By Claudia Krich
The huge Sterling dormitory proposal for the site of Families First is a problem that did not have to be. The proposal is so massive, so anti-community, so unattractive, in fact non-conforming to the zoning restrictions and other requirements of the Davis General Plan, that one wonders how it even got past the first step in city consideration. But it has moved along through the process for some 18 months, taking up city staff time as well as a huge amount of time of concerned Davis residents.
The project should simply be denied. The university has stated its plans to increase student housing on campus. That’s where dormitories belong. The city should continue to pressure the university to not only build what it plans for the future, but also to quickly build what it has already promised in the past but hasn’t yet built.
Please note this is NOT an apartment complex. It is a dormitory complex with suites of bedrooms, each with its own personal bathroom and other luxury amenities.
Developers tend to propose overly large and inappropriate projects, and after months or years of back and forth, “settle” for “less,” which is no doubt what they hoped for in the first place. Once the proposal is under consideration, the developers can feel confident of some level of success, as long as there is no citizen vote requirement.
In the case of this Sterling proposal, the city has nothing to lose by just refusing the entire proposal. The city does not owe the developer anything for the time and money they’ve invested in selling the project to the city. That is lobbying, and their lobbyists and representatives are paid staff. It makes no difference tax-wise to the city if the property remains with its current owner or is sold to a new one. The current owner (Families First) wants to make a huge profit, but if this project is turned down, may have to settle for only a very large profit. Either way, the city loses nothing by just saying no.
The university has claimed that students want to live “in the community of Davis itself.” Well, this location is in east Davis, between a tire store and the post office, across from a frame shop and the DMV, and very close to a large senior citizen population. There is one and only one direct route to campus by bike or car, and that is on Russell Blvd. Students would be much more part of the Davis community right on university property. They would also be closer to their classes and would not have to deal with Russell Blvd. And non-student Davisites would also not have to deal with the same impact on Russell Blvd.
Perhaps most important is the question of whether this dormitory will relieve the pressure students put on the Davis housing market. It will not. It will be very expensive housing. Once Sterling has paid $10 million for the land, paid to destroy all the (perfectly good and modern) buildings, paid to take down 150 trees, paid to build the huge buildings and parking structure, and paid to sub-contract the small affordable housing component to another company, they will need to charge students who live there a small fortune. And as has happened with many student apartment complexes in Davis, students may live there for a while, but will then look for a house in town to share, in order to pay less. Mini-dorms and houses packed with students will not be affected in any major way. Perhaps if this proposal were actually for apartments, families might live there. But it is not.
The city should only be considering proposals that are outstanding and appropriate. Every commission that has considered this proposal has found serious flaws. The Davis Planning Department should not be working hand in hand with the developer, giving suggestions to make their proposal more palatable. Instead, the Planning Department could be spending their time seeking buyers and occupants for this beautiful property AS IS. Re-use is the best environmental action, rather than demolition, chopping down 150 trees, paving over open space, and constructing huge box buildings and garages.
This dormitory complex is not a smart plan. This proposal has no redeeming qualities and should simply be denied.
Claudia Krich is a Davis Resident