For a proposed apartment complex, the Sterling Fifth Street Apartments project has undergone rather extensive city and public review with an extremely high level of interest from the surrounding neighborhood, in particular Rancho Yolo residents as well as the broader community. On Tuesday, the project will go before the city council, where the council for the first time will be able to weigh in on the project.
City staff notes that the modifications to the project in response to community concerns “resulted in an approximately 25% reduction in the project scale and intensity compared to the original proposal.” Staff writes, “In response to these modifications, the Rancho Yolo Community Association Board has suspended its previous opposition to the project.”
However, as the Vanguard noted yesterday, Marge Beach recently wrote, “For those who think we at Rancho Yolo have ‘dropped our opposition,’ we have not. For those who think we are now ‘happy’ with the project, we are not.”
Instead, she argues, “The Rancho Yolo community continues its absolute opposition to the now ‘revised’ Sterling Fifth Street Apartments proposal.”
Staff acknowledges, “Although the project modifications and other measures have addressed many project-related issues, public concerns persist.”
On the plus side, staff writes that “the project has also garnered support and provides community benefits. The project creates needed student housing on centrally-located, infill site in proximity to services and transit and bicycle facilities. It provides additional affordable housing on a separate site.”
Staff continues, “Project requirements include sustainability features, such a LEED Gold buildings, PV for common area needs, and transportation-related measures, improvements, and contributions that benefit the project area and reduce vehicle trips.”
Overall, staff believes that “the merits of the project are substantial and recommends approval.”
One aspect we have not talked about is that the staff considers the project to be “revenue neutral.” However, they note, “Due to the previous owner’s non-profit status, the City did not receive property taxes for the site. The for-profit apartment complex will contribute property taxes to the City’s General Fund based on the value of the property to help fund City services.”
Staff notes, “The development will also generate a one-time fiscal benefit to the City of $3.2 -3.3 million in construction tax and development impact fees revenue.”
The proposal considers a mix of 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom, 4-bedroom, and 5-bedroom units.
Staff writes, “The larger bedroom units are charged that same rate as the smaller 2-bedroom units in the City’s impact fee schedule. However, the fees are appropriate for the project even with the larger bedroom units.”
As we have noted, the project is limited to the equivalent of one person per bedroom with single-occupancy bedrooms which cap the total resident population. “The project’s impacts on City facilities would be similar to other apartment projects with fewer bedrooms where residents double up in bedrooms. Additionally, the Sterling Apartments Project is targeting a university student population who generally place less demand on City parks than a typical family. Student residents who may be away for parts of the year during school breaks may also place less demand on other services.”
The development agreement calls for the project to contribute an additional $100,000 for transportation enhancements in the general project area. Davis Joint Unified School District and County of Yolo will benefit financially from this project with approximately $800,000 – 900,000 in one-time fees.
Residents of the nearby Rancho Yolo senior community have actively followed and commented on the project.
Major issues and areas of concerns include:
- Preservation of the site and alternative uses for social services and other public uses.
- Size, scale, height, and density of the project.
- Neighborhood compatibility and land use policies.
- Conflicts with student housing and residents (noise, parking, etc.).
- University growth policies and relations.
- Incompatibility of student residents with families on the affordable site.
- Visual and aesthetic issues.
- Traffic, access, and congestion issues.
- Impacts on the adjacent post office.
- Too much parking and too little parking.
- Bicycle parking, infrastructure, and congestion.
- Inadequate regional transit.
- Conservation and sustainability issues such water use, tree removal, demolition, energy, and strategies to reduce car use.
- Environmental impact-related comments as addressed in the Final EIR.
In addition to the reduction in the project size and density, staff notes “additional modifications were made and measures were added to address other concerns raised by the Rancho Yolo Community Association.”
- Reduction of the building height from 66 feet (5 stories) to 56 feet (4 stories).
- Increase in the building setback from the front (5th Street) property line for the Sterling Apartments building from 41 feet to 45 feet and for the affordable building from 15 feet to 35 feet.
- Security measures and review for potential noise and disturbance issues.
- Management measures to monitor and report on occupancy.
- Elimination of balconies facing 5th Street for the 4- and 5-bedroom units.
- Elimination of a potential wall mural on the affordable building.
- $100,000 contribution for neighborhood transportation enhancements.
- Improved sustainability measures with submetering, photovoltaics, LEED Gold.
Staff also addressed some of the other project issues. There was an issue raised about “the potential conflict of multi-family housing or student housing in close proximity to senior housing. Concerns included density issues as well as lifestyle differences.” Staff counters with a city-wide map that shows senior housing and apartments are often in close proximity, with staff concluding that “the situation is not uncommon and has not resulted in any obvious conflict between residential uses.”
Staff also notes that the city’s vision for infill development “is to encourage and maximize opportunities for infill development projects that are beneficial to the community, protective of existing neighborhoods, and well-designed. The benefits of infill include resource conservation, efficiency of facilities and services, promotion of alternative modes of transportation, and opportunities for diverse housing and mixed use options.”
They point to a “critical need for rental housing” which they argue “is evidenced by apartment vacancy rates in the City that have been near or below 1% in recent years (0.2% in 2016) according to the apartment vacancy surveys conducted annually by U.C. Davis. It has effects on the City’s single-family residential neighborhoods which can be impacted by rental properties.”
Staff writes that “the proposed development would be an appropriate project consistent with the General Plan policies for infill development.”
They argue the project contributes to the variety of housing types, the design “enhances and does not erode the existing neighborhood character,” it is “designed to be compatible with adjacent uses. Compatibility includes project changes that increased privacy and protection from noise.” They add, it promotes energy efficiency and supports alternative transportation. They add, “The site is safe and convenient for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users.”
Key conclusions from the Residential Development Status Report are:
- Residential growth in Davis continues to be consistent with the 1% growth cap;
- The City is seeing a healthy mix of unit types, including single-family homes, accessory dwelling units, condominiums (Cannery condominiums in for building permit at this time), and apartments; and
- There has been limited development of unrestricted rental housing over the past decade, as corroborated by very low vacancy rates and developer interest in apartment construction.
With respect to student-oriented housing, the staff writes:
“The demand for university student housing affects all of the housing types listed above. To the extent that the demand for student rentals may have a negative effect on housing types and neighborhoods not originally intended for that use, the development of student-oriented housing is a necessary consideration. However it involves both pros and cons.
“On the downside is the concentration of student housing that results and the myriad of parking, noise, concerns about change, and other neighborhood issues that can follow. Without student-oriented housing, students are more likely to be dispersed throughout the City which may reduce the intensity of related problems, but also spreads it over a larger area of the City and in more neighborhoods.”
Staff addresses the concern about 4 and 5 bedroom issues. They write, “One issue raised by some members of the public is the project’s provision of 4- and 5-bedroom units. It centers around the concern that the unit design and high bedroom count are not be suitable for family units and lack the flexibility to attract non-student residents.”
Staff notes that, with the limitation to a single occupancy per room, the population is limited to 540 residents. That “averages out to 3.4 residents per unit which would be on par with, or possibly even lower than, other apartment complexes in the City comprised of 2, 3, and 4-bedroom units that lack the occupancy restriction.
“There is also the issue of the resident population and unit design,” staff writes. “The Sterling Apartments site is targeted for university students who are expected to make up the majority of the residents. The units are not expected to appeal to a large number of family households or families with children, but they are not precluded from the site either.
“The units provide common living and dining spaces for a household like other apartment units. The changing demographics and household compositions call for a variety of housing options and unit types. The 2-bedroom units can accommodate a small family. The larger units with a separate bathroom for each bedroom could appeal to a multi-generational family,” they note.
Staff notes that, while the university has places to increase its housing to accommodate projected growth, “there is currently a shortage of housing to meet the current needs of the City and University. Additional housing is needed. The City is actively engaged in encouraging additional on-campus housing beyond the amount currently being proposed by the University.
“The City Council has also clearly articulated a desire to consider housing proposals within the City and has given specific direction during the project’s pre-application stage to bring Sterling Apartments Project forward for review.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting