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.