In just under a month the voters of Davis will have a decision to make as to whether or not to approve the West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC). Over the course of the next few weeks, we hope to raise issues that will help the voters make up their own minds as to whether or not to support the project, which will also include coverage of the forum scheduled for 2 pm next Sunday.
While a lot of issues have been raised in the last two months, I think the core issue comes down to this: What type of housing do we need in Davis? There are several components to that, which I will break down in this piece.
Here I look at three issues: Who we should provide housing for, where we should provide that housing, and what that housing should look like.
The proponents of this project have made the case that Davis has a large and growing senior population. With a growing senior population, there is at least a sizable segment living in homes which they purchased at other stages of their lives – when they were younger, had families and children in the home, and were working and active.
At this stage of their lives, their children are grown, they may still be in good health, but they no longer need the large, single-family home and they may be looking to downsize. The developers have presented a theory that those people will look to move to a smaller place, and that in turn will free up their existing homes for other families to move into.
We have already spent some time arguing against this theory, both from the questions about whether they could limit purchases to those with ties to Davis and questions about whether freeing up such homes will allow families to move to Davis – or simply wealthy people fleeing the high market of the Bay Area.
Aside from this are questions about the appropriateness of a senior-oriented housing. We note that there have been lots of questions over the last two years about building housing that caters to students, and there are similar questions about housing that caters to seniors.
Davis has a lot of housing needs, ranging from student housing – which we have addressed but remains up in the air, given litigation – to affordable housing for families and others to be able to purchase homes, to workforce housing for people who work in Davis but either cannot find housing or cannot afford it, and we also have needs for senior housing.
One of the key questions for the voters to unpack is whether the city should be providing housing designed primarily for one group of needs or whether each project should seek to serve a broader cross-section of needs.
These are critical questions that will of course come down somewhat to individual preferences.
The second question is where we should provide housing. I see two basic issues here. The first has been raised by opponents of the campaign – and one that I disagree with, as the point has been made that West Davis Active Adult Community is isolated and located too far from the central core.
I have countered that actually the location for seniors is fairly good – it is across the street from other senior housing, it is next door to medical facilities and less than half a mile from critical services.
However, there is another issue – should Davis be building additional housing at this time on the periphery? Every time we build over farmland, I think we have to ask the question – is this most efficient and best use of this land? In recent years, I have been very supportive of infill development and densification – within reason, but moving beyond our de facto urban limit line is a big deal and one that should not be taken lightly.
Can we serve the needs of seniors elsewhere? Is this the most efficient and best use of the land?
As I pointed out in my column this week, we are not going to get many peripheral bites at the apple as long as Measure R is in effect. This may be the only peripheral project for the next ten years. Are we doing what we should here?
Finally, the question I had earlier this week: Is this the type of housing that we need? We are primarily building two kinds of housing here. Single-family homes that are detached, with fairly low density. These are traditional, for sale, detached homes. And then we have much higher density, smaller, affordable apartments.
As such, we are serving people who already own homes looking to downsize, and are we serving extremely low income folks, who are in need of affordable housing?
What we don’t have here is anything really in the middle. We don’t have attached townhouses. We don’t have condos or other smaller ownership homes.
The developers have compared the density of West Davis to other similar developments and found it to be right in the middle.
But they aren’t comparing it to much higher density homes. A reader calculated density at some of the other senior housing facilities – URC, Shasta Point and Atria.
Here’s what he found:
URC has a total of 244 units on 11.1 acres for a gross density of 22.0 and a net density close to 30.0
Shasta Point, the affordable component built in conjunction with the URC project, has a total of 68 units on 1.6 acres for a gross density of 43.6 and a net density close to 50.0
Atria Covell Gardens has a total of 157 units on 4.4 acres for a gross density of 35.7 and a net density close between 40.0 and 50.0.
The WDAAC applicants present the figures for their project at 560 units on 42.7 acres, a net density of 13.1 units per acre.
The developers would argue and have argued that they are providing housing that they think their targeted customers want to purchase. But this project, while it provides some downsizing, really could do much more on the space that it has and it could move the ball forward in terms of efficiency and densification, as our world is going to have to grapple with real change in the next 20 years.
These are of course tough questions that we have to consider – much bigger than a single development in a small community in California – but, nevertheless, if we do not ask these questions now, when is the right time? If not us, then who?
Can we afford to build housing that doesn’t move the ball significantly forward toward a more responsible future?
All of these are questions that voters must grapple with in deciding in the next month how they will vote on this project.
—David M. Greenwald reporting