Last week, Dan Ramos, representing the Mace Race Innovation Center (MRIC) project applicant, requested consideration of a Mixed Use Alternative. As a result, a project update of the MRIC will include a recommendation from city staff to receive direction regarding the next steps for the project proposal and specifically “how to treat the Mixed Use Alternative throughout the remainder of the development review process.”
Staff lists three possible options for consideration. First, to direct staff “to proceed with development of a project action package for the project as proposed.” Second, to direct staff “to proceed with the development of dual project action packages (one for the project as proposed and one for the mixed use alternative). Or third, to direct staff “to return to Council in early January for a more focused discussion of how to proceed regarding the Mixed Use Alternative.”
The Mixed Use Alternative was evaluated in the Draft EIR at the suggestion of staff and at the direction of council “to ensure a robust and defensible EIR by evaluating a full range of alternatives.”
Dan Ramos, in his letter, notes that they have had the opportunity following that evaluation to more fully explore the concept of Mixed Use and have expressed interest in pursuing the concept further. Mr. Ramos goes so far as to suggest that the council solely consider the mixed use concept and discontinue pursuit of the original proposal that did not include housing.
However, the concept of mixed use has received considerable pushback from many on the Vanguard who otherwise support the innovation park concept. At the forum on Saturday, Councilmember Brett Lee indicated his opposition to a mixed use proposal at MRIC.
On the other hand, a letter from SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) submitted to the city council concludes, “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.”
Staff responds, “Notwithstanding the request by the applicant noted above, as the project proceeds throughout the remainder of the development review process, staff would be developing a package of materials for consideration and action by the Planning Commission and City Council. This ‘project action package’ need be only as detailed as is necessary to meet regulatory requirements and allow for informed decision-making (by both the City and community) regarding the project.”
Staff adds, “Were the City Council to ultimately decide to reject the proposed project in favor of the Mixed Use Alternative, the Council would direct staff at that time to return with a modified project action package. As an option, however, the Council could also direct staff to prepare two project action packages for consideration: one for the project as proposed and one for the Mixed Use Alternative (which was analyzed at an equal level of detail in the project EIR). With either direction the Council would be under no obligation to take any particular action on the project or any alternative until the hearings in April 2016.”
Staff notes that “because a choice between the project and any of the alternatives is not properly before the Council until after completion of the environmental review process, analysis of the merits of the project by staff, and consideration and recommendation by the Planning Commission, we do not recommend the Council express a preference for any alternative over the project at this time or direct staff to focus on processing the Mixed Use Alternative rather than the proposed project as suggested by the applicant.”
They express concern that “any such action could adversely affect the City’s ability to substantiate findings of fact in support of rejecting the Mixed Use Alternative were that ultimately to be the desired direction of the Council. We also seek to preserve the Council’s ability to make any appropriate decision regarding the project and alternatives, including consideration of the provision of workforce housing off-site rather than onsite which could attain the same or similar benefits as the Mixed Use Alternative without the inclusion of housing within the innovation center. Therefore, staff advises that any direction the Council might chose to provide on this item should be limited to the options described above.”
The agenda item also notes that on December 16 there will be a planning commission hearing on Nishi along with the release of the Nishi Final EIR. The final MRIC EIR will be on January 13.
Full letter from Dan Ramos:
Dear Mayor Wolk and Members of the Council:
Since the release of the Draft EIR for the Mace Ranch Innovation Center, there has been a substantial amount of discussion regarding the Mixed-Use Alternative identified in the document. That alternative, which was developed by the preparers of the EIR, was intended, as we understand it, to identify an alternative project which would be less environmentally impacting, specifically with respect to traffic, air quality, VMT and greenhouse gas impacts. Yet that identified alternative, which was deemed the environmentally superior alternative, is inconsistent with the initial notion expressed by the Council that any innovation project contain no housing, a concept which was reaffirmed on December 16, 2014 when you adopted the Guiding Principles for the proposed innovation parks. These Guiding Principles do not include housing as a potential use in an innovation center, but they do encourage the concept of “work, live, play.” All of this has resulted in a somewhat confusing situation.
The Mace Ranch Innovation Center applicants would accordingly like to request that the Council provide feedback to the staff and the applicants concerning how to proceed with the identified mixed use alternative. In particular, we are interested in having the Council direct the staff to employ its primary resources to the preparation of an entitlement package and development agreement which relies upon the mixed use alternative as opposed to the submitted project. This request, if granted, would involve the deployment of staff resources only. It would not constitute a project approval nor would it preclude the Council from eventually approving the project as submitted or approving no project at all after environmental review and public hearings are completed. Put simply, it would constitute only initial direction to staff regarding what the Council would like to have more thoroughly prepared and presented to it when it actually considers whether or not to approve a proposal.
Furthermore, we recognize that the Council could elect, at the public hearing on our proposal, to proceed with the originally submitted project instead of the mixed use alternative. If this occurs, there could be a processing delay while a complete entitlement package and development agreement for the original proposal are being prepared. It is understood that any such delay could, and likely would, impact our ability to be placed on the November, 2016 ballot.
Interestingly enough, as we have proceeded over the last several months, our team has become convinced that a viable innovation center should contain a housing component such as the one reflected in the mixed use alternative. This is interesting because we initially were highly opposed to the inclusion of a housing component in our project. Over time, however, our view has changed. Why? First, because we have learned that cutting edge innovation centers now almost always contain a housing component, the primary purpose of which is to provide housing for those who work at the innovation center. This proximate housing is endemic of the unique live/work relationship prevalent in the tech industry and is essential to the effective marketing of innovation centers. Second, through both the Draft EIR and our own efforts at developing a first-rate sustainability plan, we have learned that a housing component contributes the reduction of VMT and has a corresponding reduction of air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. These highly desirable environmental results are important and it is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve a high degree of sustainability without them. Altogether it is these factors which have been so convincing to us and we hope will be to the Council as well.
We look forward to appearing before you, along with others from the community, on December 15 and would appreciate receiving your feedback to our request at that time.
Very truly yours,
Daniel F Ramos
Mace Ranch Innovation Center