Last week, the Davis City Council heard a lengthy presentation, some public comment, and then had some discussion on Nishi. Next Tuesday, the council will hold a public hearing on the project application, but it appears to be headed toward action at its February 2 meeting, with a February 16 deadline for putting the measure on the ballot.
The Nishi project requires voter approval under Measure R, however, as staff points out, proposed charges to West Olive Drive would not require a vote and could be entitled through an amendment to the Gateway/Olive Drive Specific Plan.
As the Vanguard explained earlier this week, Measure R requires the establishment of “Baseline Project Features,” that “cannot be eliminated, reduced or significantly modified without subsequent voter approval.”
Right now staff is requesting policy direction on “the concepts for Baseline Project Features and Development Agreement provisions at this meeting, so that documents can be prepared for action on the meeting of February 2, 2016.”
City staff is recommending the following site plan components be included as Baseline Project Features:
- Up to 650 residential units (apartments and condominiums).
- Up to 325,000 square feet of office/R&D
- Ancillary ground-floor retail, as established by Planned Development zoning
- Hotel or extended stay hotel may be added, as conditional use in residential or commercial zoning district, subject to discretionary review and environmental/market analysis
- Additional 20% residential units may be added, subject to discretionary review, environmental analysis, and no additional parking.
- Minimum of 14-16 acres open space, greenbelt, and parks (not including drainage)
- Maximum 1,732 surface and structured vehicle parking spaces, which reflects a 10% reduction from the 1,925 spaces on original plan)
- Circulation components including vehicle connections to Olive Drive and to Old Davis
- Road on the UC Davis campus, and separated bikeway connecting the Putah Creek Parkway to Old Davis Road.
According to staff, “These baseline features allow potential increase in residential units, or addition of a hotel, without a requirement for subsequent voter approval.” However, some are questioning the ability of the city to do this – and including such uncertainties may result in legal action.
Staff continues, “Staff notes that the identified parkland acreage reflects a range, rather than the specific number shown on the current site plan. The project has not been engineered, so precise calculations of land required for drainage, roadway grades, buffers, parking, and similar infrastructure requirements have not been established. This range will provide necessary flexibility, while ensuring compliance with the expectations of the Sustainability Implementation Plan and City standards.”
One of the big questions will be whether this project is ready to go on the ballot. In the last week, two key city commissions have weighed in with different answers. The Planning Commission, despite expressing concerns about air quality, traffic and circulation, forwarded to council the project on a 5-2 vote. On the other hand, the Finance and Budget Commission recommended, on a 6-1 vote with Dan Carson dissenting, “that the city council does not approve development of innovation center projects until the economic analyses are complete and accurate.”
The Vanguard has taken a temperature reading of the city council and has found a mix of views, ranging from this project should definitely be put off to there are concerns but those can be worked out prior to voter approval.
In addition to conflicting fiscal assessments of the project, there are concerns about access to UC Davis as well as correction to the Richards Boulevard interchange. As a result, there is a proposal for phasing the project in, tied to the completion of the connection to the UC Davis campus, which “requires completion of the Long Range Development Plan and environmental review, and approval of the Regents” as well completion of Richards interchange improvements.
Staff writes, “At the City Council workshop, the property owner suggested two project phases tied to completion of these projects. The northern phase could be occupied only after completion of the Richards interchange improvements, while the southern phase could be occupied only after completion of the connection to UC Davis.”
Staff suggests an alternative, that the council “may wish to consider a phasing requirement that does not allow any construction on the property until completion of both improvements. This would likely defer all construction until after 2020 – if not later.”
They argue, “Advantages to this approach include clearer ‘messaging’ to the community, and a strong commitment from the property owner and the City Council that the mixed-use innovation district principles of connectivity and campus partnership are paramount.”
On the other hand, “A disadvantage to this phasing requirement is deferral of any opportunities for desired residential or business development to an uncertain time. This would also extend the overall time of construction activity in the area, because efforts would be sequential rather than simultaneous.”
However, phasing raises other issues as well. First, it raises the question as to why put a project on the ballot when it won’t be built for several years. At the very least, some will argue, push the project off to November. The second question is whether voters will approve a project with this amount of uncertainty.
The Vanguard has also suggested that reductions in parking spaces, and re-routing traffic through campus, could eliminate the need for tying the project to improvements to Richards Blvd.
This week, the Vanguard has published articles on the Finance and Budget Commission’s fiscal concerns, as well as Dan Carson’s belief expressed in his op-ed published today that “Nishi Project Could Provide the City a Big Financial Boost.”
From the city’s perspective: “The property owner has committed to a Baseline Project Feature for a projected net fiscal positive with or without a hotel. One specific component of discussion has been a make-whole provision should property be purchased or leased by an entity exempt from property taxes. Other components could include a Landscaping and Lighting Assessment District, Community Facilities District, positive negotiations with Yolo County, or other mechanism as established in the Development Agreement.”
Staff adds, “The property owner has stated that a Community Facilities District is not required for infrastructure financing, but may be proposed as a source of ongoing revenue to the City of Davis, if that is the appropriate mechanism.”
Finally, there is the Sustainability Implementation Plan, which “provides guidance in development and operation of the Nishi property, as defined as achieving long-term positive and balanced outcomes for people, the environment, and the economy.”
Staff notes that the key components of the Sustainability Implementation Plan (SIP) will be included as Baseline Project Features, including:
- 10 percent reduction in parking off of current plan (192 fewer spaces);
- peak hour trip cap per the SIP
- 9 MW photovoltaic (or equivalent, per Development Agreement)
- Buildings exceeding 2013 CalGreen standards by 30 percent
Other components, including provisions for evaluating performance and monitoring, are to be addressed in the Development Agreement. Staff argues, “This will allow the City to adjust actions and methodologies with changes to regulations, technology, and societal behaviors.”
The city council has heard “public testimony requesting independent third-party verification, such as LEED ND (Neighborhood Development) as a means of confirming compliance with sustainability principles.”
Staff writes, “Overall obligations could be established as part of the Baseline Features, with details to be confirmed through the Development Agreement.”
Staff notes that “LEED does not have provisions for ongoing monitoring of project performance.”
Instead they offer, “The City’s consultant, Ascent Environmental, is preparing an evaluation tool to be used through buildout and operation to confirm compliance with the Sustainability Implementation Plan. This is anticipated to be presented to the Planning Commission for review and action with Final Planned Development and Subdivision Maps, as part of project implementation.”
Council will not be making a final decision until at least February 2, with a deadline date of February 16.
The Vanguard will be holding a public discussion and forum on Nishi on Saturday, January 30 from 1 to 3 pm at the Conference Room of the University Park Inn. Following the discussion will be a walking field trip to the adjacent property for any interested parties.
Similar to the format from this week’s discussion on Mace Ranch, the developer Tim Ruff and his team will give a presentation and Councilmember Brett Lee and Community Development Administrator Katherine Hess will be on hand to answer questions that may arise.
—David M. Greenwald reporting