On Wednesday, the Planning Commission will review the Sterling project and recommend certification of the EIR and approvals of planning applications. Staff notes, as the Vanguard reported last week, that the project applicant has modified the project based on neighborhood concerns.
The changes have resulted “in an approximately 25% reduction in the project scale and density, relative to the number of units, bedrooms, and parking, compared to the original proposal.”
The previous proposal for redeveloping the former EMQ FamiliesFirst site at 2100 5th Street in Davis into Sterling Apartments generated a tremendous amount of opposition from neighbors at the nearby Rancho Yolo site. After working through a conflict resolution process, the developers have come back with a scaled down proposal.
The existing facilities and trees would be removed and redeveloped with a roughly 160-unit market-rate, student-oriented apartment building, with a separate affordable apartment component.
The original proposal called for 244 total units (203 market-rate student units with 727 bedrooms, and 41 affordable units with 74 bedrooms) and four- and five-story buildings.
The applicant has now reduced the size, height, and density of the project from the original proposal to three and four stories with 198 total units and 611 bedrooms, and also reduced the parking structure.
The revised 160-unit market-rate site now will have a three- and four-story apartment building, a parking structure, a two-story leasing office/clubhouse building, and site improvements. The apartments will contain a mix of one to five bedroom units, with a total of 540 single-occupancy bedrooms.
The four-story (five-level) parking structure provides 343 parking spaces. Five additional surface parking spaces are provided. The affordable site will have 38 surface parking spaces.
The neighbors have agreed to these changes, however, not everyone appears to be in agreement.
Some are calling this a “mega-dorm” project and are concerned that, while the size has been reduced from four and five stories down to three and four stories, the mass and scale is still too large. There are concerns about traffic impacts on the intersection of Fifth Street and Pole Line Road, streets which are already heavily traveled.
There are two cited concerns here. The first has to do with what is known as the “bed lease” where each bed or bedroom is associated with a separate lease agreement. There are advantages to this in that it maximizes occupancy.
But it produces a situation where the apartments become de facto dormitories where each bedroom has an individual bathroom and is basically a single-occupancy room, targeting students by only renting by the bed. This will address the student population but will obviously not be rented to average non-students and families in need of rental housing.
On the other hand, with students as the single-largest group needing rental housing, perhaps the city can eventually overcome this problem by creating more apartments to service students, and leaving single-family homes to families needing homes.
A second problem – one that has been raised before – is the complaint that they are not planning enough parking with 540 single-occupancy bedrooms served by 348 parking spaces. There is a fear that extra parking needs would spill over to the surrounding areas.
In our view, based on our analysis from last fall, there are actually far too many parking spaces. In our analysis last September, we found that, based on data from the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, only 30 percent of 36,000 students traveled to campus by car.
Breaking down the data further, less than half the students and just 42.7 percent of undergraduates have “access to a car.” And that number shrinks as we move into town.
Those who live outside of Davis are nearly all driving into town, with 91.5 percent having access to a car. Of those who live in Davis, less than half have access to a car.
Calvin Thigpen, a PhD candidate in Transportation Technology and Policy (TTP) at UC Davis, told the Vanguard that having access to a car is not a perfect measure of car-ownership as “some students could be referring to the same shared car.” He estimates that about 14,939 students have “access to a car.” That breaks down to 10,862 undergraduate students and 4077 graduate students. Based on that question, he would guess that the number of actual student-owned cars is an overestimate.
The parking lot would allow for 64.4 percent of the residents to have a vehicle. That is well above the 42.7 percent of undergraduates who have access to a car, according to the latest surveys.
At that rate, the parking lot would only need 230 spaces. That gives the parking lot over 100 spaces of fudge factor, which seems more than enough for the lot.
Overall, this leads to a few interesting questions that readers and the community should consider. The neighbors appear to be agreeable to the scaled down project – does it make sense to continue this “battle,” for lack of a better term?
As we noted last week in our analysis, with the university only going to 90/40 in terms of new students and total student housing on campus, and with a 0.2 percent vacancy level, the strategy for slow growth advocates seems odd.
The battle lines have constantly been to reduce the size of the projects on site, reducing the number of units. On one level, that makes sense as it reduces potential noise, sight, and traffic impacts at the site.
But on another level it means that there will likely have to be more of these infill apartment projects which will actually increase the impact overall in the city.
—David M. Greenwald reporting