like environment.”
Richardson said adding more native plants reduces the odds of the Coastal Commission “yanking the county’s approval” and doing the decision-making itself.
Later, Ulansey asked Steven Doctor, the project’s applicant, who will be leasing the new facility to the federal government, if the increased level of native planting will add to his costs.
When Doctor said the change is no problem, Ulansey asked if “there are any other conditions you’re working with that you feel present any kind of a hardship, a challenge, a cost or anything else that you’d like to make us aware of?”
Doctor, who has done projects nationwide, said the project’s been handled with extraordinary competence by the county’s planning staff and there were no surprises or hardships involved.
Then Faust asked if a greenhouse gas emission analysis had been done. It hasn’t, which he doesn’t think is a problem since the new facility replaces a structurally unsound one now located in Eureka.
With air travel being a common method for accessing court hearings, the new facility will negate the need for auto travel to Eureka. But Faust advised planning staff that he will increasingly be asking about greenhouse emission impacts.
“We are finally reaching a point where we really have to take the issue of greenhouse gas impacts and sea level rise more seriously than we’ve been willing to so far,” he said, naming the Highway 101 improvement project, which will be going before the Coastal Commission in September, as a “bellwether project.”