Cypress Grove Cheese Factory Project Appealed – April 25, 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

CITY HALL – The Planning Commission’s April 10 approval of Cypress Grove Chevre’s cheese factory expansion (see story, below) has been appealed. The appeal was filed with the City of Arcata yesterday, April 24, by Foster Avenue residents Sean Armstrong and Shail Pec-Crouse. The filing fee was $1,859.

Three central reasons are listed for the appeal: significant unmitigated impacts to productive agricultural soils, significant unmitigated traffic impacts to public safety and a lack of a wetland delineation and survey for biological resources.

In answer to the question, “How were you ‘aggrieved’ by the decision being appealed?” the applicants state: “As a neighbor, farmer and land use planner, we are aggrieved by the unmitigated and unknown environmental impacts of the project.”

The appeal lists proposed mitigations for the project’s alleged shortcomings, with accompanying photographs. It even includes an alternate site layout proposal created by architectural designer Joyce Plath.

Consistent with oral testimony offered by the applicants and other project opponents during the three related Planco hearings, the appeal contends that the expanded factory will permanently cover cultivatable ag land. It further suggests creation of an agricultural conservation easement on the site, and asks that the single condition which the Planco had imposed – installation of street trees along 13th and 17th streets – be partly reversed. It asks that the 17th Street trees be eliminated because they will “reduce the public view of agricultural open space and reduce productive farm land.”

The appeal also claims that Q Street, which will bear increased truck traffic from the enlarged factory, lacks sidewalks on the two-block area south of the project. “Pedestrians must walk in traffic on Q Street for almost two blocks immediately south of the Project – there are no sidewalks for safety,” the appeal erroneously states.

To support this contention, the appeal includes a Google Maps photograph dated February, 2011 and taken prior to installation of a wide sidewalk on Q Street’s north side about three months ago.

Presently, Q Street has sidewalks on one side or the other, or on both sides, all the way from 11th Street to 17th Street, which includes the entire length of the Cypress Grove property. This afternoon, parents could be seen using the sidewalk to walk children home from the nearby Coastal Grove Charter School/La Fuente Nueva campus.

The appeal proposes installation of a sidewalk from Cypress Grove’s property line along the east side of Q Street to 12th Street – which already exists – plus bike lanes and traffic calming signage.

The Google Maps photo of Q Street used in the appeal, shown above, was taken prior to installation of sidewalks, the lack of which is cited as one of the three major reasons for challenging the Planning Commission's decision.

The same area of Q Street depicted in the appeal, above, in a photo taken Wednesday, April 25, 2012. KLH | Eye

Lastly, the appeal states that the California Environmental Quality Act requires a description of the project’s environmental setting prior to construction so that impacts can be understood once it is completed. It contends that a wetland delineation requested by the Water Quality Control Board was not performed, and suggests that one be done.

Concludes the appeal, “Our neighborhood is trying to find ways to compromise with our neighbors at Cypress Grove. We hope that in scheduling the appeal our neighborhood is given time to continue negotiations with Cypress Grove’s representatives. We also hope that Staff will reconsider some of our most thoughtfully documented concerns and help us find a compromise solution with which we can all be satisfied.”

The City Council will take up the appeal at an upcoming meeting, date not yet announced.

Note: the following story was published in the April 18 Arcata Eye. – Ed.

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

ARCATA – Cypress Grove Chevre (CGC) won approval Tuesday night, April 10 for expansion of its cheese manufacturing facility on Q Street.

The OK came courtesy of a bare majority of the smallest allowable quorum of the Planco – just four members. Commissioner Paul Hagen was absent, while Commissioners Chuck Giannini and Julie Vaissade-Elcock had recused themselves due to conflicts of interest.

It was the third Planco meeting on the expansion of CGC’s Arcata cheese-manufacturing facility, located on Q Street, and may not be the last, as opponents could file an appeal to the City Council.

That would cost $1,859 in filing fees and must be done within 10 working days of last Tuesday night’s decision.

The $6 million project involves expanding the current, 13,800 square foot CGC cheese factory with a 24,387 addition that includes a processing facility, cooler, office space and other support facilities.

The newly expanded facility will process milk received from the company’s new McKinleyville goat farm and other sources.

Deputy Director of Community Development Davis Loya began the meeting by addressing objections raised by project opponents at two previous Planco meetings.

One objection was that the “Floor Area Ratio” (FAR) was being miscalculated in CGC’s favor. The Land Use Code allows up to 10 percent of floor area to be constructed on a building site.

Community Development Director Larry Oetker, who also functions as Zoning Administrator, offered an analysis that indicated a total “gross building area” on the CGC site as 76,402 square feet, with the “total lot area” calculated as 788,011 square feet for a FAR of 9.8 percent, just under the 10 percent allowed.

Another objection by critics was the intended construction on prime agricultural soils. Loya said such soils can be covered by construction, as long as the development is agricultural in nature.

Opponents – mostly nearby residents those who had fought Cypress Grove’s goat farm last June – had forwarded those objections plus several others that were impossible for the Planning Commissioners to make any relevant findings on as part of the project.

Extraneous issues included assertions that the ag-zoned CGC site would be put to better use as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, that CGC’s is owned by Switzerland’s corporate EMMI AG dairy cooperative and that the company supports the Richardson Grove Improvement Project.

“The Planning Commission’s purview is not necessarily to direct the applicant where a better site would be or what a better use would be, so long as the use they’re proposing is a use that was envisioned,” Loya said.

Neighbor and project opponent Sean Armstrong read lengthy passages from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to support his contention that the project converts farmland to non-ag use.

Marianne Cippola Knox, who operates a day care center on Q Street, related a frightening encounter with a Cypress Grove truck which she said endangered children – though she had brought four tots to a protest at the company’s front gate and truck entrance last June. She and others have objected to increased truck traffic on the street from the planned project.

Karen Davidson – Armstrong’s mother – predicted more flooding in the neighborhood due to the impervious surfaces which would be installed on the CGC land. She feared for homes on Zehndner Avenue, though no residents from that street were present to register any objections.

Open Space Committeemember Lisa Brown again asserted that the Floor Area Ratio should be calculated by net, rather than gross lot area – that is, excluding non-buildable areas such as easements and streets. That would effectively disqualify CGC from building without a Conditional Use Permit, which would require a lengthier process. In a previous meeting, Oetker stated that the net total is used in subdivision developments, but isn’t applicable in this case.

Brown insisted that net area should be used, and is the standard mechanism for calculating allowable floor space. “Staff has done quite the job of confusing the issue,” she said.

Though experienced in public procedure, Brown committed a minor breach of protocol in approaching and offering her handouts directly to commissioners. This earned a reminder from Loya that submissions should be given to staff for redistribution to the decisionmakers.

Shail Pec-Crouse – Armstrong’s wife – disparaged CGC as being “arm in arm with Wal-Mart” in destroying old growth redwood trees and “pav[ing] over ag soil.” She also said Oetker is friends with Pamela Dressler, CGC general manager, and should recuse himself from participating in the issue due to conflict of interest.

But the project had supporters as well. Citizen Juliet Bond extolled the project as a big plus for the economy and community, saying the real problem is that it represents change.

John Vevoda, president of the Humboldt County Farm Bureau, said any expectation that no ag soil would be built on to support ag is unrealistic. Only huge corporate agricultural enterprises can afford that, he said.

Public Works Director Doby Class said all drainage issues were fully mitigated by on-site detention ponds, and that the street capacity, with new Q Street sidewalks and traffic calming measures, was adequate to handle the traffic.

Commissioner Judith Mayer wanted to continue the matter, saying she hadn’t read all the supplied information. But Chair Robert Flint called for a vote,and the project was approved with Mayer abstaining and one additional condition offered by Commissioner Dan Tangney – that street trees be installed on 13th and 17th streets bordering the CGC property.

Mayer predicted that the project will be appealed to the council, and lamented that the Planco hadn’t fully processed it with its experience and added conditions.

Following the decision, Armstrong, who had given documents to Loya for the commission per procedure earlier, strolled up to the commissioners at the dais, interrupting the meeting to offer them cookies, which the commissioners pushed away. “You need to leave now,” Flint said at the protocol violation.

Armstrong later explained his cookie outreach in a comment on the North Coast Journal’s website:

“I wanted them to be able to taste and appreciate what the Arcata Bottom can produce… my futile gesture was to offer cookies. I was trying to be nice in a not-very-nice situation.”

The situation became even less very nice moments later, when Armstrong peppered the commission with barbs and critical comments called out from the back of the Council Chamber. “It’s a joke,” he declared. “Terrible.”

“You need to leave now, Sean,” Flint said. “That’s enough.”

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