Sterling Apartments Project Draft Sustainability Implementation Plan

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by Don Sherman

Agenda for Monday evening’s special session of the Davis Natural Resources Commission had scheduled its first 45 minutes for consideration of “Sterling” 2100 Fifth Street Apartments Project Draft Sustainability Implementation Plan, prepared by Ascent Environmental, Inc.

Two hours later, the discussion concluded with the Commission reminding the citizens gallery that, while they empathized with our many comments that the Plan under review was inadequate and inaccurate, ultimate approval of the massive 6—7 story dormitory was the responsibility of City Council, and that Natural Resources’ role was to advise Council of their estimate of environmental damage anticipated from the dynamiting, bulldozing, and disposal of debris from the existing 9-building Families First campus, the noise, pollution and disruption during two years of construction, and the construction of the huge dormitory’s impact on consumption of energy — then, anticipated net increase or decrease in greenhouse gasses emitted by vehicles used by commuters to and from UC campus.

In 18 months of opposition to the application for exceptions to the city’s General Plan and zoning, we had heard only one reason given by proponents: “Davis has a housing shortage.” Now, thanks to this commission, we had been given a second:
“The city has mandated an effort for ‘infill’ — building up, rather than out, on the theory that vehicles traveling Fifth Street, through Downtown, to campus and back may emit fewer contaminants than those from cars entering and leaving nearby cities. Worthlessly, the Ascent study mentions this issue, peripherally (DCAAP), but expresses no opinion on Sterling’s impact.

More important, the argument is illogical. If either argument, “Davis has a housing shortage,” or “There may be fewer vehicle miles, is true, then why six stories? Why not 20? One smiles, but think about it. Why is 20 stories ridiculous, but six ok? Six will be the tallest building in Davis, off campus, and look where they’re proposing to put it! — an already congested intersection, Fifth and Pole Line, where all the nearby housing is one, two, and three-level, next to the very busy Post Office and DMV, and 160-feet gate-to-gate from a quiet senior community of gardens, grass, trees and 264 single-story homes!

After hearing from Matt Williams, a former member of the commission and a candidate for City Council, urge them to accept responsibility to judge the suitability to Davis’ sustainability goals of such a dramatic departure from existing standards, and the Houston-based developer’s waffling and vague responses to their specific questions, the commission unanimously approved a single motion, to not recommend the project until provided with definitive commitments, and in favor of a 33% reduction in on-site parking from a proposed 545 units on seven levels to no more than 1/2 space per 727 bedrooms. a net 364.

Mayor Robb Davis was City Council liaison.

 

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41 Comments

  1. Alan Pryor

    In addition to recommending dramatic reductions in parking from .75 parking spaces per bedroom to to a 0.5 car/bedroom, the NRC also recommended that the project meet LEED Gold energy efficiency and sustainability standards, that the project include enough PV to satisfy 50% of the projects electrical demand, that the remaining electricity usage be purchased from the City’s new joint venture Community Choice Energy program with Yolo Co. at the 100% renewable tariff schedule, and that all these recommendations be embodied in any future Development Agreement with the City.

    1. Mark West

      “the project meet LEED Gold energy efficiency and sustainability standards, that the project include enough PV to satisfy 50% of the projects electrical demand, that the remaining electricity usage be purchased from the City’s new joint venture Community Choice Energy program with Yolo Co. at the 100% renewable tariff schedule, and that all these recommendations be embodied in any future Development Agreement with the City.”

      All of these additional items will add significantly to the cost of the proposed project. They may all be very good ideas, but we have to accept that when we, as a community, insist upon these as our ‘standards’ for new development, then any project proposed will be larger and/or denser than it otherwise may need to be. It is a matter of economics. Greater costs up front require greater revenues from the project to allow for the necessary return on investment to satisfy the investors and the entities providing the financing.

    2. Sam

      Well planned out idea Alan. That ought to jack the construction price up high enough to keep the developer from being able to have any affordable units or kill the project all together. That will continue to limit the available housing in Davis and keep prices high. So if you can’t afford high rents then live somewhere else.

    3. Frankly

      One thing for sure, Trump’s pick for the new EPA head will put a new face on that agency front for an environmental extremists den.

      It is clear that the overreach by environmental extremists like yourself have led to this awesome GOP opportunity to spur economic growth just by returning to reasonable regulations.

      But California and Davis will continue to shed business and go even further into uncharted deficit territory.

      Meanwhile we have not enough housing and that we do have is way too expensive.

      [moderator] One sentence of this is actually not off topic.

      1. Steve Westhoff

        Commissioners read the sustainability plan and considered the comments, and had reviewed the draft Environmental Impact Report.  Our motion, adopted by all members present, was a set of consensus recommendations to reduce the lifetime impacts and negative externalities of the project, especially with regards to greenhouse gases.  That is in line with the city’s sustainability goals.

        As to whether making the project “greener” would make it economically infeasible for the developers or tenants, that remains to be seen.  As was stated during the meeting, “It just doesn’t pencil out” will not be a sufficient response.  Are there finance tools, including rebates and tax credits, that could lessen the costs of construction?  The Dinerstein team indicated it would take the comments and recommendations back for discussion, then provide specific responses in a revised draft sustainability plan.  Sustainable design, construction (and in this case destruction), and operation are not radical or “anti-growth” notions.

  2. tj

    Sterling is not an apartment complex, it’s only room rentals, i.e., a huge rooming house and future tenement.

    Shame on city staff as they continue to present the project as “apartments”.

    It was clear this commission had not bothered to read the documents submitted to each member prior to the meeting.    Or, perhaps city staff failed to turn the documents over to the commissioners.            If commissioners had read citizen input prior to the meeting, they would have been aware this is a rooming house with a potential for huge energy consumption, lots of waste generation, traffic problems, and these room rentals are very difficult to fill up with tenants.

    If half the student renters use bikes, imagine 500 more bikes coming and going down 5th Street.

    Imagine 500 more students on the Unitrans buses to and from campus.   All those buses will also be a traffic problem.

    The property is free and clear of loans — it can be sold at a reasonable price for a reasonable use.

        1. Don Shor

          Students only rent a room at Sterling because they can’t afford anything else.

          Or because there is nothing else available.
          Students have more disposable income than you seem to think.

        2. South of Davis

          tj wrote:

          > Very unlikely these students will have money to spend downtown.

          I was with my kids on bikes last weekend and after riding under I80 we rode through the back parking lot of the Tanglewood Student Apartments on Cowell (heading to Safeway) this past weekend and I was amazed at the number of late model BMWs, Audis, Porsches and even Maseratis!  Since Tanglewood also has garages after we saw the second Maserati I was wondering what the kids that have even more money and rent the garages are driving…

        3. Grok

          The UCD students are a diverse population. There are some students with money, but my understanding is there are more without, and the situation for those without has gotten much worse in recent years. If you follow ASUCD you will see that food security is a high priority issue for them. This year ASUCD launched The Pantry:

          http://thepantry.ucdavis.edu/

          mission statement: The mission of The Pantry is to aid UC Davis students in their pursuit of higher education by ensuring that no student ever has to miss a meal or go without basic necessities due to Financial reasons.

          goals: To provide non-perishable, high protein food for UC Davis students struggling to pay for meals. To provide UC Davis students with basic necessities such as toiletries, soap, toothbrushes, etc. in order to live a dignified life while working to obtain a UC Davis degree.

          background info: The Pantry project is a direct response to the growing need among the UC Davis student population for more aid and resources to help offset the Financial burden of the current economic climate in combination with rising fees, textbook costs, and living expenses. It is becoming increasingly difficult for students to juggle the costs of living while working to obtain a University degree, and thus many students are finding themselves choosing between basic essentials such as food and toilet paper and the required costs of college. It is for this reason that The Pantry has been established to help offset these financial burdens and ensure that students may continue on to successfully complete and obtain their degrees from the University of California, Davis.

  3. Mark West

    “The property is free and clear of loans — it can be sold at a reasonable price for a reasonable use.”

    It could, but it wasn’t. The City evaluates projects that are proposed by the developer that controls the property, not ‘pie in the sky’ ones from the community.

  4. tj

    Mark,

    The property isn’t sold yet.   Sale to this buyer is contingent on getting all the necessary concessions from the city related to zoning, parking, height………

    Nobody’s asking for “pie in the sky”.   Neighbors all around the site would like conformity to city regulations.

    And the huge impact on traffic downtown will be detrimental to downtown businesses.

    1. hpierce

      Fine… then the “neighbors” could buy, or convince all of us (City) to buy it, and the neighbors can do whatever they want with the property… simple… otherwise, an actual or potential buyer can suggest whatever they want, and the City must consider it, and say yes or no, or yes depending on reasonable conditions…

      It ain’t your property, and until it is, play by the rules/laws… that’s what the property owner has to do… or do you believe all property is inherently “owned” by “the people”?  There are certain countries that see it that way… wouldn’t want to live in any of them…

      1. Tia Will

        pierce

        It ain’t your property, and until it is, play by the rules/laws”

        I agree with this. But I would extend it also to the land owners who I also think should “play by the rules/laws, including zoning and design guidelines.

         

        1. Mark West

          The laws of the State of California allow for changes to zoning on a case by case basis if approved by the local authority.  Design guidelines have no legal authority, they are simply guidelines, not rules or laws. When are you going to agree to live by our laws, Tia?

      2. Misanthrop

        “an actual or potential buyer can suggest whatever they want, and the City must consider it, and say yes or no, or yes depending on reasonable conditions…”

        The city could also say you have a perfectly good facility and we aren’t going to change the zoning. They could tell the owners that bailing them out of  their stranded asset is not the responsibility of this community but instead part of the risk inherent in our capitalist system.

        Of course that won’t happen because of Measure R. Measure R has turned land inside the city limit into a wildly valuable commodity. The scarcity of sites for housing and the housing imbalance of our broken housing market will push the city council to approve the project over the objections of the neighbors.

        The sad part is that this would be a great project if built somewhere on the periphery like at Russell and 98, outside the city limit but within biking distance to campus.

        1. hpierce

          Your  statement, “The city could also say you have a perfectly good facility and we aren’t going to change the zoning.”, was what I meant by “say no”.  

          The City cannot stop the owner from demolishing the buildings, resulting in a vacant lot.  Upon which they could then build an Industrial facility, consistent with the existing zoning.  Property owners’ choice.

          Wonder how Families First got built, given the zoning… probably a “wink and a nod”…

    2. Mark West

      TJ – My statement was “the developer that controls the property” indicating that I am aware this developer does not currently own it but has a legal option to buy it under specified conditions, hence ‘control’ for the purposes of this project.

  5. Tia Will

    Mark

    You have often commented on the right of the owner to do what they like with their own property. It seems like you have now taken this one step further to include those who might own the property as long as their vision is in alignment with your own.

    Greater costs up front require greater revenues from the project to allow for the necessary return on investment to satisfy the investors and the entities providing the financing.”

    On this point we are in agreement. Where we diverge is that I do not believe that the “satisfaction” of the investors and the entities providing the financing should be placed above the “satisfaction” of other stakeholders within the community.

     

    1. hpierce

      Tia… they can’t “do anything they want”… but they are entitled to ask for anything… the City can say no… they can say yes… they can tell them that they’ll only say yes if the proposal is different (but only if they seek additional entitlements)… see First and Fifth amendments to the constitution on that… should the City tell you how to use your property, the price you can sell your property for, if you are in conformance with your current entitlements?  Land use changes are discretionary/legislative acts…

      Be careful what you ask for… “first they came after developers… next they came after my property… ”

      Am still unsure whether the Sterling proposal is (given the changes they seek to existing entitlements) something I support… but I definitely support their right to ask… as long as they are current on payments to support the staff effort to process…

      I’d be more than pissed if you decided to forbid any change in my use of my property, if it was entitled by zoning, etc.  I’d support your right to convince the CC that my turning it into a brothel wasn’t appropriate (not zoned/entitled for that)…

    2. Mark West

      Tia: “You have often commented on the right of the owner to do what they like with their own property. It seems like you have now taken this one step further to include those who might own the property as long as their vision is in alignment with your own.”

      Where have I done any such thing? Your propensity to extend other people’s comments to an irrational extreme is really quite fascinating.

      In this case, I did not say anything about my ‘vision’ for this project, or whether or not I agree with the developer’s vision. I’m supporting the right of any property owner or developer to have their ‘vision’ considered by the City as is required by law and rebutting those of you who act like they alone should be the ones who determine what is the best use of the site. If you don’t control the property, you have little say in what happens to it. The City is the final arbiter, not me, not you, and certainly not the ‘noisy’ neighbors.

  6. Tia Will

    hpierce

    I don’t disagree with your 5:31 post in principle. However, I believe that there is too frequently a wink and a nod to the involvement between developers, investors, and those who have managed to be elected to public office and/or selected for commissions. We have had a least on such case recently and possibly another depending on how broadly or narrowly you consider conflict of interest.

    1. Matt Williams

      Tia Will said . . . <em>”We have had a least one such case recently and possibly another depending on how broadly or narrowly you consider conflict of interest.”</em>

      Tia, in the interests of transparency your statement above needs to be fleshed out, especially given the very loose slanderous/libelous pandering that the term “conflict of interest” has gotten here in the Vanguard in recent days.  Please be specific about which two cases you believe have violated conflict of interest.  Please also explain how broadly or narrowly you personally define conflict of interest in your two examples.

      Thank you for your consideration of this request for transparency

    2. Mark West

      Tia: “However, I believe that there is too frequently a wink and a nod to the involvement between developers, investors, and those who have managed to be elected to public office and/or selected for commissions.”

      So now you are questioning the integrity of not only developers as a group, but our City’s planning staff, commissioners, and the City Council?  Wow, you really are out on a limb here.

    3. hpierce

      If you truly believe the “wink and a nod” thing… be more careful who you vote for on CC… as they also appoint the winking/nodding commissioners…

      Have observed the planning commission for years… a “glare and a snark” was far more common from commissioners than a “wink and a nod”…

      1. South of Davis

        hpierce wrote:

        > If you truly believe the “wink and a nod” thing…

        > be more careful who you vote for on CC…

        It has been over four hours and we still don’t know who Tia thinks is “winking and nodding”…

        1. hpierce

          Personally, I don’t believe any of them are doing the eye/head thing, except perhaps on the CFD vote on Cannery… that was truly weird… I’ll give some of them the benefit of suspecting they had a “lack of situational awareness” moment…

        2. Matt Williams

          SoD, it has actually been 16 hours since the original request at 6:58 pm yesterday.

          hpierce, the Cannery CFD vote had not occurred to me. That vote would appear to fit Tia’s criteria. Good catch.

  7. Ron

    The Sterling and Lincoln 40 mega-dorm, student-oriented proposals are unprecedented “rent-by-the-room” massive proposals, and are a direct result of the university’s reluctance to house students on campus.  I understand that Sterling is taller than any residences planned for campus.

    Expect to see more such proposals well into the future, unless the university changes its plans.

    1. South of Davis

      Ron wrote:

      > The Sterling and Lincoln 40 mega-dorm

      The Sterling and Lincoln 40 projects are “apartments” :

      a building containing several individual apartments

      NOT “dorms”:

      a room for sleeping; especially :  a large room containing numerous beds or  a residence hall providing rooms for individuals or for groups usually without private baths.

       

      1. Grok

        Maybe SRO – single resident occupancy may be a better way to describe Sterling’s rent by the room in a shared apartment type space policy. I wonder how much control room renters will have over who the other renters in their apartment will be.

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