Commentary: Cannery Pulls Back from Changes but Why Didn’t They Vet Them Better?


The week started with The New Home Company having three requested changes to the Cannery on the agenda for the Planning Commission. First, there was the proposal to increase the number of stacked flats by 24. Second, there was a proposal to reduce the number of small builder units.  Third, there was a proposal to modify the Cannery Mixed Use Center.

By the time the Planning Commission would have met, they were all off the table and pulled back.

On Tuesday morning Bonnie Chiu told the Vanguard, “The New Home Company (has) withdrawn its proposal.” She noted that they “decided to put our proposal regarding the Stacked Flats Condominiums on hold at this time to allow additional outreach time.”

On Wednesday, Doby Fleeman submitted an open letter to the Davis Planning Commission, stating, “Over the past several days, it has come to my attention that developers of the Cannery Project have submitted formal request, Item 6b of tonight’s Agenda, for modifications to the basic terms of their development agreement as it pertains to certain commercial buildings located in the Neighborhood Mixed Use Center – East.”

Like Eric Roe, who in speaking for the Davis Small Builders Group concerning provisions of a development covenant that would set aside 30 lots for custom homes built by local builders, addressed an issue with similar ramifications for local business and property owners when he wrote: “This is an Agreement that was reached with the understanding that the local Small Builder community would support your project during the City approval process and we expect you to honor our agreement.”

Mr. Fleeman wrote, “So too, we, as small, local businesses, and owners of other local commercial properties with many small business tenants, would ask no less with respect to honoring the original terms of the development agreement to which the developer is signatory. “

So what happened here?

Bonnie Chiu, the representative for The New Home Company, would only say that “the team decided to postpone and allow for additional outreach in the community.”

Davis Community Development Director Mike Webb would only add that “this additional time will assist in clarifying the misinformation that has been posted about what is a DA amendment vs. implementation of the approved zoning. The staff report spells it all out and staff is always happy to assist in clarifying things when asked.”

The widespread belief is that this project got too much push back and staff will bring it back after the June 8th election for consideration.

The proposal to add density with additional stacked flats has some merit, but from our perspective the Cannery has burned a lot of bridges on a number of fronts.  Many in the community felt that the Community Facilities District (CFD), which was put on the table a year after the project was approved, was a bad deal for the community.

There are also bad optics at play here.  First, that the ball continues to be hidden.  The developer always has a right to make an ask, however, at least one on the council complained that they learned about the additional housing units after reading it on the Vanguard.

The bigger problem is the timing of these asks with the hiring of Ashley Feeney, former project manager for Cannery. That announcement was made or the Vanguard learned about it the first week of March.  At the time, some shrugged it off – after all, the Cannery Project was entitled, the issues were off the table.

What we were not told at the time – and councilmembers were not informed – is that on February 3, Bonnie Chiu wrote a letter asking for a total increase in the number of units by 24.

As the letter suggests, this was not an out-of-the-blue request.  She writes, “As we recently discussed, The New Home Company (NWHM) plans to design and build the stacked flat condominiums at The Cannery. NWHM is excited to introduce this housing type which was approved as part of the project entitlements, and will provide an option for homebuyers who desire low-maintenance, lock-and-go, single-level living.”

The Vanguard reported a week ago that, on March 14, Mr. Webb wrote a response letter to Ms. Chiu, outlining the proposed changes to the stacked flat condos.

The optics here are quite bad.  You have the city hiring the former project manager in a midst of what turns out to be three major asks by The New Home Company, where at least some councilmembers were kept in the dark.

In addition to the CFD, the other big controversy has been the lack of a grade-separated crossing.

On the city council agenda for next week is the city staff report on the grade-separated crossing options feasibility study.

Staff writes, “Background and Analysis As part of the Cannery subdivision EIR, three potential bicycle/pedestrian connections were analyzed and cleared. However, the Development agreement for this project chose to focus on two of the alternatives.”

Option 1

Staff is recommending Option 1, which “is a connection that originates from the multi-use path within the southwest corner of the Cannery and runs south along the UPRR tracks, then sweeps to the east connecting to the Covell Boulevard multi-use path.”

That differs from what was the “preferred option” that “originates at the multi-use path within the Cannery and runs south across the private property of two private apartment complexes adjacent to the UPRR tracks down to the H Street tunnel.”

Staff writes, “The purpose of the study is to determine whether a cost effective alternative crossing could provide equal or better connectivity than Bike Path Option 1.”

Staff comes to the conclusion, “In reviewing the costs associated with these different alternatives, they do cost substantially more than Bike Path Option 1. However, the developer’s contribution of approximately $1.4M for Bike Path Option 1 offsets a portion of the cost. In addition, as part of the development agreement, approximately $4.6M in Roadway Impact Fees are anticipated to be generated from the Cannery and the project will also contribute a fee of $6,717 per market-rate residential unit, generating approximately $3.7M in Community Enhancement funds for transportation and circulation improvements. These fees will not be paid all at once, but will reimburse the City for a portion of the costs associated with the construction of one of the other alternatives should the Council decide to pursue one of the above alternatives.”

Staff adds, “After analyzing all alternatives, staff recommends moving forward with Bike Path Option 1. This is based upon the time to design, complete environmental clearance and the difficulty and cost of the construction of the other alternatives. With Bike Path Option 1, the project has already been designed, has environmental clearance and would be paid for and constructed by the developer. Prior to approval of the plans for construction, staff will present the Bike Path Option 1 details to the Bicycle, Transportation and Street Safety Commission for input.”

Our preference would be that the council look further into the circumstances of the hiring of Ashley Feeney, especially at a time when city staff knew that Cannery was coming back to the table on three components of the project, as well as the grade-separated crossing.  The optics here are bad.

Staff and applicant were right to pull back for more community discussion – but, once again, staff seems to have been caught off guard by the response of the community, the small builders and local businesses.

Given that the mixed use center and small builder allotments were agreements, that seems rather remarkable.  Time and time again, city staff fail to anticipate blowback from the community and part of the problem seems to be that the people who are liaisons to the community, the council, are often kept in the dark about these decisions – intentionally or not, in a community like Davis, that is just bad business.

This happened once before with the pods at Target. Instead of working out an agreement with downtown businesses, the proposal was put out publicly and then the city had to go back to the drawing board.  Why do they not have these discussions first?  It would seem to save a lot of time and heartache.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. rwx

    If the agreement with the Cannery developer is just a starting point for later negotiations with the city, how can we trust the agreement for the Nishi development?

    1. The Pugilist

      Unlike on Cannery, the key project features of Nishi are locked into the baseline features which means the community would have to vote to change them.  That’s also a difference with Target which was a vote, but not a Measure R vote.

  2. The Pugilist

    What’s basically happened here is that on the one hand, the city hired the Cannery project measure.  Now the Cannery is asking for all of these changes and as soon as people caught wind of them, Cannery and staff backed down temporarily.  This is the same song and dance.  We’re supposed to trust city staff?

  3. davisite4

    I’d like to hear more (a separate article with more explanation and fewer quotes) about that bike crossing issue.  Something smells very, very wrong about that, but I’m having a little trouble sorting out what it is without more of an explanation, maybe more diagrams showing the different options.

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