Analysis: Is There a Mutually Agreeable Path Forward on Sterling?

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Aerial Map showing proposed Sterling Apartments in relation to Rancho Yolo
Aerial Map showing proposed Sterling Apartments in relation to Rancho Yolo

Two weeks ago, the city made the right call by forgoing a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND, or Neg Dec) for the proposed Sterling Apartments on Fifth Street, and going with an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).  While this will slow down the process, it will also make it far less likely that the project would be tied up in litigation like the Hotel Conference Center.

While the city may or may not have a legally defensible case in the Hotel Conference Center’s MND, from a political standpoint, it was a mistake that will result in its own delays.

It was clear, looking at the traffic analysis, that, while it could be argued that the apartments themselves might have minimal impact on the projected increased traffic and congestion at the Pole Line and Fifth Street intersection, there was enough projected increase that it warranted a full study.

Sterling Apartments is a proposed 244-unit development on Fifth Street at the site of the former FamiliesFirst treatment facility that was the subject of a major investigation and was permanently closed as of September 2013.

This project seeks to demolish the existing buildings on just over five 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.

Last week the Vanguard met with one of the partners for the development company Dinerstein.  In addition, we have received numerous letters and op-eds on the project from local residents.

The question is really whether there is a way forward that might be mutually agreeable.  For those who argue that the proposed site is the wrong location, there is much to argue against that point.

For one thing, the city is suffering from a rental housing crisis.  Not only is the current vacancy rate less than 0.2 percent, but the university is proposing expanding its enrollment once again.  While many have argued, with a good deal of validity, that the university needs to take on a greater percentage of its housing, that will be a long and slow process and it is not clear that the city can really create the leverage or agreement it needs.

The Sterling site has a lot to offer in this respect.  It is a six-acre site that is currently fallen into disuse and certainly underutilized.  So there is availability of land.  It is located near other apartments.  There are very few single family residences in the immediate area.  And the immediate land owners and businesses are supportive of the project for the most part.

The city lacks a lot of larger infill sites that can support sizable student housing in the current city.  Currently Nishi has a proposed 1500 beds or so.  Lincoln 40 is another possibility. But unless the voters are willing to approve Measure R projects for student housing, the Sterling site is one of the few available sites that could accommodate a reasonable amount of beds.

Here are some points to consider:

First, the Rancho Yolo residents who are basically across the street from the proposed site on Fifth Street are understandably concerned about traffic impacts.

Currently, as indicated above, the site calls for 727 beds with 545 parking spaces.  Talking with the developers, it seems they would be willing to consider many fewer parking spaces.  There are really not any options for student renters to park nearby.  Some have suggested the post office, but there are very limited spaces there and they are at such a premium, anyone parking there would be quickly towed.

The developer seems willing to incentivize residents without cars with possible reductions in rent and access to ZipCars for the few times they will need cars, and the site is near a good bus line and an improved bike route.

Instead of 545 spaces, they seemed willing to cut that number by 50 percent, and possibly to as low as 200 spaces.

Second, there are naturally concerns about sightlines. We have seen with the Trackside Development the ability of the developers to model for sight impacts. However, the developer believes that the height of the walls at Rancho Yolo and the distance from the current mobile home park renders that issue null and void.

Certainly, the developer could model that to assuage the existing residents of the minimal impacts there.

Third, there seems to be legitimate concern that the Rancho Yolo tenants have no legal claim to the land at Rancho Yolo.

There are a few points to be raised here.  First, I think that is a realistic concern, but it really is not impacted by whether Sterling is developed or not.  Rancho Yolo utilizes a large footprint and, as long as the tenants are not the land owners, they are somewhat vulnerable.

However, state law makes it a difficult and lengthy process to convert mobile homes to other uses, which gives the tenants time and the potential to access resources in response.

Dinerstein does not have interest in purchasing that land, but seems willing to help the tenants get in a more secure position.

Again, the vulnerability of Rancho Yolo is there, but it is really not impacted by what happens with Sterling.

Going forward, are there other concerns that either Rancho Yolo residents or general city residents have about the project?

Does reducing the number of vehicles which can park there, incentivizing residents who would either use the bus or bike to get to campus, alleviate some concerns about traffic impacts?

Would a modeling exercise alleviate concerns about the potential of visual blight?

As this process moves forward, it seems helpful to put issues on the table.  It may be that, for some people, no project is the only acceptable outcome. That is understandable and something that will need to be taken into consideration.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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15 thoughts on “Analysis: Is There a Mutually Agreeable Path Forward on Sterling?”

  1. Barack Palin

    The developer seems willing to incentivize residents without cars with possible reductions in rent

    Ha ha, you’ve got to admire the new twist.  Instead of penalizing renters with cars the developer says they will incentivize those without.  Same thing, just different wordage.

  2. Michael Harrington

    I don’t like the segregated affordable apartments sitting off in the corner, away from the pools and amenities steps away from the doors of the rich kids.  Reminds me of the “poor doors” issue in NYC a few months ago.

    I also think it’s disappointing that while they try to force this massive project through, not one CC has stepped forward, at least publically, and stated it’s too massive, and too close to the seniors at Rancho Yolo.

    Rancho Yolo is a great place to live, and a real asset to the community. I think someone should run an initiative to protect it from the standard one year notice to vacate that developers use to shut down these types of vulnerable clustered communities for seniors and others who cannot afford expensive housing. Dinerstein Company already shut one down in S. California, and I am sure they are looking at paying tons of money to the owner of Rancho Yolo in a year or two for that site.

    1. The Pugilist

      I have an idea, let’s kill this project and its beds because Mike Harrington doesn’t like segregated affordable housing.   BTW, so which is it, is the city giving away affordable housing or is Mike?

  3. The Pugilist

    I think the project needs to be more dense.  700+ beds is not enough.  Should be around 1500.  Keep the number of parking spaces low to encourage people without cars to move there.

  4. CalAg

    In my opinion, I find it very refreshing to see a student housing developer that is willing to play by the rules and provide both affordable housing and adequate on-site parking.

    1. Matt Williams

      CalAg, if Davis is going to achieve its Climate Action Plan goals, as well as the State of California goals for carbon footprint and greenhouse gases, an all-student complex like Sterling (that is served by one of Unitrans’ most robust routes the A Line (Downtown / 5th St. / Alhambra) with 28 round trips per day starting before 7:00 AM and ending after 8:30 PM) needs to be working very, very hard to achieve less than 0.1 car per bed.  For the 750 beds at Sterling that means no more than 75 parking spaces, with as many as 20 of those 75 being devoted to Zip Cars so the carless students who want to enjoy the occasional out-of-town activity can have easy access to a Zip Car when they need it.  The remaining 55 parking spaces would be for visitors.

      “Adequate Parking” is a reality when a multi-family unit is added to an existing neighborhood that relies on on-street parking.  That is not the case for Sterling.  There is no on-street parking anywhere in the vicinity of 2100 Fifth Street.

       

  5. Anon

    “The Sterling site has a lot to offer in this respect.  It is a six-acre site that is currently fallen into disuse and certainly underutilized.  So there is availability of land.  It is located near other apartments.  There are very few single family residences in the immediate area.  And the immediate land owners and businesses are supportive of the project for the most part.”

    Across the street from this site is Rancho Yolo Senior Mobilehome Park, and next to the site is Carlton Assisted Living Facility and right down the street is Eleanor Roosevelt Circle, another senior facility.  I have to question whether this site for student housing is really suitable for that particular neighborhood comprising a lot of senior citizens.  Family rental housing might be a more appropriate fit.  And does the city really want to go to five stories?  That will set a precedent, and other developers will demand to go to five stories.  There is a student apartment nearby, but it has caused a lot of friction to Eleanor Roosevelt Circle residents next door.  Something to think about…

    1. hpierce

      Across the street from this site is Rancho Yolo Senior Mobilehome Park (TRUE), and next to the site is Carlton Assisted Living Facility (UNTRUE) and right down the street is Eleanor Roosevelt Circle, another senior facility (Mainly TRUE, depending on your definition of ‘right down’).

      Next to the site, heading east, is Goodyear, Madson Ct., then a commerical/retail/office site, next is InkMonkey, etc., THEN Eleanor Roosevelt, Cantrill, the police station, Konditorei, THEN Carlton.

      Can we keep at least some FACTS straight?

      There is an ~ 7-8 foot sound/barrier wall between Fifth street and Rancho Yolo…there is no vehicular connection between Rancho Yolo and Fifth.

      1. Anon

        The point I was trying to make, even if not to your technical liking, is that there are a huge number of senior citizens concentrated in that area.  Student housing placed in amongst all that senior housing may not be the best fit.

        1. South of Davis

          Anon wrote:

          > The point I was trying to make, even if not to your technical

          > liking, is that there are a huge number of senior citizens

          > concentrated in that area.

          From everything I have read Sterling will not be “student housing” (like the Colleges at La Rue or the new West Village stuff) and it will be a “normal apartment” (that anyone can live in).

          Like the 160 unit Greystone at 2505 5th (I want to be precise to keep hpierce happy and not say “across the street”) and 132 unit The U at 625 Cantrill (aka “around the corner) it will probably be “mostly” students, but not “all” students (from what I have read there will be nothing stopping an 80 year old lady from renting a unit at Sterling).

          I have heard that many of the Rancho Yolo residents don’t want an apartment across 5th but I have not heard that the “affordable” Tuscanny Villas or “mostly student” Greystone that actually border Rancho Yolo to the east cause many problems.

        2. ryankelly

          Eleanor Roosevelt Circle exists because of the huge apartment complex that was built at the opposite corner on 2nd Street after the developer was bullied into donating the land to the city including the empty land in between (a condition of Harrington’s vote of approval for the project).  Now, it is being used it as a reason to not build more apartments in the area?

        3. Matt Williams

          SoD, I believe you are wrong.  There is little doubt that Sterling University Housing builds its complexes in close proximity to Universities and targets students.  From their website

          About Sterling

          In 1997, Sterling University Housing (SUH) recognized the need to provide new, high-quality multi-family housing for college students. The housing supply for most major colleges and universities was found to be inadequate, dated and expensive.

          … and from the applicant’s presentation to Council on June 10th 2015

          Sterling University Housing

          • Wholly owned subsidiary of Dinerstein Companies, founded in 1997.

          • Largest builder and developer of off-campus student housing in the country, having completed student housing developments at thirty-nine different national universities.

    1. South of Davis

      Mike, I’m not a member of your “fan club”, but since you seem to be such a big “fan” of “affordable” housing I’m wondering if you would post how many “affordable” units you have (and how much of a discount you give your lower income residents).

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