In yesterday’s column, we put forward the issue of housing needs. As we put it, some have argued that you should not build up, you need to build out. Others have argued that not being able to build out means we must build up. Finally, there are those who have seemed to argue that we should do neither and let the university deal with growth impacts.
Now one commenter noted, “You left out the best answer that we should do some of all four options, go up to appropriate heights depending on the impacts of each project, go out to reduce impacts on existing neighborhoods, have UCD do its part to house its students and in some places, like the Families First site, keep the zoning as it is and force the owners to address the fact that the answer to the stranded asset problem isn’t a windfall monster redevelopment but a smaller repurposing of the perfectly good facility that exists there today.”
While it is an interesting answer, the crux of it is, “getting rid of Measure R is the key to rational planning.”
That is for most folks – myself included – a non-starter, and so doing all “four options” is not viable.
There is a conflict in the city’s planning right now, because in order to fill our housing needs, we either need to grow up – densify, which means more units per acre – or we need to grow out. Growing out is difficult with Measure R, and Measure R is not going away despite the desire of some in this community.
Alan Miller makes the point that “there is no restriction on downtown core building up.”
“As well, more reasonable and compliant versions of proposed projects may move forward,” he writes. “It’s not a matter of all or nothing, it’s a matter of compatibility. Where the compatibility line is drawn is arguable, unless in fact as defined by Guidelines and zoning, in which case the argument becomes over whether the city should continue to plan by ‘zoning by exception.’”
While Mr. Miller clearly makes a good point, the counter to it is that this approach is probably not going to solve our housing needs.
And as other posters like Mark West point out, it is not accurate to say that there is no restriction on building up in the core. He writes, “There are many zoning restrictions regarding building height in the core depending on the parcels in question. In many places, taller buildings in the Core would require ‘zoning by exception,’ just as would changing the current ‘parking minimums’ on projects, to ‘parking maximums’ as has been advocated here. Not all exceptions are ‘bad,’ but declaring a moratorium on them certainly would be.”
Tia Will also thinks it is important to distinguish between “housing needs” as opposed to our “housing wants.” She writes, “I believe that we have need for housing students, working individuals and their families especially those of modest incomes, and the homeless. I do not believe that we have a ‘need’ to house those who (are) high income or wealthy. We do not need to be ignoring codes and design guidelines in order to ‘help’ those who need no help and developers and investors who also have plenty.”
Last summer, when the Vanguard sat down with Kemble Pope and Steve Greenfield about Trackside, they explained that ultimately what they wanted to do was build a mixed-use infill project. Their hope was to bring more people to live in the core area in a more urban setting. Their target market is empty-nesters who live in Davis, but whose children have grown up.
They are also targeting young professionals who want a more urban lifestyle and a few of the units are targeting executive residences. They also mentioned visiting professors who are here for a year or two and who may just want to live in Davis a short time.
The developers here clearly had some bumps in the road, and a six-story building was a difficult starting place. But there are a few points that should be raised.
First, everyone agrees that the current use of the Trackside land is underutilized with single-story commercial buildings.
Second, while I think we can all agree that the specific market the developers are targeting is not the highest need – it is at least a market that is underutilized. Given this is a mixed-use project, clearly the configuration is not conducive to families. It is probably not the best use to make it student housing, and my guess is the neighborhood would not like a dense student housing project there either.
So, does this meet the needs for higher-end working individuals? That is certainly something we should debate and discuss.
The second issue is height. The developers have reduced the height here from six to four. The neighbors seem to want two and may be willing to go to two-and-a-half or three.
I agree with Tia on the biggest needs in this community being to house students. I agree with many that UC Davis should do its part to house students and I support their current plan to do so – at least in quantity, if not locations.
Bottom line is that Measure R is not going away in 2020. Michael Harrington believes he will introduce a new measure that would modify Measure R and make it permanent. I would say that has a decent chance of passing, depending on the details (and perhaps despite the details).
I do not believe that merely building up in the core is sufficient to meet current housing needs and that we are going to have to look at ways to meet needs within the current boundaries of Davis.
Finally, I think the issue of whether Trackside addresses housing needs should be discussed, but remember that we have an underutilized parcel, a group of investors willing to put money to better utilize it, and a parcel that has limitations. All of this needs to be fleshed out in the public realm.
—David M. Greenwald reporting