Analysis: Should Davis Push For More Density at Mace Ranch Innovation Center?

As the official applications – first by the Mace Ranch Innovation Center and today by the Davis Innovation Center – come in, we are able to start evaluating the actual proposals rather than the innovation park concepts in general.

One of the critical issues will be density. As anyone familiar with Interland, located south of I-80 off of Research Park Drive, knows, the city at that time did not maximize its density. The result is what, in many people’s view, is an under-utilized research park that contains single-story buildings and large, flat level parking lots.

A huge consideration with regard to density is the best utilization of existing space. The city of Davis is looking at a roughly 216-acre project at Mace Ranch Innovation Center and perhaps a comparably sized project west of Sutter-Davis Hospital. Not only will dense developments mean less encroachment onto existing agricultural land, they will lessen the need to look for additional land after build out.

On the other hand, developers are perhaps rightly concerned about traffic impacts on Mace Blvd., an already congested road that has a junction with I-80. However, the proposed site has access to a good county road and it abuts the railroad tracks, which could allow for some out-of-the-box thinking.

The developers have yet to do a traffic study on their proposal, to see the impacts on existing roads and whether they will be required to mitigate.

In terms of density, the stated goal is: “Achieve a 0.5 FAR [floor area ratio], consistent with the General Plan and previous business park land strategies.”

They will phase “the project over time, which will allow for a strong initial first phase that may be at a lower FAR, but then provide higher density in later phases to create the desired FAR.” They also plan to establish “higher density areas closer to plazas, key open spaces and the transit plaza to encourage a cross-pollenization of ideas and collaboration.”

The Project “will provide for construction of approximately 2.6 million square feet of industrial research office and development space, of which there may be up to 260,000 square feet (10%) of supportive commercial.”

The Project “identifies and incorporates several privately maintained parks and open space areas throughout the site totaling more than 75 acres of green space.” They write, “These areas are easily accessible from all structures and will include greenways, courtyards, commons, orchards and plazas. The greenways and open spaces are anchored by a 5.1 acre recreational park (‘the Oval’) which will be privately maintained but made available for public uses.”

The Center is also bordered by a minimum 150 foot wide greenbelt which “serves as an agricultural buffer but will include planned and natural spaces, a biking and walking trail, allowing scenic views of agricultural lands and the Sacramento skyline. This greenbelt buffer will also serve drainage and water quality purposes.”

In the city’s general plan, under University-Related Research Park which includes “offices and research and development uses (including but not limited to biotechnology) with limited amounts of ancillary light manufacturing, assembly, warehousing and distribution,” the maximum floor area ratio (FAR) is 50 percent (.5).

In 2012, Studio 30, a UC Davis Extension class, published the Innovation Center Study. Established in 2010 by the Davis City Council, the Innovation Park Task Force was “charged with exploring sites for future business park development to accommodate medium-scale businesses.”

Their ultimate job: “Prepare recommendation on how, where and whether to pursue construction of a future business/innovation park able to primarily accommodate space needs of growing companies in an innovation plan within or peripheral to existing City boundaries.”

They commissioned Studio 30, headed by Jeff Loux among others, to conduct “research findings including characteristics of successful innovation centers; specific strategies for the City of Davis; and site analysis, sample site plans and land use options for four potential innovation center sites in Davis.”

What they found was that for an Innovation Hub-Center which included “research and development/flex space where more innovation occurs,” the FAR would be 0.3 to 0.5 with an employee density per SF at 250.

However, office and research lab space could be more dense. This would be “Studio space, wet and dry research labs, incubator space, and offices where a large amount of work can be done” at between 0.3 and 1.0 FAR.

While Mace Ranch Innovation Center pushes toward the maximum 0.5 FAR that is allowable under the General Plan, there are many who wish to see more density. Naturally the city council could override the General Plan limitations – which would be subjected to a public vote anyway through Measure R. The other option would be for the city council to update the general plan as part of this process to allow greater density.

Again, if the city’s goal is to maximize the impact onto agricultural land, then greater density will allow the city to get more bang for its buck with one or two innovation parks. We need to learn from the mistakes in the past, where insufficient density has limited the ability for the city to bring in new businesses and keep startups that have grown beyond their initial needs.

Naturally we need to be mindful of traffic impacts, but both sites have the ability to utilize multiple modes of transportation.

The applicants note that there are four connections, three primary and one secondary, to the existing bordering roadway with access on County Road 32A as well as Mace Blvd.

They also note that the project will link with the “existing pedestrian trails system and a regional bike trail. The Yolo Causeway Bike Path connecting Davis to Sacramento abuts the Project site and will provide excellent nonautomotive access from the project to homes in West Sacramento and other nearby residential communities.”

They add, “The Center is proximate to a Yolo Bus stop from which landscaped pedestrian access will be improved to the site. There is an existing transit stop on Mace Boulevard adjacent to the Project and a transit hub is proposed in the heart of the center to allow for a centralized stop to accommodate all users.”

Thinking more outside the box presents a possibility of a commuter stop for Amtrak passengers as the project will abut the train tracks.

Density will represent one of the critical points of discussion as we move forward.

LEAN MORE ON THURSDAY WHEN The Davis Vanguard hosts an Innovation Park Informational Forum at the DMG Mori Seiki Conference Center located at 3805 Faraday Ave. in Davis, on Thursday, October 16 from 6:30pm to 8:00pm. The forum will be a town hall style discussion with panelists who will answer questions from the community about the potential innovation parks.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

UPDATE: Got the figures now from the city.  On Interland, looking at the parcels on Drew between Cowell and Research Park on the east side, is 235,000 sf on 16 acres or a FAR of 0.33.  The individual parcels range from 0.23 and 0.47 FAR.  On Nishi, the city is evaluating between 300,000 and 500,000 square feet on 13.24 net acres of the office/ R&D space.  That produces a FAR of between 0.52 and 0.87.

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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  1. Frankly

    Don’t try to micromanage the park design.  The developer works with commercial real estate brokers who works with actual prospective businesses that would locate here, and the design of the park is to meet their requirements.   This isn’t the same as a housing development where the city can dictate so much of the design because the demand for housing is so high that the units will sell in any case.  If the city were to succeed in doing the same micro management design of business parks, there is great risk that the parks will fail to attract the business we need.

  2. Davis Progressive

    “Don’t try to micromanage the park design.”

    that’s ridiculous.  suggesting that the density needs to be higher than an arbitrary .5 FAR is not micromanagement.

    1. Anon

      It might be micromanagement if that is not what the businesses need or want.  I would prefer a “wait and see” attitude for a bit, and see what potential businesses have to say.

      1. Davis Progressive

        we’re not going to get a lot of chances to build on the periphery.  if we do not make it dense enough, we’ll cause a problem.  there is no rule that says they have to build out to 1.0 FAR, but why limit yourself if you don’t have to?

        1. South of Davis

          DP wrote:

          > why would people vote down for density, when density

          > means we have to build on less land?

          Ask the people in Wildhorse why they only want four homes on a site that will fit eight…

        2. Frankly

          why would people vote down for density, when density means we have to build on less land?

          Because many people that claim they are for density are either lying to prevent growth (because they know there are few places and ways to increase density without building on peripheral land) or they are ignorant of the fact that their dislike of peripheral development is actually an emotional reaction to the impacts of greater density… but when it comes time to vote, they will do so based on their emotional reaction.

          There are plenty of studies that prove higher density living results in greater individual and collective conflict and stress.

          Don’t believe that the open space preservation goal is the driving motivation to block peripheral development.  There is really a very small cadre of people in this town truly motivated to preserve open space for open-space’s sake.



  3. noname

    “On the other hand, developers are perhaps rightly concerned about traffic impacts on Mace Blvd., an already congested road that has a junction with I-80.”

    A serious question – how would a more dense, or even less dense, project affect traffic impacts? If the project creates X jobs, does it matter if those jobs are in a higher-rise building or 2-3 buildings? It’s still the same number of people driving to work there, yes?

    I do think the sketch looks rather sprawling. Hard to see how that won’t require a major expansion of Mace.

    1. Barack Palin

      Agreed, and Covell might turn into a parking lot at peak times.  That part of the freeway at I 80 and Mace is always backed up now in the morning and night commutes. Add to that all the new Cannery traffic.

      1. Davis Progressive

        so what if you had a special train stop there so people didn’t have to drive?  what if you improved 32a so that not all the traffic had to flow from mace?  we haven’t seen the traffic study – they may have to do this anyway?

      2. Matt Williams

        Barack, the number of cars on I-80 between the Chiles exit (Yolo Fruit Stand) and the Richards exit (Davis Downtown) at peak times is probably 1000 times the number of cars that a Mace Innovation Park will add to that I-80 traffic. Any traffic challenge that will be created by going forward with this project will be on Mace and the roads that feed Mace, not on I-80. Further, the traffic backup on I-80 going east is caused by the through traffic volume on the Yolo Causeway, not by the traffic that enters I-80 from Davis.

        1. Barack Palin

          Matt, at 5 p.m. I can’t imagine having thousands of more cars going over Mace overpass and feeding into the already backed up corridor at Mace.   Now you know I’m for the innovation parks, but don’t try and act like there’s not going to be major traffic consequences because of the new park.  Making it denser is just going to add to the problem.

          1. Matt Williams

            Barack, I am no saying that at all. You said the traffic on I-80 would get significantly worse because of incrementally added traffic from the Mace interchange. I said you were wrong. That incremental traffic will be a drop in the bucket of the already existing thru-traffic on I-80. I then said that the traffic impact would be on Mace Boulevard and its feeder streets.

            I stand by those assessments.

            With that said, help me understand your statement “thousands of more cars going over the Mace overpass.” A Innovation Park employee who lives in central or north Davis won’t go over the Mace overpass. Only out of town commuters and South Davis residents will use the Mace overpass to get to their work. What proportion of the total Davis population do you think lives in South Davis?

    2. Davis Progressive

      more density is more square footage of building space on a given piece of land which means more employees on that land which means more tax return but also more traffic.

    3. Frankly

      Any concern about traffic impacts for the two east Davis options should dwarf the concerns about traffic on the north-west option.  Unless there is a connection off of I113, both Pedrick Road and Covell at the 113 interchange, are going to become crazy.   I support all the business park locations, but I hope that the NWQ park will include a connection with I113 other than Covell… otherwise I think the traffic impacts are going to bring out an army of opposition.

      1. Jim Frame

        I hope that the NWQ park will include a connection with I113 other than Covell

        Not very likely, I’m afraid.  My understanding is that Caltrans policy prohibits building a new interchange closer than 1 mile to an existing interchange.  When you go 1 mile north of Russell or 1 mile south of Road 29, you land right at the north end of the Binning Tract.  A new interchange there would wipe out about half of of those houses, and I don’t see that happening.

        Another general consideration is interchange cost; I don’t know how Caltrans funding works, but I don’t imagine they’ll build an interchange on the state’s dime just because a developer  wants them to.

        P.S.  Pedantic nomenclature note:  113 isn’t an interstate highway, it’s a state route, so “I113” isn’t a proper reference.  “SR113” is better, though I believe Caltrans sticks with just “Route 113.”

    4. Frankly

      Related to the i-80 traffic concerns – I I expect more rush-hour gridlock, if you look at the freeway just west of Davis, it narrows from 5 lanes to 3 lanes right before the Richards offramp.  And it stays 3 lanes until the I80/B80 split after the causeway.

      It is completely obvious to me that those five lanes will need to be extended across the causeway.  (in fact I think we were more than stupid to not have done that originally when the causeway was repaired and expanded 12-15 years ago.)  But, related to Nishi, the Olive Drive area, and other Davis freeway frontage, does the state have easements in place that would allow them to expand the freeway through Davis?

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        I believe the Causeway was expanded / retrofitted 30 years ago, which included connecting the middle section, expanded shoulders, and adding a very expensive bike lane.

        That bike lane is rarely used, and the previous connection by land seemed to work fine.

  4. David Greenwald

    please note that I updated the article with FAR figures for both Interland and proposed figures for Nishi.  Not surprising Interland is less dense while Nishi is more dense.

    1. Aggie

      What is the FAR of the existing commercial development on 2nd Street (not counting all the vacant land)?  The proposal looks like it is about he same density as the existing development along the 2nd Street corridor.

    1. hpierce

      “Ag tech needs single story buildings.”  That is incorrect, patently so.

      You make a good, valid point about letting the market decide on how they build, then you undermine it with a, frankly, stupid statement.

      Multiple story buildings cost more per square foot, than single story, including the requirement for elevators.  Where land costs are higher, multiple story buildings make sense, as the land cost exceeds the incremental building cost.  Try googling ‘ag tech buildings’, and you’ll see predominantly 2-3 story structures.  In Japan, some of the ag tech buildings have a smaller footprint, and are 6 + stories.  Economics, plain and simple.


      1. Frankly

        I have been told that ag-tech lab space needs to be single story, including greenhouse space.  Please share with me any resources that explain otherwise.  I am interested to learn.  If I am really stupid, I strive for it to be temporary.

        Note that I am in the business of small business commercial real estate finance and so I have some experience in this area… and most of the Ag-business-realted properties we finance are single-story.

        Now, the administration parts of these businesses can certainly work in mufti-story buildings.

        I get your point about economics and land costs.





        1. hpierce

          As I said, google “ag tech structures”.  That and following links, is all I did, but it dispelled your blanket statement.  In the Sacramento Valley (and San Joaquin) land is cheap (relatively), which gets back to the economics.  I just hate to see you make valid points, then shoot yourself in the foot with a silly generalization.  Apologize for going ‘over the top’ myself with the word “stupid”.  May I substitute “ill-advised”, or “self-inflicted wound”?

        2. Frankly

          No need to apologize.  I have been called much worse on the VG!

          I know an ag-tech CEO and am going to talk to him about facilities needs.  I will report back.

  5. Alan Miller

    1) Increasing traffic from east on Road 32-A is a problem, as the crossing at Road 32-A (Swingle Crossing) is notoriously dangerous.  I read a quote from the Davis Enterprise at the last City Council meeting from a double-fatality accident with a train that stated the crossing had gained the knickname “suicide crossing”.  That was in 1949.  There have been several fatalities here in the last 25 years, numerous car-train collisions, and even a derailment of a Capitol Corridor train and a fire caused by a car on the tracks.  Davis and Yolo County need to strongly lobby for funding to grade-separate this crossing, especially if a business park is going in nearby.

    2) The so-called connection to the bike path to Sacramento needs to be vastly improved, and this could be a mitigation measure for the project.  The only portion of the bike path that is separated from the street is on the wrong side of the tracks and has no connections from Road 32-A crossing to Olive Drive except at Mace.  The bicycle lanes between Road 32-A and the Causeway could use further upgrade or an entirely new off-road path would be welcome, especially as the area is subject to heavy fog some winters.  As well, the bicycle connection from Chiles Road under the freeway is void of shoulders and very rough and needs to be upgraded.

    3) An interior transit stop is a two-edged sword.  While great for those that work in the park and great to “say” in an EIR, the actual implementation is considerably less attractive.  Every other passenger on a through bus has to wind into-and-out-of the park on every trip.   Yolo Bus already has too many of these “detours” on its routes, especially on Route 42.

    4) An Amtrak station at Mace Boulevard is not going to happen.  The Capitol Corridor is an intercity rail route and as such has criteria for adding new stops.  Such a stop just a couple of miles from another stop isn’t even close to meeting this criteria.  Even a commuter system would be hard pressed to justify two stops that close together, and light rail to Davis is a ridiculously costly speculation that no one reading this article will ever even see break ground; the impediments to this are no population for seven miles when light rail requires high-density, plus $10’s of millions in construction costs for a new, double-track light rail Causeway bridge..  In addition, Union Pacific now requires complete passenger-rail separation at all new passenger rail stations, i.e. passengers must go over or under tracks, pushing construction costs for such a new station into the $50 million range.  In conclusion:  ain’t gonna happen.

    1. David Greenwald

      “the crossing at Road 32-A (Swingle Crossing) is notoriously dangerous.”

      When I met with the developer, we talked about that for a brief time. This is actually a potential opportunity to improve that crossing.

    2. South of Davis

      Alan wrote:

      > light rail to Davis is a ridiculously costly speculation that no

      >  one reading this article will ever even see break ground;

      When I lived in SF Willie Brown paid about $100 MILLION a mile to extend light rail out to Hunters Point.  I recently read that the new SF extension of light rain in to Chinatown is going to cost over $1 BILLION a mile…

      1. Alan Miller

        I am a great fan of light rail; I am not a great fan of light rail planned by the “maximize the amount of concrete poured to maximize the amount of money coming into our town and into our contractors pockets” model.

        What I am saying is I agree with SOD on this one.  These are poorly planned projects that make the ability to create good projects difficult.  The entire Santa Clara County light rail system is based on a similar plan and has the poorest ridership and farebox recovery ratio in the country.

        There are several extensions to Sacramento RT that make sense.  A Davis line is not among them.

    3. hpierce

      Alan… you need a reality check on your point 1).  Unless we relocate the tracks, raise them significantly from ~ 2 miles east of 105 to 2 miles west of 105, or relocate I-80, there isn’t a chance in hell of a feasible grade crossing there.  A liberal arts major may say it’s critical, but it might be as easy to transform lead into gold with a philosophers’ stone and incantations.

      1. Alan Miller

        What you said makes no sense.  Why spend multiple times the money to raise the tracks, and to what end?  At a rail junction with a yard through a town that is multiple hundreds of millions of dollars, and again, to what end?

        The grade crossing at 32-A, also expensive, but in the few tens of millions.  There is an example of such a crossing just south of Merced on BNSF, and another between Palisade and Grand Junction on UPRR.

        1. hpierce

          Alan… think you went “off the track”.  You suggest a grade separated crossing @ 105… that’s where the tracks would have to be raised to begin to make that work, from a feasibility standpoint.  Example:  San Mateo, crossing from Pacific/Old County Road to El Camino Real, near 42nd Ave.  Two parallel roads in close proximity to tracks…. I see 10 million coming to help 105 as a 100 million to one shot.

  6. Alan Miller

    “This is actually a potential opportunity to improve that crossing.”


    The design would likely be a T-intersection of Road 32-A and Road 105, with 32-A continuing east and S-ing gently right over the tracks and gently left back down on the south side of the tracks heading eastbound.

    This would not come cheap.  There is a state program to fund improvements to dangerous crossings on a formula basis including accident rate, frequency of trains and auto traffic.  With the number of incidents, I am surprised this crossing has not been eligible, or has no one applied?  With the projected traffic increase due to the business park, that might throw the formula over the edge (if speculation of future traffic is considered in the formula).

  7. Michael Harrington

    What’s so insane is the developers, and the DV to some extent, are trying to sell this business park as the solution to the city’s over-extended budget.  (“Sky is falling!  If we don’t get the revenue from this Park, the parks and greenbelts and family programs are GONE!”)

    No one is talking about measures to reduce the currently still way-over-rich staffing expenses, thereby possibly cutting back the need for more large revenue sources.

    Now we have a new City Manager who comes out of the Wolk state offices in Sacramento.  Meaning, the public employee unions are still going to maintain too much power in the city government.

    I will say one thing:  if the city budget is not properly adjusted, any sort of revenue enhancement (ie, parcel tax) is DBA.  Power to the people.

    1. Frankly

      I assume you meant “Dead on Arrival” (DOA) and not “Doing Business As” (DBA).

      No one is talking about measures to reduce the currently still way-over-rich staffing expenses, thereby possibly cutting back the need for more large revenue sources.

      You an an attorney with city council experience.  Please help us understand how we can reduce city retiree benefits to the extent required to balance the budget.   I only know one way… continue toward a path of fiscal insolvency to the point that we can claim a fiscal emergency or bankruptcy and then get to rewrite those agreements… which are legally binding agreements as I understand.

      If you figure it out, I think you could make another boatload of money consulting with every other city in California.


    2. Gunrocik

      So says the former Council member who approved enhanced retirement benefits for firefighters and police officers and just extorted $190,000 out of the City and also cost the City far more than that for its own legal bills. The City would have had more time to focus on budget issues if Mr. Harrington hadn’t been attempting to masquerade as a rate payer savior when in reality he just wanted to kill the project.

      1. hpierce

        Sometimes I wonder if Mr H is just resenting that he wasn’t elected for a second term, where he would have been a recipient of lifelong ‘retiree medical’. paid for by the city, and vesting in PERS (albeit at a very low rate, on the latter).

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