Back in October, the owners of the Nishi property revived their proposed project about 16 months after Measure A was narrowly defeated at the polls. The project is back as an exclusively student housing project, and this month the developers will be presenting their plans to a number of the city commissions as they look to bring the project to the voters next June.
On Monday, the Natural Resources Commission heard the proposal and that will be followed by Open Space and Social Services next week, Finance and Budget on the 11th, Bicycle and Transportation on the 14th.
The council approved the application for a mixed-use development on the Nishi property in January 2016 on a 5-0 vote. However, as a Measure R project it was subject to voter ratification and the voters narrowly rejected the measure in June 2016.
Litigation was filed after the city council action, challenging the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and affordable housing approach. Earlier this year, litigation was resolved in the city’s favor with the litigant ceding the affordable housing argument, however an appeal was filed on October 10 with the appellate court.
The new proposal focuses on student housing, which includes an affordable component.
Staff notes that the narrative projects vehicular access would now take place through a crossing under the Union Pacific Railroad tracks to the UC Davis campus, but not on West Olive Drive.
The project includes open space, potentially a farm to provide produce for UC Davis students, and surface parking with opportunities for photovoltaics.
Staff notes that this proposed concept would be generally consistent with the “Nishi Property – Option with Access Via UCD Only” site recommended for housing in the city council’s 2008 resolution
regarding the Housing Element Steering Committee recommendation.
The proposal calls for roughly 2600 beds in around 700 apartment units. Surface parking is anticipated at a ratio of 0.5 spaces per bedrooms. The R&D space and for-sale homes would be removed from this proposal.
However, the current project includes 20,000 square feet of neighborhood-serving commercial, such as a café or pub. There would be no parking provided with that.
In the staff report provided to the Natural Resources Commission, staff has provided some comments in particular on the sustainability components.
The application narrative notes the Sustainability Implementation Plan prepared for the previous Mixed-Use Innovation District. Originally, the Nishi property “was selected by the California Strategic Growth Council, as the #1 site for sustainable development in the State of California. As a result of that process funds were provided to prepare a comprehensive sustainability implementation plan which is incorporated into the approved EIR. Additional opportunities may be available to enhance the sustainability plans by adding PV panels in the satellite car storage areas.”
The surface parking lot provides opportunities for photovoltaic collection, staff continues. “The project would be subject to the PV-Plus requirements recently adopted by the City Council,” they write.
Staff notes that “recent apartment developments, such as Sterling 5th Street, included LEED Gold equivalency, PV optimization, and a requirement for CCE participation assuming rates are within 10 percent of PG&E rates.”
The city has contracted with Ascent Environmental to prepare an analysis of whether an addendum to the previously-certified Environmental Impact Report is warranted.
They write, “The EIR included an impact (4.3-5) that addressed ultrafine particles, included mitigation measures, and identified the impact as significant and unavoidable after mitigation. The current document will compare the revised project to the project addressed in the EIR and will determine if the impacts would change. It is noted that, since preparation of the EIR, the California Supreme Court has issued an opinion that exposure of a project to impacts from the environment is not a significant impact under CEQA, unless a project would exacerbate the impact. Preliminary calculations show that Vehicle Miles Traveled as a result of the proposed project are lower than that originally anticipated for the Mixed-Use Innovation District.”
There are some key questions that will come up.
When the project comes before the Social Services Commission, we may have a look at the affordable housing proposal. One of the big issues from the last election was the lack of affordable housing. The question that will arise here is what that proposal looks like. Will it more closely resemble the Sterling proposal, or will Nishi attempt to do something along the lines of Lincoln40 and have an affordable student housing proposal?
Second is what vehicle access will look like.
Staff notes, “The previous Nishi Gateway proposal included full vehicular access from West Olive as well as a connection to the UC Davis campus. Staff and the applicant are exploring alternatives that would reduce potential impacts on the Richards Boulevard corridor, including providing only bicycle/pedestrian/emergency vehicle access from West Olive.”
However, they write: “Another option excludes private vehicles, but would allow buses from West Olive Drive. This would provide Unitrans an alternative route from South Davis to campus other than through the Richards Underpass (which cannot accommodate double-decker buses) and downtown. The interface between buses and bicyclists/pedestrians on the Putah Creek Parkway would need to be carefully considered.”
Along those lines is the fact that the original proposal provided $10 million for Richards Blvd. and the Richards-Olive intersection improvement – will that funding still be offered with the new project?
Finally, questions have arisen as to how to deal with concerns about air quality, and the question will be how the new project will deal with those concerns and how much additional study will be available.
—David M. Greenwald reporting