Just two weeks after the Davis City Council unanimously directed the staff to continue with preparation of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) as proposed only, and not as a mixed-use project, the project will be back before the Planning Commission to receive a status report and allow for public comments before providing feedback on the project design.
The proposed Innovation Center component of the project includes up to 2,654,000 square feet of innovation center uses and dedication of 64.6 acres of green space (including parks and open space) on a 212-acre site.
That 2.66 million square feet includes 1.5 million square feet for R&D (research and development), 884,000 square feet for manufacturing and research uses, 260,000 square feet for “supportive commercial uses” – which could include a hotel conference center with 160,000 square feet and 150 rooms – and another 100,000 square feet of other supportive retail throughout the MRIC.
Also discussed with be Mace Triangle, which is the 16.6-acre city-owned parcel that “was included within the overall project boundaries to ensure that an agricultural and unincorporated island is not created and to allow the continuation and expansion of existing uses.”
Staff writes, “Development of up to 71,056 square feet of general commercial uses including up to 45,900 of research, office, and R&D, and up to 25,155 square feet of retail is assumed on the Mace Triangle properties.”
However, this view is not universally held by council members, particularly Brett Lee.
With the housing option off the table, two key considerations that remain are the fiscal analysis and mitigation. The EPS report from the fall found that the project would net about $2.2 million – however, as was the case with the Nishi property, some have criticized the report for its conservative assumptions.
EPS found that MRIC contributes about $3.8 million in gross annual revenues, but $1.6 million in costs, for a net $2.2 million contribution to the city revenue at buildout. However, a revised economic analysis by the Finance and Budget Commission ramped up projections for Nishi, at one-fifth the size, to $1.4 million.
With efforts to enhance revenues such as a service-CFD or a per square foot assessment, it is conceivable that MRIC could generate well over $5 million per year.
As Rochelle Swanson put it two weeks ago, in arguing that the city could not afford to risk a mixed-use component, “Who bears the cost if this doesn’t pass, (it) is $2.2 million fiscal annually… a net $6 million potentially and a one-time $10 million fee.”
The Finance and Budget Commission is expected to meet on the item next Monday, March 14, and at that point we might get a better sense for what a more realistic assumption will be in terms of ongoing city revenue.
Another issue that needs more resolution will be where and how the project finds its mitigation. The Open Space and Habitat Commission was scheduled to meet Monday night. One thing that they will be looking at is a proposal to use the Howatt Ranch site as potential mitigation land.
As the Vanguard reported a few weeks ago, Dan Ramos, the MRIC project manager, is looking into an approach that would utilize the 775-acre and city-owned Howatt Ranch property that, in the past, the city has looked at as a possible sports park site.
Mr. Ramos has been discussing the possibility of purchasing that property, using that as mitigation land, and turning it over to the non-profit Center for Land-Based Learning, where they promote farmland practices that would help preserve the land as open space and farmland in perpetuity.
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson told the Vanguard that she is supportive of the concept. “It is completely consistent with what I have been talking about from day one, we need to be utilizing an opportunity to lock up our land in a conservation easement.”
Dan Ramos told the Vanguard that this is a way to move the mitigation right to areas next to the city as well as close to the property itself. Not only that but, by turning the land over the Center, he would avoid having to purchase land from a farmer and then allowing the farmer to continue to farm and harvest that land for profit.
However, Open Space advocates have told the Vanguard they object to using city-owned land that faces no real threat of being developed rather than land near the borders, where there are actual development threats.
The issue of how much mitigation and where figures to be a big issue going forward, now that housing on the site has been precluded.
—David M. Greenwald reporting