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September 28, 2006

 In the News


Humboldt County developers, engineers, builders, gadflies and land use regulators got together at the Wharfinger Building last Thursday, as they do periodically. The occasion this time was a special seminar and training put on by the Center for Creative Land Recycling (CCLR), a Bay Area-based nonprofit that looks at innovative ways to develop polluted land, turning useless parcels into community assets.

The day-long event, which was sponsored in part by Humboldt State University's Office of Economic and Community Development, had a range of speakers, both local and from out of the area, who spoke from their areas of expertise -- finance, insurance, engineering, the law -- all with the goal of expanding the possibilities for Humboldt County's many brownfield sites, legacies of our industrial past. Many of those sites now sit vacant smack in the middle of populated areas, and they represent some of the best chances for new development without sprawl. It's difficult to do anything with them, given the pollution restraints, but the people from CCLR were there to assure us that it could be done, and done well.

At the lunch break, Arcata architect Kash Boodjeh was hanging out near the back of the room, where sandwiches were being served. Boodjeh is a slight man with glasses that give him an intelligent, studious air. He seems to always have a bemused half-smile dancing around his face. He was having a good time. It was he who first asked the CCLR people to give their workshop up here in Humboldt County. He had attended one of their seminars elsewhere, then he had read an article in the Journal on the Marina Center development, the Home Depot-anchored project that Rob and Cherie Arkley are proposing for the vacant Balloon Track railyard just across the street from the Wharfinger ("On Different Tracks," March 16). The article made him realize that the CCLR's resources could be useful here, he said.

How so? In the case of the Balloon Track, what could have been done differently? Representatives from the Arkley's company, Security National, had said that a commercial center was the only thing that Union Pacific, current owner of the property, would allow to be built there, didn't they? And a commercial center needed a big box store to make the project work financially, didn't it? What else could possibly be done? Boodjeh smiled. "Every constraint on a site is derived from the owner himself," he said, cryptically.

An hour or so later, Marina Center spokesman Brian Morrissey took the stage to deliver a presentation on the Marina Center, which he referred to as a "smart growth" project. "I'm a smart growth guy," Morrissey said. The characterization drew immediate objections from Andrew Whitney of the Humboldt County Planning Department, who said that community involvement in development was a cornerstone of the smart growth movement. (He didn't mention that Arkley had the Eureka City Council kill a public study on the Balloon Track, specifically to limit public participation in the planning. See "Blown Off Course," Nov. 4, 2004.) Diane Strassmier, a San Francisco-based project manager in the Environmental Protection Agency's program on brownfields, piped up. She wasn't familiar with the project, she said, but she had a hard time taking in the idea that a big box store right near the Eureka Waterfront could be called "smart growth." She said, "I guess when I think of a waterfront community, I think of a smaller scale," she said. "A Home Depot is such a large building..."

This was something of a setback for Morrissey, as he had a slide of the EPA's "Smart Growth Principles" on the screen at the time. They were intended to bolster his point. Instead, he had to retreat a bit. "How smart is smart?" he asked. "Do you have to have all 10 out of 10?"

--Hank Sims



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