Should the City Extend the Deadline For the Construction of Development Projects?

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housing-size-150Last fall, when the council was debating whether or not to approve a development proposal at the 29 unit project Willowbank in South Davis, the question came up as to whether or not this was the appropriate time to approve new development units.  Problem as acknowledged by council and staff was a large number of units approved but not built due to the economic downturn and the decline of the real estate market.

Concerns were raised and the Mayor went as far as to suggest that they may consider time limitations on entitlements to encourage the developers to build in a more timely manner in order to avoid a glut on the market when things finally improved.

Now roughly six months later there is an item on tonight’s consent calendar that recommends granting an additional twelve month extension for development entitlements granted prior to the recent economic downturn.

According to the staff report, approximately 298 dwelling units have been approved but have not been built.  Writes Katherine Hess and Sarah Worely, “The duration of the economic downturn has continued to reduce the availability of development financing and reduce potential rents/sales prices. The combination has continued to stall many of these developments. We do not know when the economy will recover.”

They continue that in 2009, the State of California approved SB 1185 to grant an additional 12 month extension to all tentative subdivision maps.  They write, “The purpose of the legislation is to permit agencies to preserve development applications that are set to expire and that cannot be processed presently due to prevailing adverse economic conditions in the construction industry. Cities and counties throughout California are considering additional blanket extensions to other land-use entitlements with the same goal.”

Staff recommends the granting of this extension with certain stipulations including “developments taking advantage of the extension to be subject to Green Building Ordinance.”

Citing as their rationale for such a move, they argue first, “The City has limited ability to provide assistance to encourage appropriate development.  Granting the extension removes a barrier to construction by eliminating the need to go through a future public hearing process, for a project that has already been determined to be desirable to the City of Davis.”

Second, “The limited term of the extension reduces the likelihood that City will end up approving building permits for a development it no longer desires.”  And third, “The only major regulatory change over the past few years has been adoption of the Green Building Ordinance. Developments taking advantage of the extension will be subject to this requirement even if they would otherwise be grandfathered.”

The staff report offers three reasons not to grant the extension.  First they argue, “The City’s desires for development on a given parcel may have changed, or may change between now and the time of construction. Granting the extension locks in previous
approvals and does not allow for future public review of a development concept.”

Second, they suggest, “Extending entitlements may encourage a development “boom” once economic conditions improve. Particularly with residential development, the City has worked to provide steady growth, rather than booms and busts.”

Third, “There is still no guarantee that construction will occur, even by summer 2011. The City may be faced with requests for additional extensions at that time.”

Commentary

Staff not surprisingly misses the point here.  City council has been in such a rush it seems at times to approve these developments that they have rammed them through despite considerable objection from the neighbors.  Two particular cases in point are Simmons Ranch and Willowbank.  If these projects are not going to be built any time soon, and in fact, the council might need to consider an extension for their development, why the need to approve them at that time.

The residents around Simmons Ranch had considerable existing concerns with the project, they had an agreement with the developer and that agreement was abrogated by the city.

For the people at Willowbank, they had worked considerably with the developers, but still had issues.  The issue of non-developed entitled properties was raised and council still proceeded to ram it through by a 3-2 vote without joint agreement with the neighbors.  One has to question those actions particularly in light of the fact that now the city staff is asking for extensions.

If we need extensions, stop approving developments until the economy improves.  Is this really a difficult concept to contemplate?

I have heard over and over again that the justification for the 1% growth cap is to avoid the boom and bust cycles of development.  But when 300 units, and really I think the number is closer to 500, are approved but not built, time to stop approving projects unless there is a good reason to do so.

First, if the project is particularly innovative.  But none of the projects entitled are innovative.  The only good thing about this extension is that it might lead to greener projects.

Second, if the project is agreeable to the neighbors.  So few projects have been met with full support from the neighbors.  I do not believe that neighbors views are sacrosanct, but the council seems to ram some of these projects through above the reasonable objections of the neighbors.  Some points of agreement will never be reached, that makes sense.  But for any points that can be negotiated and agreed upon, they should.

The problem is that now we have seen numerous examples of projects getting rammed through on 3-2 votes over the objection of neighbors, entitled, and then lying unbuilt and now the city staff wants the council to reward this behavior?  That makes no sense.  We need more requirements that entitled projects get built in a timely manner, not incentives for developers not to begin construction.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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2 thoughts on “Should the City Extend the Deadline For the Construction of Development Projects?”

  1. davisite2

    There is absolutely no time pressure to decide this issue by consent without open debate at this time.
    The reason that it is on the consent calendar just weeks before a new Council is to be seated should be obvious to everyone. Will Sue Greenwald and/or Lamar Heystek pull this item from the consent calendar item? Will they get a third vote to table it until the new Council is in place?

  2. davisite2

    “According to the staff report, approximately 298 dwelling units have been approved but have not been built. Writes Katherine Hess and Sarah Worely,.”

    Wasn’t Katherine Hesse “transferred” to another department, not directly involved with residential development?

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