Analysis: Early Feedback Suggests Developers Ought to Re-Think Proposed Project

Getting projects that do not require a Measure R vote approved in Davis is difficult, as we have seen in the last few years.  Getting projects that do require Measure R votes approved in Davis has not yet happened.

One factor in that is that for a lot of people – even those who are inclined to support some projects – the default is no project and so a developer will not get a project approved simply because the impacts are low and there are no real objections.  I think you actually have to give the people a positive reason to support the project.

On Thursday, the Vanguard ran an interview that we had done with Dave Taormino, one of the developers of the West Davis Active Adult Community project.  Here is my take on the feedback received, both on the Vanguard and elsewhere.

Tentative Map Controversy – Dave Taormino told the Vanguard that a Measure R vote does not require the specificity of a Tentative Map in order to be approved by the voters.  This is something that Community Development Director for the city, Mike Webb, agrees with.

I spent a lot of time on Wednesday trying to understand from a technical perspective what the difference was between a Tentative Map and the Project Baseline Features.

When the objection came up on the Vanguard, I tried to get an answer to a very basic question – what we would lose out on if there are baseline features (which are required) but not a Tentative Map.

The best answer I got is: “The simple answer is the developers do not put ‘everything’ into the baseline project features.”

But what do you want included in the Project Baseline Features that is not there?  As I understand it, the level of detail in a Tentative Map includes things like pipe size of utilities, the exact property lines, square footage and volume of drainage.

Whereas, what we are mainly voting on are things that would be included in the project baseline features: number of units, type of units, the basics of the project.

Votes are going to come down to things like affordable units, traffic impacts, other environmental concerns, congestion, need for the project.

One poster wrote that they “find it fascinating David, and am simply trying to understand why you would not want the details and specifics to be spelled out by the developers before a Measure J/R vote to protect the best interests of the City and its residents?”

And what I am trying to understand is what we get from a Tentative Map that we don’t get in a project’s baseline features that is essential for the vote.  The nice thing about Measure R is, once it is in the baseline features, it requires a new vote.  So if there is something missing, the easy answer seems to be put it in.

However, the debate over the Tentative Map might be detracting from more fundamental concerns.

The developer needs to be alarmed by the first two comments from yesterday:

Jim Frame writes: “I think skipping the detailed design at this stage of the project is probably a good idea, as long as the J/R requirements are met.  But I don’t see anything about the project that would lead me to support it.  It’s peripheral development that contributes nothing to the city’s bottom line after the construction honeymoon phase, and it doesn’t address the dearth of student housing.  It’s DOA as far as I’m concerned.”

Mark West writes: “I won’t go so far as to say, DOA, but otherwise, I agree with Jim. I don’t see how the current plan as described here addresses any of the critical needs in the community. 325 single story detached homes is an extremely inefficient use of the land and only replicates the poor land use decisions of the past. Putting a poorly planned development on the periphery fits the definition of sprawl. I hope to see major modifications to this plan as they move through the process or there will be no reason to support it.”

In their own ways these are two huge bellwethers.

Mark West is a critic of Measure R and one of the most consistent supporters of growth and development on the Vanguard comment sections.  If he is skeptical about the project, you should be concerned.

Jim Frame is important because he is probably a true swing voter.  He was critical of Nishi, but ended up supporting it narrowly.  If he says it is “DOA” – I would be concerned about any ability to gain the informed swing voter.

Here are a few thoughts gleaned from these comments:

First, there are questions about a senior community – even at 80 percent.  When Covell Village was considering a senior project, it had tremendous pushback from the community, and ultimately never got past the conceptual phase.  There are clear differences here, and while people can cite a growing senior population, creating a senior development doesn’t seem high on many people’s radar.

Second, along those lines Mr. Taormino is arguing that creating a senior facility will free up existing housing, but will it?  Will people from in town move there or will seniors from out of town move there?  As someone put it, who’s to say that the senior won’t give the house to their kids who then convert it to a mini-dorm rental?

Third, the most immediate housing need seems to be student rental housing, and there is concern that a Measure R project would detract from that focus.

Fourth, there is a clear need for economic development and city revenue that this project is not designed to address, and so many people are concerned about a Measure R project that addresses senior housing rather than student housing or economic development.

Even if we can somehow resolve those core problems, there are concerns with the specific design.

The plan calls for single-family detached flats.  They call for 475 units on 75 acres.

As Mark West put it, “325 single story detached homes is an extremely inefficient use of the land and only replicates the poor land use decisions of the past. Putting a poorly planned development on the periphery fits the definition of sprawl.”

Another commenter on Facebook said, “I don’t understand the lack of the density in this proposal.”

On the one hand, the developer is looking at universal design principles in order to build housing that can accommodate people starting at age 55 when they are generally healthy and mobile but will continue to age to a point where stairs become a hurdle.

However, there are other solutions.  You can build the same number of units on far less land by stacking the flats and building elevators.  Yes, it would add to the costs, but it would allow for either more units or a more compact footprint and a much better density.

Clearly, the developer has the ability to alter the density concerns.  The more fundamental problem might be the perception that this project doesn’t create the greatest need.

It is early, but before they invest a lot more money they need to figure out if they are headed in the wrong direction.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. Howard P

    Interesting… no comments on this “thread” but a whole lot on the previous one…

    Not sure if the right term is “re-think”, but introspection would be something I’d advise to the applicant(s)…

    1. David Greenwald

      I was a little surprised too…

      I think the type of housing is surmountable – I’m a little surprised people don’t view senior housing as a bigger issue.  We’ve been primed on student housing a bit much.

      They need to re-think the land use ideas because density and sprawl are easy targets in this community on a peripheral project.

      1. Howard P

        And, Sr Housing was the “thin opening wedge” to get support from segments of the public to support a residential project at what we now know as “The Cannery”.

  2. Carson Wilcox

    I dont understand the lack of density as well as the seeming concentration on SFR vs multi properties for seniors….  If I am wanting to downsize, why would I sell a 3/2 for 600k and buy another detached house for the same $?  Seems like he is trying to satisfy everybody… and we know how that goes.

  3. Todd Edelman

    An ideal place for senior housing is mixed in with other types of housing for different age groups in one of the existing parking lots or structures in or active brownfield areas near Downtown so that 55+ people and everyone else does not need a car, or even a bicycle, to get their daily needs for social interaction and consumerism.

    Integration by design is one of the best tools for increasing solidarity and democracy. Davis – or Yolo County – puts a lot of amazing and fully-justified energy into welcoming everyone to our communities, but then senior housing goes all in one place and below-market housing goes in the side of (Sterling) or the corner of (Cannery) planned and under-construction housing. (Will kids who live in the million-dollar homes at the Cannery harass their classmates who live in the “poor” part of the development?)

    True, very young people need a place close to where they live where they can make as much noise as they want during reasonable hours, university-age tenants need a place to blow off steam and elders need particular services and in some cases a different pace in the place they hang out.

    Create mixed-housing close to the Senior Center, close to parks or simply the places between buildings known as “streets for cars” for kids to get to on their own and close to places where both teenagers and university-age students can get wild (for example the centrally-located roofs of the parking garages on both 1st St. and 4th, if converted to venues with restaurants and clubs, with the level below with kitchens, bathrooms, storage rooms and logistics areas.)

    Younger people can learn so much from elders – and it’s better if it’s more organic rather than contrived through class visits or even volunteering. Put them in the same environment. Similarly, put at-risk kids or those in families with various basic challenges right next to university students who will naturally act as informal or even formal tutors.

    End the formal under-priced incentive for mobility by automobile by eliminating mandatory parking minimums, and replace it with full support related to ADA, carsharing in close proximity, parking and – temporarily – incentive programs for cargo bicycles to help people shop or take younger kids to school without a car, more frequent bus services which also connect directly from all points in town and meet all Capitol Corridor trains  (right now there are no bus services at all from some areas to the important 6:35AM train that takes people to a San Francisco 9 to 5 job, and also the last few trains of the day have no connecting bus from the Depot to many parts of town.) Move parking to the periphery, at the edges of Downtown at the north (5th St.), the east (at the southwest corner of a re-developed multi-use complex in the ridiculously sited PG&E vehicle repair yard), and the south (on top of the planned, smart, more compact Richards and I-80 “intersection”). The latter – with free parking and an all-day frequent shuttles to Downtown – would be a easy way for people driving on the highway to stop in town and spend money, e.g. at the Davis Rooftop Venue located on 1st St. where they used to park for free. In a straight line it’s also a short bike ride and a reasonable walk to Davis Depot, so along with the shuttles this is also the place for anyone who needs to get to the train by car to park it, as it would have no negative effect on Downtown. (And of course the Davis Depot parking lot gets filled with more money-making businesses that won’t conflict with the rail noise that will continue until Capitol Corridor high-speed is fully-functioning in a couple of decades…)

    If we want this kind of integration with all of its potential benefits, we also need to integrate – at the very least – planning for mobility, housing, jobs, social interaction and consumerism with an integration of, for example, the grassroots citizen-City interfaces of the Planning Commission and the BTSSC (Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission).

    I’m really pleased that there is more criticism of past planning decisions, but density is spoiled with both designed-segregation and continued obligations for space for car-parking when we should prioritize person-sleeping. Leaving those two monsters in the mix is a poor way of addressing our past development crimes if we want to create a more sustainable, integrated and joyous life for residents of Davis and surroundings and our valued guests.

    1. Todd Edelman

      You’d think because I added “active-” to “brownfield” I’d not be worthy of patronizing.

      Anyway, that PG&E yard is huge and there’s almost no reason it needs be exactly where it is, as it is used for servicing their vehicles operating in areas where the utility supplies energy in northern California. I don’t think that a lot of people work there – happy to revise that estimate – but it would certainly be less there would be if this was a big, mixed use development including housing, locally-oriented stores, offices… it’s about the same size as nine Downtown blocks, so from 2nd to 5th and A to C.
      The PG&E site also have a much smaller footprint, as a large part of is really just a parking lot. This could be three or four stories. Swap it with part of what’s planned at MRIC, and put the PG&E yard there, perhaps even with a railway spur to transport their vehicles to and from the facility.
      The main problem with this “Energy Commons” area is the railway noise and I-80 noise and stink, and while I have a plan for mitigating those two things, it’d still be good to have less sensitive stuff on the south side, though that’s also the sunny side.
      What a great location it could be!

      1. Howard P

        I agree in concept, but have not seen data as to status of contaminents at the PG&E corp yard… strongly suspect only portions of the site would qualify as “brownfield”… and the nature of the likely contaminants could posibly be completely removed… I just don’t know.  Have not seen even a “level 1 site assessment”, much less a “level 2”.

        You appear not to have identified the “site” as the PG&E corp yard… had you done so,  I would have responded differently in my earlier post.  There are other sites meeting the criteria you laid out, in and/or near the Core Area.  Some are true potential ‘brownfields’ and at least one I’m aware of, I’d never propose housing (of any kind) there.

        Have a good evening.

  4. Greg Rowe

    The comments by David and the posters may be considered by some to be somewhat philosophical and esoteric compared to the questions and comments made by the audience at the recent WDACC neighborhood meeting I attended.  The most common questions were: (1) how soon will the project be built?  (2) how much will the homes cost?  (3) what will the HOA fees be?  (4) will there be a dog park?  (5) who are the likely opponents?  (6) What’s CEQA?

    No one expressed concerns about density, building height, peripheral development, parking, distance from downtown, mixed-use housing, “smart growth,” whether any buyers would be from out-of-town, or any of the urban planning principles and issues discussed in David’s commentary and by the posters.  This was an audience of about 25 mature and seemingly well-educated and informed adults.  The mood was overwhelmingly positive and upbeat; again, the main concern seemed to be “how soon can I move in?”  When asked by the developer whether the non-age restricted housing should be separated from the age-restricted homes or integrated, the overwhelming response was “integrated.”

    I’ve heard that the project has encountered some skepticism from City commissions, but if the tenor of the remaining community meetings is anything like the one I attended, this project could easily gain a favorable Measure J/R vote.  Thus far, I’m inclined to vote for it.  Unlike students, I’ve never experienced senior citizens throwing beer bottles at my house at 2:00 AM.

    1. Don Shor

      I think there is high demand for senior-oriented housing in Davis. Though any Measure R vote is a challenge, I think this project has a better chance than others. Especially the way Dave Taormino is going about it: seeking significant public input very early in the process.

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