Final EIR Released For Sterling

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Sterling Apartments

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

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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6 thoughts on “Final EIR Released For Sterling”

  1. Todd Edelman

    Hundreds of car parking spaces for a student-focused housing development fifteen minutes by bicycle or bus to campus is not an example of “smart growth”.
    One could say it is… well, relative to the typical suburbia with narrow, bumpy multi-use paths that characterizes much of the development for the past few decades in Davis, in addition to the retail projects anchored by local and national chains, all with huge parking lots, often very full of cars, from the Nuggets to the Safeways to Trader Joes and Grocery Outlet, too. These stores – islands in little seas of asphalt – have a bicycle modal share of approximately 5 to 10% of employees and customers — the City’s goal for the end of this year is 25% (“City of Davis Bicycle Action Plan”, 2014, page 77). The modal share for Downtown and denser places is better, true, but not good enough to average out those low rates into the City’s goal.
    And about “LOS” – Level of Service? I’ll admit I’m not well-enough informed about if or why not the City of Davis is not using more progressive models. LOS  F – one component – no, not a by-product – of Sterling – is described here:  F: forced or breakdown flow. Every vehicle moves in lockstep with the vehicle in front of it, with frequent slowing required. Travel time cannot be predicted, with generally more demand than capacity. A road in a constant traffic jam is at this LOS, because LOS is an average or typical service rather than a constant state.”
    Yep, sounds like Downtown in the evenings, especially on Friday and Saturday, and many of Capitol of Cycling’s intersections all over town. Noisy, and no fun for cycling and walking or running buses efficiently. Why is Davis intent to approve something which doesn’t make this better? Well, because it doesn’t have to! As it mentions in the article the City’s General Plan allows this.
    Density is great! But accessing this density – really forming a synergy with it – does not have to be done with cars. The City’s parking regulations allow… no… they require the 400-odd parking spaces at Sterling. It’s clear to me that the City’s General Plan needs a lot of revision if it allows this in developments like Sterling.
    There are other issues with this development: Though they’re the best target for mobility without private cars – exemplified by UC Davis’s car brilliant parking ban for students in residence halls – it’s not good to concentrate students in one place like this. Distributing and integrating populations with the same general density should be the goal of the City. Also, I’m unclear if residents of the below market rate housing on the same lot will have access to the Sterling swimming pool and other facilities – really, will a kid from a lower-income family have to listen to people playing in the pool as they ride their bike or get driven to another one they’re allowed in?

  2. Todd Edelman

    Hundreds of car parking spaces for a student-focused housing development fifteen minutes by bicycle or bus to campus is not an example of “smart growth”.
    One could say it is… well, relative to the typical suburbia with narrow, bumpy multi-use paths that characterizes much of the development for the past few decades in Davis, in addition to the retail projects anchored by local and national chains, all with huge parking lots, often very full of cars, from the Nuggets to the Safeways to Trader Joes and Grocery Outlet, too. These stores – islands in little seas of asphalt – have a bicycle modal share of approximately 5 to 10% of employees and customers — the City’s goal for the end of this year is 25% (“City of Davis Bicycle Action Plan”, 2014, page 77). The modal share for Downtown and denser places is better, true, but not good enough to average out those low rates into the City’s goal.
    And about “LOS” – Level of Service? I’ll admit I’m not well-enough informed about if or why not the City of Davis is not using more progressive models. LOS  F – one component – no, not a by-product – of Sterling – is described here:  F: forced or breakdown flow. Every vehicle moves in lockstep with the vehicle in front of it, with frequent slowing required. Travel time cannot be predicted, with generally more demand than capacity. A road in a constant traffic jam is at this LOS, because LOS is an average or typical service rather than a constant state.”
    Yep, sounds like Downtown in the evenings, especially on Friday and Saturday, and many of Capitol of Cycling’s intersections all over town. Noisy, and no fun for cycling and walking or running buses efficiently. Why is Davis intent to approve something which doesn’t make this better? Well, because it doesn’t have to! As it mentions in the article the City’s General Plan allows this.
    Density is great! But accessing this density – really forming a synergy with it – does not have to be done with cars. The City’s parking regulations allow… no… they require the 400-odd parking spaces at Sterling. It’s clear to me that the City’s General Plan needs a lot of revision if it allows this in developments like Sterling.
    There are other issues with this development: Though they’re the best target for mobility without private cars – exemplified by UC Davis’s car brilliant parking ban for students in residence halls – it’s not good to concentrate students in one place like this. Distributing and integrating populations with the same general density should be the goal of the City. Also, I’m unclear if residents of the below market rate housing on the same lot will have access to the Sterling swimming pool and other facilities – really, will a kid from a lower-income family have to listen to people playing in the pool as they ride their bike or get driven to another one they’re allowed in?

    1. Dave Hart

      Well said, and worth saying twice.  One reason the concentration of student off campus housing west of Anderson Road works as well as it does is because the students travel to campus along large thoroughfares that connect directly with campus and do not try to funnel through the downtown area.  Our city spent how many dollars to “calm” Fifth Street from L through to campus?  Now, we are entertaining the idea of completely undoing the benefits from that.  Maybe the proposal should include taking out an entire row of houses on either side of Fifth Street from L all the way to campus and make it a four lane divided expressway.  That should keep us out of LOS F or even E for a couple years.

      1. Todd Edelman

        Students and everyone else should be able to cross downtown by bicycle safely, at a reasonable pace, without stopping and without annoying pedestrians, and ideally pedestrians will get more dedicated, bike-free space besides the sidewalks and the patio on the side of the 2nd Street Parking Lot (As I understand it the local translation of “Parking Lot” is “Plaza”?; Right now the largest commercial pedestrian zone in Davis… is inside Target.)

  3. Greg Rowe

    I submitted detailed comments on the DEIR, suggesting that if the City feels compelled to approve Sterling, it should approve the Environmentally Superior Alternative rather, along with all of the bicycle and transportation mitigation measures listed in the DEIR, and that those mitigation measures must be completed before occupancy.  Given the City’s need for property tax revenue, that may still be the most palatable compromise.  I am still concerned about bike safety. Several weeks ago, while turning into the post office in my car, I almost hit a young woman who was riding west on the bike path. She was not wearing a helmet and did not even bother to look or slow down for cars turning into the post office.  I’m concerned that Sterling will only exacerbate this problem. And no, I’m not anti-bike.  My wife and I typically ride 2,000+ miles/year on our tandem.

    But, here’s another concern.  Both Sterling and Lincoln40 are proposing to construct densely occupied 5-story apartment buildings. Meanwhile, UCD steadfastly refuses to build apartments over 4 stories on the campus. If UCD won’t build apartments of the same height as Sterling or Lincoln40, why should Davis residents accept the negative consequences of such complexes within their neighborhoods?  When asked about higher buildings during the December 6 City Council meeting, UCD planning director Bob Segar admitted that he had not yet studied the economics of higher facilities.  While UCD continues focusing on land-intensive low-rise apartments, progressive campuses such as UC Irving and UC San Diego are forging ahead with high-rise apartments that make much more efficient and effective use of land.

    I attended and spoke at the January 25 UC Regents meeting, urging the Regents to suspend action on the UCD Long Range Development Plan and to direct UCD to revise the plan to accommodate no less than 50% of the students on campus.  I stayed for the Regents’ Budget and Capital Strategies Committee meeting, where UCI and UCSD made excellent presentations on their upcoming plans.  The UCSD Chancellor outlined plans for an 8-story apartment building and a 15-story apartment building.  Again, if those campuses can do it, why not UCD?

    It was recently asserted that UCD can only do what the Regents and the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) will allow the university to do.  I would suggest it is the other way around.  UCOP and the Regents will allow UCD to more with housing, but only if UCD asks!   Unlike UCI and UCSD, I have not seen or heard of any UCD administrator presenting a proposal to the Regents for high-rise apartments.  Until UCD does so, I see no reason for the City of Davis to approve densely occupied 5-story student apartment buildings within the city.

     

    1. Todd Edelman

      Great details on what UCD doesn’t want to do, thanks! But about that cyclist: How do you know what she was looking at or if she was at an intentional speed, based on what I assume is her right of way in this situation? You weren’t wearing a helmet, and if she was a “…woman” it means that she was also not required to use one. It’s not relevant.

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