Staff Recommends Approval of Sterling Project

For a proposed apartment complex, the Sterling Fifth Street Apartments project has undergone rather extensive city and public review with an extremely high level of interest from the surrounding neighborhood, in particular Rancho Yolo residents as well as the broader community.  On Tuesday, the project will go before the city council, where the council for the first time will be able to weigh in on the project.

City staff notes that the modifications to the project in response to community concerns “resulted in an approximately 25% reduction in the project scale and intensity compared to the original proposal.”  Staff writes, “In response to these modifications, the Rancho Yolo Community Association Board has suspended its previous opposition to the project.”

However, as the Vanguard noted yesterday, Marge Beach recently wrote, “For those who think we at Rancho Yolo have ‘dropped our opposition,’ we have not. For those who think we are now ‘happy’ with the project, we are not.”

Instead, she argues, “The Rancho Yolo community continues its absolute opposition to the now ‘revised’ Sterling Fifth Street Apartments proposal.”

Staff acknowledges, “Although the project modifications and other measures have addressed many project-related issues, public concerns persist.”

On the plus side, staff writes that “the project has also garnered support and provides community benefits. The project creates needed student housing on centrally-located, infill site in proximity to services and transit and bicycle facilities. It provides additional affordable housing on a separate site.”

Staff continues, “Project requirements include sustainability features, such a LEED Gold buildings, PV for common area needs, and transportation-related measures, improvements, and contributions that benefit the project area and reduce vehicle trips.”

Overall, staff believes that “the merits of the project are substantial and recommends approval.”

One aspect we have not talked about is that the staff considers the project to be “revenue neutral.”  However, they note, “Due to the previous owner’s non-profit status, the City did not receive property taxes for the site. The for-profit apartment complex will contribute property taxes to the City’s General Fund based on the value of the property to help fund City services.”

Staff notes, “The development will also generate a one-time fiscal benefit to the City of $3.2 -3.3 million in construction tax and development impact fees revenue.”

The proposal considers a mix of 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom, 4-bedroom, and 5-bedroom units.

Staff writes, “The larger bedroom units are charged that same rate as the smaller 2-bedroom units in the City’s impact fee schedule. However, the fees are appropriate for the project even with the larger bedroom units.”

As we have noted, the project is limited to the equivalent of one person per bedroom with single-occupancy bedrooms which cap the total resident population.  “The project’s impacts on City facilities would be similar to other apartment projects with fewer bedrooms where residents double up in bedrooms. Additionally, the Sterling Apartments Project is targeting a university student population who generally place less demand on City parks than a typical family. Student residents who may be away for parts of the year during school breaks may also place less demand on other services.”

The development agreement calls for the project to contribute an additional $100,000 for transportation enhancements in the general project area. Davis Joint Unified School District and County of Yolo will benefit financially from this project with approximately $800,000 – 900,000 in one-time fees.

Residents of the nearby Rancho Yolo senior community have actively followed and commented on the project.

Major issues and areas of concerns include:

  • Preservation of the site and alternative uses for social services and other public uses.
  • Size, scale, height, and density of the project.
  • Neighborhood compatibility and land use policies.
  • Conflicts with student housing and residents (noise, parking, etc.).
  • University growth policies and relations.
  • Incompatibility of student residents with families on the affordable site.
  • Visual and aesthetic issues.
  • Traffic, access, and congestion issues.
  • Impacts on the adjacent post office.
  • Too much parking and too little parking.
  • Bicycle parking, infrastructure, and congestion.
  • Inadequate regional transit.
  • Conservation and sustainability issues such water use, tree removal, demolition, energy, and strategies to reduce car use.
  • Environmental impact-related comments as addressed in the Final EIR.

In addition to the reduction in the project size and density, staff notes “additional modifications were made and measures were added to address other concerns raised by the Rancho Yolo Community Association.”

These include:

  • Reduction of the building height from 66 feet (5 stories) to 56 feet (4 stories).
  • Increase in the building setback from the front (5th Street) property line for the Sterling Apartments building from 41 feet to 45 feet and for the affordable building from 15 feet to 35 feet.
  • Security measures and review for potential noise and disturbance issues.
  • Management measures to monitor and report on occupancy.
  • Elimination of balconies facing 5th Street for the 4- and 5-bedroom units.
  • Elimination of a potential wall mural on the affordable building.
  • $100,000 contribution for neighborhood transportation enhancements.
  • Improved sustainability measures with submetering, photovoltaics, LEED Gold.

Staff also addressed some of the other project issues.  There was an issue raised about “the potential conflict of multi-family housing or student housing in close proximity to senior housing. Concerns included density issues as well as lifestyle differences.”  Staff counters with a city-wide map that shows senior housing and apartments are often in close proximity, with staff concluding that “the situation is not uncommon and has not resulted in any obvious conflict between residential uses.”

Staff also notes that the city’s vision for infill development “is to encourage and maximize opportunities for infill development projects that are beneficial to the community, protective of existing neighborhoods, and well-designed. The benefits of infill include resource conservation, efficiency of facilities and services, promotion of alternative modes of transportation, and opportunities for diverse housing and mixed use options.”

They point to a “critical need for rental housing” which they argue “is evidenced by apartment vacancy rates in the City that have been near or below 1% in recent years (0.2% in 2016) according to the apartment vacancy surveys conducted annually by U.C. Davis. It has effects on the City’s single-family residential neighborhoods which can be impacted by rental properties.”

Staff writes that “the proposed development would be an appropriate project consistent with the General Plan policies for infill development.”

They argue the project contributes to the variety of housing types, the design “enhances and does not erode the existing neighborhood character,” it is “designed to be compatible with adjacent uses. Compatibility includes project changes that increased privacy and protection from noise.”  They add, it promotes energy efficiency and supports alternative transportation.  They add, “The site is safe and convenient for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users.”

Key conclusions from the Residential Development Status Report are:

  • Residential growth in Davis continues to be consistent with the 1% growth cap;
  • The City is seeing a healthy mix of unit types, including single-family homes, accessory dwelling units, condominiums (Cannery condominiums in for building permit at this time), and apartments; and
  • There has been limited development of unrestricted rental housing over the past decade, as corroborated by very low vacancy rates and developer interest in apartment construction.

With respect to student-oriented housing, the staff writes:

“The demand for university student housing affects all of the housing types listed above. To the extent that the demand for student rentals may have a negative effect on housing types and neighborhoods not originally intended for that use, the development of student-oriented housing is a necessary consideration. However it involves both pros and cons.

“On the downside is the concentration of student housing that results and the myriad of parking, noise, concerns about change, and other neighborhood issues that can follow. Without student-oriented housing, students are more likely to be dispersed throughout the City which may reduce the intensity of related problems, but also spreads it over a larger area of the City and in more neighborhoods.”

Staff addresses the concern about 4 and 5 bedroom issues.  They write, “One issue raised by some members of the public is the project’s provision of 4- and 5-bedroom units. It centers around the concern that the unit design and high bedroom count are not be suitable for family units and lack the flexibility to attract non-student residents.”

Staff notes that, with the limitation to a single occupancy per room, the population is limited to 540 residents.  That “averages out to 3.4 residents per unit which would be on par with, or possibly even lower than, other apartment complexes in the City comprised of 2, 3, and 4-bedroom units that lack the occupancy restriction.

“There is also the issue of the resident population and unit design,” staff writes. “The Sterling Apartments site is targeted for university students who are expected to make up the majority of the residents. The units are not expected to appeal to a large number of family households or families with children, but they are not precluded from the site either.

“The units provide common living and dining spaces for a household like other apartment units. The changing demographics and household compositions call for a variety of housing options and unit types. The 2-bedroom units can accommodate a small family. The larger units with a separate bathroom for each bedroom could appeal to a multi-generational family,” they note.

Staff notes that, while the university has places to increase its housing to accommodate projected growth, “there is currently a shortage of housing to meet the current needs of the City and University. Additional housing is needed. The City is actively engaged in encouraging additional on-campus housing beyond the amount currently being proposed by the University.

“The City Council has also clearly articulated a desire to consider housing proposals within the City and has given specific direction during the project’s pre-application stage to bring Sterling Apartments Project forward for review.”

—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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  1. Dianne C Tobias

    I know I am coming late to the table on this topic, and that this question has probably been answered many times, but how will the ‘occupancy limited to one student/bedroom’ be enforced?

      1. Dianne C Tobias

        Morning Tia!

        Has there been discussion on this? The projections of 540 residents could be much higher….

        BTW is anyone else having trouble logging in? I have had to log in repeatedly the last couple days.

        1. David Greenwald

          How do you enforce any zoning ordinances? The landlord is not going to lease to more people than rooms, if students smuggle people in, I don’t know what the standard consequence is.

  2. Tia Will

    And smuggle they will unless human nature has changed since I was in school here 35 years ago. I believe that it is now, as it was then, essentially unenforceable and that this is probably part of the neighborhood concern although as David rightly points out, this is no different than cheating on any zoning ordinance.

  3. Ron

    From article:  “Staff writes, “The larger bedroom units are charged that same rate as the smaller 2-bedroom units in the City’s impact fee schedule. However, the fees are appropriate for the project even with the larger bedroom units.”


  4. Ron

    Development impact fees for apartment complexes are already significantly less than comparable single-family dwellings, based upon average occupancy per bedroom.  If students are also doubling-up, the inequity in development impact fees is even greater.

    Of course, there’s also the matter of parcel taxes for schools, which are exactly the same for an apartment complex (regardless of the number of units) as they are for a single-family dwelling. (This might be more of a concern for the Affordable component/complex within Sterling, since those occupants are more likely to have school-age children.) (However, I understand that “nothing can be done” about that.)

    1. David Greenwald

      But the impact of a SFH is a lot more as well, so I’m not sure that’s a relevant point.

      The matter of the parcel tax is outside of the control of the city.

    2. Keith O

      (However, I understand that “nothing can be done” about that.)

      You’re right, homeowners end up getting whacked even more with higher parcel taxes.

    1. Keith O

      Another good point.  As I’ve been told by several commenters here on the Vanguard that the less one has to pay for something the more they’ll use.

      1. Ron

        David:  “All multifamily units have the same basic structure.”

        I understand that new apartment complexes will be soon be required to have water meters, for each unit.  (Not sure about electricity.)  However, when a complex plans to “rent-by-the-room”, there is no realistic way to charge for usage per individual lease.  (And, there are no plans to do so, as Sterling.)

        I recently posted an article regarding this issue, regarding UC’s West Village.

        (I intended to post this under David’s comment, but decided to leave it where it is.)


        1. Ron

          Also – if rooms are occupied by more than one person, how many total new residents (including those at the affordable complex) will essentially have no incentive to conserve water or electricity?

          I’d suggest “making friends” with someone who lives there, during the next severe drought. (Just dropped in for a quick “shower and shave”.) 🙂

        2. David Greenwald

          I would tend to agree.

          I will confess when I lived in DC and didn’t pay electricity I would keep the room at 65 all day so when I came home sweating from the humidity, I would instantly cool off. This was 20 years ago now.

        3. Ron

          David:  “It’s a universal problem at MFH’s there is no incentive to conserve.”

          That is true, for the moment.  However, as I mentioned above, new apartment complexes may soon be required to install water meters.  (I performed a quick search online, but didn’t see if this has actually been approved.)

          In any case – you’re somewhat incorrect, regarding complexes such as Sterling.  The “by-the-room” lease is what makes it different.  Even if units are equipped with water meters, there’s no realistic way of charging individual “by-the-room” lease holders for water or electricity.  And, there’s no plans to do so at Sterling.

          If some rooms are also occupied by more than one person, this problem will be exacerbated.

          Below is the link again, regarding the lack of incentive to conserve water and electricity at West Village.  Note the following quotes:

          “Though West Village is producing the amount of energy that models predicted, resident consumption is significantly higher than expected, according to the report. Residents at The Ramble Apartments consumed 131 percent more energy than expected, while those at Viridian Apartments consumed 141 percent more, including 306 percent more in common areas.

          The clubhouse, which includes a pool, gym and theater, exceeded consumption projections by 178 percent.

          Obstacles involve predicting the consumption habits of college students. Previous modeling data came from units with families, which tend to consume less electricity, officials said.

          “A four-person student apartment is not like a four-person household,” said Stephanie Martling, director of asset management at Carmel Partners. “There’s actually a lot more consumption for students living independently.”

          Another problem lies in the way residents are charged for utilities. Energy costs are built into the rent rather than based on usage, eliminating one financial incentive to conserve. Residents also say high rental rates discourage conservation.

          “I take pretty long showers and always keep the lights on,” said resident (name removed), who pays $850 a month for a single bedroom. “There’s no incentive to conserve. Of course they’re not getting zero net energy.”

        4. David Greenwald

          But Sharla raises a good point.  What are students in apartments using water for?

          1. Shower – okay but most people take the length of shower they want regardless of their water bill.

          2. Dishes – I know how often college students do the dishes.  Many buy paper plates and rarely cook.  So not a huge factor. And conservation/ water bill is not the determining factor here.

          3. Toilet – enough said.

          I don’t know if these apartments will have laundry or not, but that’s probably not a conservation factor.

          So I wonder how much this issue is even going to matter.

        5. Mark West

          “So I wonder how much this issue is even going to matter.”

          It shouldn’t matter at all, as it is just one of a long list of false ‘concerns’ used by some to justify not building more apartments in town.

        6. Todd Edelman

          If someone’s waiting, showers get shortened.

          Paper plates… Davis isn’t moving towards a zero waste policy?

          Can units have HVAC controls set individually for a max. e.g. 65F in winter and  a min. 65F in summer? There would still be independent controls, but once a year there’d be a re-set, controlled either centrally or during any annual inspection that ensures enough people are driving to justify the creation of so much parking instead of space for beds.

          The other huge problem  – as I mentioned – is that the 1:1 bed-to-bath takes up a lot of room.

  5. Ron

    Below is a link to the discussion initiated by Don and Maggie Sherman’s email to the Finance and Budget Commission, in which they note that development impact fees for apartment complexes are significantly less than the fees charged for single-family dwellings.  Matt recommended that the Commission examine these fees, but that suggestion was declined.  Matt also provided “hypothetical” calculations, which showed that the fees would increase from approximately $1.8 million to $3.8 million, if Don and Maggie’s suggestion was implemented at Sterling.

    Of course, Don and Maggie suggestion didn’t even account for the fact that apartment complexes such as Sterling might have a HIGHER occupancy rate (per bedroom) than an average single-family dwelling.  Thereby making the inequity, (and perhaps the inadequacy of fees charged to cover costs to the city for multi-bedroom apartment complexes such as Sterling) even greater.

    1. Matt Williams

      Ron, your statement above is a willful and purposeful distortion of the truth.  You have absolutely no evidence that the “calculations […] showed that the fees would increase …”  Your statement is 100% self-serving political propaganda spin. Your understanding of the law is deficient.

      1. Ron

        Matt:  That’s a lie, as written.

        The link is shown above, for anyone who’d care to review the original communications and calculations. Follow-up comments are also shown.

        You can put your own “spin” on that now, however you’d care to. Not planning to play along, with you.

        1. Matt Williams

          Ron, your response above is a willful and purposeful distortion of the truth.  You have absolutely no evidence that the “calculations […] showed that the fees would increase …”  Your statement is 100% self-serving political propaganda spin. Your understanding of the law is deficient.

  6. Todd Edelman

    You left out “Staff actually thinks that – given the City’s Biblical-level housing crisis including a twenty times lower than ideal residential vacancy rate and partial failure in transportation modal share goals – in any new development of this type it’s completely crazy to build any private motor vehicle storage for those without mobility challenges, functionally-inflexible if-not-quite-discriminatory unit layout, a utility-un-monitored 1:1 bed-to-bathroom ratio and a ban on poor people in most on-site facilities, but keep this well-considered, professional evaluation fully classified as it would set the bar too high for wisdom, common sense, compassion and sustainability-oriented holistic thinking.”

    1. Ron


      I didn’t “leave it out”.  The vacancy rate in Davis (which is also low in nearby communities, at the moment) is primarily driven by UCD.  Some of us understand that the campus is the best place to build housing specifically for students (and is also the only place to legally reserve housing for students).  This would also address your concerns regarding motor vehicles, since there is no commute to campus.  (All of these types of points have been made repeatedly, so it’s probably not worth going into much further here, again.)

      We could also probably debate whether or not the vacancy rate is actually a valid “tool” to use, to drastically change existing plans and zoning throughout the city.  (Probably a separate topic.)

      In some ways, I admire your focus on eliminating parking spaces for apartment complexes located in the city. However, I don’t fully know the impacts of doing so, especially for complexes such as Sterling, which is located far from campus, downtown, and the train station.

      1. Todd Edelman

        Ron, this was not directed to you alone. (I didn’t insert it incorrectly into the discussion, did I?)

        With well-designed infrastructure improvements – some of which are already in the works – the area to the east of Pole Line on 5th can have multiple safe and fast cycling connections to campus, Downtown and the Davis Depot. Walking is a bit too far and driving is overkill:

        (1) To Campus: Via wide multi-use path on the east side of Pole Line to a new planned connector to the bike path just east of the end of Olive Drive, on a slowed street or protected bike lane west on Olive, cross Richards, continue to the multi-use path under the tracks to the Arboretum;
        (2) To Campus, Downtown and the Davis Depot: Via a bike (and ped)-only opening to the un-fenced parking lot which opens onto 2nd St, then on a slowed street/protected path on 2nd, then:
        – (2a) Past the 2nd St/L St. L-intersection along the side of the ROW and over the north-bound freight rail tracks on an elevated multi-use path with a Y-shaped intersection leading to Olive (see above), OR
        (2b) past the north side of the Depot, directly onto the continuation of 2nd St;
        (3) To Downtown and Campus via a Class IV protected bike path on 5th St. to L St., south to 3rd, then: (3a) west on 3rd* all the way to campus, OR
        (3b) continuing west of 5th but only if there is a protected bike lane or slowed street (no doubt the below-standard bike lane will stay, so it is still possible to go this way, but the other ways are safer**.

        I kind of lost count on these time-close and very safe routes by bicycle. Given this potential – and the issues I identified above – the creation of any on-site motor vehicle parking at any new development near 5th and Pole Line is very unfortunate. (Residents should be able to store their cars in paid, fenced lots on the edge of town near 80 or 113).

        * 3rd St. for the section west of the tracks should be of similar configuration to the path it leads to in front of the Memorial Union, with a beautiful gateway at A St.. A non-motorized 3rd St corridor could extend west from Pole Line at the south property line of the properties that are on the south side of 5th St., all the way directly through a re-developed PG&E site.
        **  The road-diet on 5th has helped but this won’t be genuinely safe for bikes if the center turning lane space is eliminated and the street further dieted with a 20 mph design-speed.

  7. Carson Wilcox

    I cant help but laugh at some of this armchair central committee planning.  give me a blanking break.  We are DRASTICALLY short of rentals for students… and people want to argue about development fees?  Water usage?    We should count ourselves lucky as a city that someone wants to buy that parcel, and risk millions to build this property.

    1. Todd Edelman

      Please use single spaces after periods. You are in violation of multiple government regulations and we will ban your writing if you continue thus.

      And another thing: Development fees – thick and rich and spread wisely – prevent laughingly drastic injuries in the commons.

  8. Howard P

    Todd mentioned “sub-metering”… exists in most commercial projects, and was/is avail @ MF sites…

    Here’s the deal… the City considers a single commercial property as a single customer… MF is ‘commercial residential’ if you think about it…

    With the exception of separate meters for irrigation service lines (due to how sewer rates are calculated), one property, one meter… many commercial properties choose to put ‘private meters’ in, to allocate costs to individual ‘tenants’… far from something “new”… the City reads and bills based on the “master meter”… the customer (property owner) reads the ‘private meters’, and allocates costs as it sees fit.

    There is currently no “tiered rate” system for water use in Davis.

    Except for a tier rate system, there is little “incremental” cost for either frugal or ‘wasteful’ use of water.

    As Joe Friday (because it is Friday) might say… “the facts, … only the facts”…

  9. Howard P

    Todd also writes about a ‘zero waste’ policy…

    Is that only “solid waste”, or does that include rainfall (drainage systems ‘waste’ rainwater, even during major rainfall events), urine (a ‘waste’) and fecal matter (also a ‘waste’)… just a curious question… the latter three all include water…

    Even trees and non-human animals produce “waste”…

    Minimizing ‘waste’, good… zero waste?

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