City Releases Draft EIR of Nishi, Touted As Model for Sustainable Low-Carbon Land Use Development

Interior View of Nishi
Nishi Artist Rendering
Nishi Artist Rendering

The city of Davis has released its third major report following last month’s release of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center Draft EIR. The city released its Economic Impact Report earlier this week and, on Thursday, the Draft EIR for the Nishi Gateway Project. The community now has 46 days to provide comments during the DEIR comment period from September 10 through October 26, 2015.  The document is available here.

The Nishi Gateway Innovation District is a collaborative planning process among the city, UC Davis and Yolo County, and is proposed on the 47-acre Nishi property adjacent to the city limits and UC Davis. The Innovation District also includes West Olive Drive and is designed to complement adjacent uses on the UC Davis campus.

“The City is planning and implementing strategies to create a strong and sustainable local economy that fits within the context of Davis’ community values,” said Mayor Dan Wolk in the city’s press release. “Building innovation centers in our community leverages our existing assets and positions our city to provide jobs for our community’s next leaders.”

According to the city’s release, the Draft EIR analyzes impacts that may result from development of the project under different circumstances, including full project buildout, no project, and several alternatives which provide additional important information and context for the community and council to consider.

The alternatives studied in the EIR include examining research and development (R&D) only, alternative land use mix, and off-site (5th Street corridor) considerations. The DEIR addresses the impact of development of the 47-acre Nishi property as a mixed-use innovation district, as well as potential redevelopment of properties on West Olive Drive.

The city announced it has also had a Sustainability Implementation Plan prepared for Nishi Gateway, discussed earlier this week in a release by the developers. The Sustainability Implementation Plan establishes goals and ways to implement actions in the areas of energy, water, transportation and open space. The sustainability plan and environmental analysis were prepared with the assistance of a grant from the State of California Strategic Growth Council. Yolo County was a co-applicant for the grant, with assistance from UC Davis.

Nishi artist rendering Interior View
Nishi artist rendering Interior View

At the October 14, 2015, Planning Commission meeting staff will present a summary of the Nishi Gateway Innovation District DEIR and the public will have the opportunity to present verbal comments on the document. Staff will also present the project to several of the city’s commissions, and a schedule with each presentation is available on the city’s website.

In addition to the required DEIR process, the city is also analyzing other important project elements, such as project design and architecture, community benefits and overall project merit. On September 9, the city released the Economic and Fiscal Impact Analysis Report, identifying the potential long term economic impacts of both the Nishi Gateway Innovation District and the Mace Ranch Innovation District.

“The City continues to solicit community feedback to ensure the projects are reflective of our community’s values,” said Chief Innovation Officer Diane Parro. “Additional opportunities for the community to learn more and discuss the projects with City staff and project applicants will be scheduled for this fall.”

In a separate release by the developer, they note that the Draft EIR states that Nishi “would serve as a model for the region in sustainable low-carbon land use development.”

“After several years of close planning with the City, University, County, and community partners, I’m excited that we’ve reached this significant milestone,” said Tim Ruff, a partner of the Nishi Gateway property.

He continues, “This project presents a tremendous opportunity to create a dynamic live-work neighborhood that will help boost our City’s economy. Adjacent to existing transit and mobility infrastructure, including the Amtrak station and Davis Bike Loop, Nishi offers a sustainable option to strengthen our downtown, provide much needed space for businesses, and address our student housing crisis. City, University, and County staff have done an incredible job collaborating on this effort.”

The Draft EIR, as highlighted in the developer’s press release, notes that the Nishi Gateway will:

  • Exceed CALGREEN Tier 1 standards by 30%, qualifying for LEED certification.
  • Offset electricity use almost entirely through on-site solar energy sources, developing “some of the most energy efficient structures built in the state to date.”
  • Preserve more than 50% of the project site in open space for biking, walking, parks, and habitat enhancement.
  • Result in lower carbon emissions than other locations in Davis because it’s within walking and biking distance of downtown and the campus.
  • Reduce commutes by providing a jobs and housing balance.
  • Establish “a comprehensive multi-modal system and transportation plan with safe, dynamic, well-planned automobile, bicycle, pedestrian, and mass transit connections,” with close proximity to Yolobus, Unitrans, and Amtrak.
  • Create a network of bike/pedestrian trails that would connect to the existing Putah Creek Trail, Richards Boulevard, Old Davis Road, and the UC Davis Arboretum.

As the Draft EIR highlights, in 2012 the City of Davis conducted an Innovation Center Study and concluded that “the Nishi site represented the best opportunity for a close-in innovation hub” and should be pursued as a top priority.

“The Nishi Gateway project will support the mission of the University and strengthen downtown businesses while remaining true to Davis values,” Mr. Ruff added. “When UC Davis and our downtown are healthy, we can create a stronger community that provides opportunities for the diverse residents that call Davis home. Since it is adjacent to campus, Nishi is the best location in the City to capture the technology developed at UC Davis for small business growth, providing a further boost to the local economy.”

The developer argues that the “City of Davis currently faces a 0.3% vacancy rate, creating one of the most restrictive housing markets in the nation.  This scarcity of housing forces thousands of students and employees to commute from other cities, clogging our roadways. It has also directly contributed to the rise of mini-dorms in residential neighborhoods, decreasing the availability, affordability, and quality of housing for families.”

The Nishi Gateway, the release continues, “directly addresses the student housing crisis by providing up to 1,500 beds close to campus. The Nishi Gateway location will enable residents to choose a car-free lifestyle.”

As the Draft EIR notes, “Given that approximately 75 percent of UC Davis students currently live in off-campus housing, siting new housing [like Nishi] closer to campus would allow more students to travel shorter distances to campus when compared to most other off-campus housing situations.”

Included in the Draft EIR is the “Sustainability Implementation Plan.” This Sustainability Implementation Plan makes the Nishi Gateway Project “a more sustainable development and model for future development within the City and the region.”

It was the result of a grant awarded by the Strategic Growth Council’s Sustainable Communities Planning Grant Program for projects “with a focus on sustainability and green development.”

They ranked Nishi Gateway the #1 project in the state for its sustainability goals and granted funding in 2014 following multiple letters of support in 2012 from UCD, Yolo County and community leaders.

To these ends, the Sustainability Implementation Plan ensures that the Nishi Gateway Project will:

  1. “Serve as a model for low-carbon, climate-resilient development that also enhances the fiscal and equitable sustainability of the broader community.”
  2. “Strive for carbon neutral transportation through the use of innovative designs, infrastructure, technologies, and programs.”
  3. “Design and construct high-performance buildings, public lighting, and onsite renewable energy systems that work towards achieving zero net energy (ZNE).”
  4. “Maximize water and wastewater efficiency through the use of conservation, reuse and integrated landscaping and stormwater management strategies.”
  5. “Create synergy with other project design goals and existing community sustainability initiatives.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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. Nancy Price

    Just how many innovation parks do we need “in Davis?”

    What is the estimated build-out for Nishi?

    Open space for walking and enjoying the outdoors is touted, but this is a site with hugely significant air quality impacts from contamination by freeway traffic exhaust and particulate matter from tires and asphalt. How will that be mitigated, so it is actually fairly safe to be outdoors if you live, work, and play there?  There should be a large tree buffer at the very least that not only acts as a filter, but also helps to sequester  carbon.


    1. David Greenwald

      It’s not an innovation park. It is a mixed use housing development with a relatively small innovation component to it. I think they are looking at 20 years.

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