The following is a letter dated November 17 to Davis City Manager Dirk Brazil from Mike McKeever, Executive Director of SACOG.
Re: Proposed Plan for the Mace Ranch Innovation Center
Dear Mr. Brazil,
On behalf of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), I am submitting to you our comments on the proposed Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC), which includes the 212-acre development site and the 17 -acre Mace Triangle site in unincorporated Yolo County. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this project as it relates to the Blueprint Preferred Scenario and growth principles. The Preferred Blueprint Scenario is a conceptual map based on the principles of smart growth. This Preferred Scenario is not intended to direct how a specific parcel should or should not be developed in a particular manner, but rather give some direction on how the region needs to develop generally to reap the benefits of the Blueprint.
SACOG staff evaluated the proposed plan and the Mixed-Use Alternative as identified in the Draft EIR for consistency with the Blueprint Preferred Scenario and growth principles. Our general reaction is that the proposed plan is supportive of the Blueprint, but the Mixed-Use Alternative illustrates how the project could be even more supportive of the Blueprint growth principles. The proposed plan and Mixed-Use Alternative are discussed below.
The MRIC, as defined in the Draft Environmental Impact Report, includes 2,654,000 square feet of retail, office, and industrial uses, as well as 75.8 acres of open space and 13.2 acres of transit plaza and parking (see Table 1 below). In addition to the transit hub, which will include car-share and vanpool parking, the proposed plan includes new roads, walkways, and bicycle paths connecting to the existing transportation and trail network.
The MRIC Draft Environmental Impact Report also includes analysis of a Mixed-Use Alternative, which includes the same employment uses as the proposed plan, but with the addition of 750 to 850 multifamily live-work units. This residential development is planned at an average density of 30 dwelling units per acre. Through underground private garages and vertical mixed use development, the Mixed-Use Alternative includes 11.2 additional acres of open space as compared to the proposed plan. Multimodal transportation features will generally be the same for the Mixed-Use Alternative as the proposed plan.
Findings and Evaluation
The proposed plan combines research into the long-term implications of business growth with an innovative approach to plan development. The project would attract an important employment sector to the city and would have great economic benefit for Davis and the region. The proposed plan also includes flexible business space to position the city for capturing a greater share of local and regional business growth in the employment center. The project also includes the following Blueprint-supportive elements:
- The proposed plan offers non-motorized transportation opportunities, which are consistent with the Blueprint transportation choice principle. The proposed transit plaza will provide Unitrans bus stops, as well as local shuttle and vanpool stops and parking for car-share. Walkways are included throughout the project. The proposal also includes a pedestrian/ bicycle corridor within the agricultural buffer, which provides connections to the existing pedestrian trails system and regional bike trail, as well as to bike lanes on existing roads adjacent to the site. The plan also incorporates bicycle amenities, including bicycle parking and a bike storage and repair area at the Transit Plaza. We note, however, that the project includes traditional parking ratios that may be higher than necessary after accounting for the type of innovation businesses targeted for the project and the trip reduction benefits of the project’s transportation demand management strategies. We encourage the city to consider lowering the parking requirement and allow flexibility for the innovation center to increase employment densities over time in response to market conditions. Excess parking land in the interim could be used for additional agricultural and/or open space.
- The proposed plan also includes parks, open space, and agricultural buffers consistent with the Blueprint natural resource conservation principle, including greenways, commons, courtyards, orchards, and plazas. The agricultural buffer will also provide opportunities for community gardens, organic agriculture, trails, shade trees, and native plant habitat. While the project will convert agricultural land to urban uses, the site is already bordered on two sides by urban development and permanent agriculture easements on its other sides, and the Blueprint envisioned the need for some small, targeted expansion of the city limits in order to accommodate some of its future growth.
The ultimate purpose of the Blueprint is to demonstrate development patterns that improve quality of life for both workers and residents. Building homes, shops, offices, entertainment, schools, and other uses within walking distance helps create active, vital neighborhoods. A community designed with a good, or balanced, mix of uses helps to encourage walking, biking, shorter driving trips, and transit use. It is important to have a balance of jobs and households so that jobs or housing do not have to be imported or exported beyond the normal out-and in-commuting that happens in a mobile society. All else being equal, areas with high or low jobs-housing balance are likely to generate longer commutes for workers. This is especially pertinent for employment centers.
Since the proposed plan does not incorporate housing, many workers will need to commute out of their area of residence in order to reach their job. These trips will result in high VMT, peak hour vehicle trips, and GHG emissions for the project, as demonstrated in the transportation and greenhouse gas impacts identified in chapters 4.7 and 4.14 of the DEIR. Lack of a balanced mix of uses will place a burden on the transportation system, reduce opportunities for transportation choice, and adversely impact air quality and quality of life for workers and residents. We encourage the City to identify additional housing capacity within Davis to accommodate the increased housing demand that will accompany the proposed project.
The Mixed-Use Alternative demonstrates how such integrated planning mitigates the impacts related to jobs/housing ratio included in the proposed plan. Providing on-site housing for the workforce results in the opportunity for short work trips. Through compact and mixed use development, the Mixed-Use Alternative includes a reduction in VMT, total and peak hour vehicle trips, and GHG emissions, with the added benefits of maximizing natural resources and increasing housing choice, transportation choice, and quality of life. The Mixed-Use Alternative includes the features of an active, vital neighborhood that will include quality of life for residents and workers, implementing the spirit of the Blueprint as described above. The elements of the Mixed-Use Alternative that support the growth principles of the Blueprint include:
- The Mixed-Use Alternative offers the same non-motorized transportation opportunities as the proposed plan, which are consistent with the Blueprint transportation choice principle. 1, addition, the Mixed-Use Alternative would extend the existing bike lane on County Road 32A around the Mace Curve, completing the connection. However, we note that similar to the proposed project, the Mixed-Use Alternative does include traditional parking ratios that may be higher than necessary after accounting for the trip reduction benefits of the on-site residential and commercial and transportation demand management strategies.
- The Mixed-Use Alternative also includes parks, open space, and agricultural buffers consistent with the Blueprint natural resource conservation principle. By including vertical mixed use development and moving parking underground, the Mixed-Use Alternative includes an additional 11.2 acres of open space as compared to the proposed plan.
- The Mixed Use Alternative also illustrates the benefits of the Blueprint principles of mixed and compact development. Districts that are both compact and mixed in uses are efficient in their use of land and resources, but also function as local activity centers, where people tend to walk or bike to destinations, use transit more frequently, and take shorter auto trips. The Mixed-Use alternative includes 750 to 850 live-work housing units and commercial to support the employment uses of the project. By adding medium and high density residential and including horizontal and vertical mixed use elements, the Mixed-Use Alternative also has lower annual GHG emissions than the proposed project.
- Housing choice and diversity is an important Blueprint principle so that multiple segments of the housing market can be met. The range of multifamily units proposed in the Mixed-Use Alternative offers housing types that are different from the single-family products in the neighboring Mace Ranch, Cottages North, and EI Macero Estates subdivisions. This mix of housing types, densities, and sizes would also correlate to a range in prices and rents that is expected to be more affordable than the average home in the area.
Overall, the proposed plan meets the spirit of the Blueprint growth principles. However, the Mixed-Use Alternative illustrates that the city could further maximize the Blueprint benefits of this unique project by planning for additional housing capacity within the city to accommodate the increased housing demand that will accompany the economic activity generated by the project. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Thank you for your consideration.