The Sterling Apartments is currently one of the more contentious proposed projects in the city of Davis. The project site currently contains the former FamiliesFirst residential treatment facility, closed since September 2013, and would call for the demolition of the existing building and redevelopment of the six-acre site located on 5th Street, with two residential projects totaling 244 units.
The project calls for a 5.16-acre, four- and five-story, 203-unit university student apartment project, with the remaining .84 acres going to a four-story, 41-unit affordable housing project.
The EIR finds that the “No Project Alternative is the environmentally superior alternative. However, as required by CEQA, when the No Project Alternative is the environmentally superior alternative, the environmentally superior alternative among the others must be identified.”
Therefore, the EIR finds that “the Reduced Density Student Apartment Alternative is the next environmentally superior alternative to the proposed project.”
The project received quite a few comments, with numerous commenters expressing concern regarding the number of residents resulting from the project. The EIR states, “Each unit would allow for occupancy of one person per bedroom, for a total 727 residents in the Student Site. Commenters expressed concern that residents of the Student Site would ‘double up’ in bedrooms, and that the total occupancy of the Student Site may exceed the number of bedrooms (727).”
The concern was that “if the total population of student residents that actually reside at the proposed project exceeds the assumptions made in the Draft EIR, the Draft EIR may have underestimated impacts related to traffic and other environmental topics that relate to the total population residing within the proposed project.”
The EIR states, “An additional 74 residents, not including children, are anticipated on the Affordable Site. There would be a total of 801 residents, which is referenced in the DEIR sections.”
They add, “Both the City of Davis and the project applicant are committed to ensuring that the total population residing within the Student Site does not exceed one person per bedroom, which would ensure that the population residing at the proposed project does not exceed the assumptions used in the Draft EIR analysis.”
The EIR also notes, “While the Student Site is intended to provide off-campus housing options for students attending UC Davis, anyone would be able to live at the property, and the ability to sign a lease for occupancy at the project site would not be contingent upon current, pending, or recent enrollment at UC Davis. However, a maximum cap on total residents at the property would be strictly enforced.”
A second concern pertained to the amendment “to the Land Use Element of the City’s General Plan regarding allowable uses and densities.” Many commenters questioned the applicability of the amendment to the proposed project.
On June 14, 2016, the City Council amended the General Plan Land Use Element regarding Allowable Uses and Densities. This changes existing land uses from “Residential – High Density” to “Residential – Medium High Density,” and a new “Residential – High Density” category with a greater allowable density was established.
The EIR notes, “The amendment also clarified the intent of the ‘High Density’ category, which is to implement smart growth principles, including but not limited to compact development, avoidance of sprawl, and a reduction of vehicle miles travelled.”
The primary objective for the amendment according to the EIR “was to provide the City and the development community with tools to implement several of the City’s infill goals and objectives.”
The EIR further notes, “The proposed Sterling 5th Street Apartments Project includes a request for a General Plan Amendment to change the land use designation of the project site from Industrial to Residential-High Density. This proposed General Plan Amendment applies only to the General Plan Land Use designation assigned to the project site, and does not include amendments to any General Plan text regarding allowed uses or densities.”
There are also concerns about potential traffic impacts in downtown Davis as the result of this proposed project.
The EIR goes on at length to note that, under existing General Plan LOS (Level of Service) standards, “LOS ‘F’ is acceptable in the Core Area.” When they studied the traffic impacts, they found, “The majority of the study intersections and roadway segments were determined to result in less-than significant impacts with the addition of project-generated traffic.”
They add that “under the Cumulative Year 2035 No Project condition, all intersections and roadway segments, except the 2nd Street / Cantrill Drive intersection, will operate at LOS E or better.”
They find, “Cumulative impacts to the 2nd Street / Cantrill Drive intersection were determined to be significant and unavoidable.”
The EIR adds, “Should the project result in increased congestion in the Core Area, the City has determined, through the adoption of the above-referenced General Plan LOS policies and thresholds and General Plan EIR, that this congestion is acceptable in the Davis Core Area. As such, the traffic analysis contained in the Draft EIR has properly applied all applicable traffic thresholds of significance to the project study area, and all potentially significant traffic impacts have been disclosed, and where appropriate, mitigated to the greatest extent feasible.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting