When Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) developers put the project on pause, the community had every reason to believe the project was dead. Already having put $3 to $4.5 million into the project, once the council nixed a mixed-use housing proposal, there was the belief that the financing hurdles were insurmountable.
However, the developers believe that, with a scaled down version, they might be able to make the financing work. And so this week, after two months of re-evaluating their options, project sponsors are requesting that the Davis City Council place a scaled-down project proposal on the November 2016 ballot.
The request was made in a letter sent June 9, to city council members. Mr. Ramos in the letter wrote, “The MRIC applicant team now requests that our application, as reformatted, be taken off hold and expeditiously moved to the City Council for action and placement on the November 2016 ballot.”
The updated project would seek annexation of the entire 228 acres, including the Mace Triangle and the MRIC project site, but “now seeks approval of innovation center uses on only the southern 102 acres. The northern half of the property, including the City’s 25 acres, is requested to be brought into the City with an urban reserve land use designation and will be subject to a future planning effort and subsequent Measure R vote before any development may occur.”
While some seemed to worry about the prospects of putting that land into a urban reserve within the city, the developers in a press release reiterated, “Any proposed future development there, including housing, would be subject to additional planning and another Measure R vote before it could proceed.”
“Our proposed new approach will help the city retain local companies, attract and accommodate new firms, and generate needed financial resources for city roads, parks and other important public services while improving the project’s economic viability,” said Dan Ramos, MRIC project manager.
Clearly one of the key goals of this expedited project would be to produce something quickly that a local company like Schilling Robotics could utilize for expanded space. The initial concern with the project was that Schilling Robotics was looking to expand but had no existing location to move to. In 2013, Bayer-AgraQuest, facing a similar dilemma, ended up moving to West Sacramento, with Monsanto moving its operations from 5th Street to rural Woodland.
“We believe strongly that when presented with the thinking and facts behind our updated plan, including its significant positive economic impact, Davis voters will understand its value and ultimately support it,” said Mr. Ramos. “We’re ready to take on the challenge of educating residents about the many benefits a state-of-the-art innovation center will provide to the city and of delivering a project worthy of its ideal Davis location.”
The MRIC is proposed by Ramco Enterprises, The Buzz Oates Group of Companies and Reynolds & Brown. It is anticipated to accommodate several thousand jobs at build-out.
An earlier study prepared by Economic & Planning Systems, Inc. (EPS) concluded that the initially proposed project might not be feasible, given high infrastructure costs. Project sponsors are confident that by working in partnership with the city they can improve the project’s economics enough to proceed, if Davis voters provide their support.
“More work is needed before November on a variety of details we know Davis voters will want, but we believe we’re now ready to move forward with a vote,” said Mr. Ramos. “We’re obviously hopeful that a majority of voters will see the project’s merits and allow us to develop an innovation center that will make Davis proud for generations to come.”
An earlier EPS study indicated that the originally proposed MRIC at build-out would create more than 10,600 direct, indirect and induced jobs in Davis and Yolo County, and annually generate $651 million of labor income and $2.6 billion of economic activity.
The item will be heard on Tuesday. Already, community members have expressed concern that a compressed timeline would short-circuit the normal public process. That is a concern shared by city officials and councilmembers alike, who note that the final decisions would have to be made in early July to get the project on the ballot – which would likely lead to community pushback that this project was being rushed, and they would clearly have a strong case there.
The EPS study, for instance, was done on the 218-acre proposal rather than the newly-revised 102-acre proposal, which would constitute the southern portion of the property. Mr. Ramos told the Vanguard that the project would retain its initial conception and would not simply be a bunch of warehouses and buildings.
The council will get a chance to weigh in on Tuesday. Staff noted that the EIR for the original project was released in early January. “This included responses to all comments received on the Draft EIR, plus revisions to the draft document. Master Responses addressed topics of UPRR [Union Pacific Railroad] and County Road 32A closure, bicycle connection along CR 32A, the Mixed-Use alternative, guarantees of developer performance, project phasing, project ownership, western burrowing owl, and Swainson’s hawk.”
Staff writes: “The Draft EIR analyzed the proposed project and the Mixed-Use Alternative at equal weights. The statutorily-required ‘Alternatives’ Chapter also included analysis of a range of alternatives including a ‘Reduced Site Size’ alternative of 106 acres plus the Mace Triangle, and a ‘Reduced Project Alternative’ of 540,000 square feet on the MRIC site, plus the Mace Triangle. The Reduced Project Alternative is essentially the same as the anticipated ‘Phase 1’ of the Mace Ranch Innovation Center.
“If directed by the City Council, staff would confer with environmental and traffic consultants to determine whether this revised concept falls within ‘brackets’ established in the Draft and Final EIRs. If so, the City would be able to prepare an analysis showing that the revised project does not result in new environmental impacts, a substantial increase in the severity of an environmental impact, or the need to recirculate the Draft EIR document for additional public review and comment.”
In addition, “staff or consultants would need to prepare Findings for Approval and a Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program (MMRP).”
—David M. Greenwald reporting