When the city of Davis pushed through a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) on the Hotel Conference Center, the city believed it was legally defensible, however, the project has since been bottled up in a legal battle that might have been avoided with a focused Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Now they essentially risk the same on Fifth Street with the proposed Sterling Apartments development, over the objection of neighbors at Rancho Yolo who are complaining about potential traffic impacts as well as the failure to properly notice the residents at the park. Comments on the MND are due this Monday, and 262 homes and 325 residents believe they were short-changed in the process.
Sterling Apartments is a proposed 244-unit development on Fifth Street at the site of the former Families First treatment facility that was subject to a major investigation and permanently closed as of September 2013.
This project seeks to demolish the existing buildings on just over 5 acres that would be developed into a four- and five-story, 203-unit student housing project, along with a four-story, 41-unit affordable housing project on the remaining .84 acres of the site.
The student site would include 727 beds along with 545 parking spaces. The initial study “identified potentially significant impacts related to air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, greenhouse gases, hazards and hazardous materials, hydrology/water quality, public services, and transportation/traffic. The Initial Study determined that the impacts of the proposed project relative to these areas would be less than significant or less than significant with mitigation.”
According to an October 8 letter from traffic consultants KD Anderson & Associates, Inc., “Levels of Service were evaluated for six intersections in the area of the proposed project.” KD Anderson found, “The existing operating level of service [LOS] will be maintained with the addition of project traffic. All locations operate at LOS C or better. Thus the project’s impact is not significant based on this criterion.”
KD Anderson concludes, “The addition of the project will maintain acceptable levels of service at the study intersections, at LOS C or better. The project’s impacts are not significant and no additional mitigation is required.”
This contrasts significantly from the findings on Richards Boulevard where traffic is at LOS E or F, and, while the hotel was not expected to create a worse condition, it is foreseeable that the potential addition of Nishi might. However, on Richards Blvd., the city is planning several steps including structural changes to Richards to mitigate additional congestion, a corridor study which will change the way Richards interacts with I-80, as well as potential measures to redirect traffic headed to UC Davis away from Richards and towards other access points to the university.
Where I might be a little concerned with the findings for Sterling might be with the overall interactive effect of all of the congestion on Richards pushing additional traffic to use the Pole Line overpass, at least in the short-term, which might create more congestion starting at the Fifth and Pole Line intersection.
Indeed, the report from KD Anderson shows that by 2035, assuming MRIC and current land uses are maintained, “The addition of the project will maintain acceptable levels of service at all study intersections, with each intersection operating at LOS E or better. Additionally, all roadway segments will continue to operate with acceptable City thresholds, at LOS E or better. The project’s impacts are not significant and no additional mitigation is required.”
That analysis gets worse if we assume three Measure R projects, “Under the Cumulative 2035 plus 3 Measure R Projects scenario identified in the MRIC Draft EIR all roadway segments except one will operate at LOS E or better. The Pole Line Road segment between 5th Street and Cowell Blvd will operate at LOS F. No improvements are available to deliver Level of Service meeting City standards.”
That is the scenario WITHOUT the Sterling Apartment project. The scenario with it, “Under the Cumulative 2035 plus 3 Measure R Projects plus Project scenario, all roadway segments except one will continue to operate at LOS E or better. The Pole Line Road segment between 5th Street and Cowell Blvd will continue to operate at LOS F. The project will add 47 trips along this segment, or 2.4% of the total peak hour traffic. Based on City of Davis significance criteria this is within the 5% permissible increment and is not considered a significant impact. No additional mitigations are required.”
Going beyond motor vehicles, “The Initial Study determined that the project would have potentially significant impacts relative to pedestrians and safety, but that the following mitigation measures to ensure visibility at the access driveway and to construct a midblock pedestrian crossing would reduce the impacts to a less than significant level.”
- Mitigation Measure 10: Prior to issuance of building permits, the project applicant shall submit the Final Landscaping Plans to the City of Davis Community Development and Sustainability Department. The City shall review the Final Landscaping Plans to ensure that adequate site distances at the project access driveway are provided.
- Mitigation Measure 11: Prior to the issuance of the first Certificate of Occupancy, the project applicant shall coordinate with the City of Davis Public Works Department to fund and construct a mid-block pedestrian crossing along the project frontage to facilitate pedestrian crossings of 5th Street. The crossing shall include a rectangular rapid flashing beacon (RRFB) to alert approaching motorists of impending pedestrian traffic.
Bottom line appears to be as follows: That corridor is going to get more heavily congested if the city approves and builds its Measure R projects. The impact of Sterling Apartments in any of those scenarios is not going to change that calculation. Therefore the city is justified in going the MND route.
Given everything that has happened with regard to the Hotel Conference Center and potentially Nishi, the city really should err on the site of caution and do the focused EIR. It is not clear that anyone will sue over this, but why take the chance?
—David M. Greenwald reporting