Earlier this week, the Vanguard posed the question, does Davis need senior housing? In a very real way it’s the wrong question. As one of our readers pointed out, there is a real market for senior housing – and thus the West Davis Active Adult Community.
Other readers expressed concern with the lack of density in the project and questioned whether the project has a big enough local constituency to pass a Measure R vote.
But I think there is a more fundamental point that needs discussion here, and that is whether the city council should take the approach that there is a finite limit to how much housing they can realistically add, given Davis’ growth control laws and also the community’s expressed desire for slow growth – and therefore whether the council should create some sort of framework for approving projects even to be considered for votes by the public.
This goes back to a point we made early this year, when we urged without success that the council come up with a number as to how much student housing the city needs to add, given the university enrollment plans and commitments to add on-campus housing.
The city declined to take up this approach, but we have a reasonable estimate that if the university sticks with the current 90/40 plan, the gap between 90/40 and 100/50 is roughly 3900 beds, so for fun, let’s round up to 4000 beds.
Will the university go higher than 90/40? They have given some signals that they would consider it. But when we directly asked Matt Dulcich, UC Davis’ Director of Environmental Planning and Local Government Relations Manager, all he would commit to is “we are continuing to examine opportunities for additional housing within our draft LRDP land use plan during the first stages of the environmental analysis which is currently underway.”
There are some other projects that are coming down the pipeline. There is the Chiles Road redevelopment project on 7.4 acres that would be some sort of residential neighborhood tailored to young professionals, graduate students and families.
There is the development across from Playfields Sports Park that is 179 units and would be affordable housing which would include UCD students and non-students: Affordable-by-Design Micro Units, Low-income individuals attending UCD, Low-income Families and Student Affinity Groups.
The Trackside development is looking at higher end rental housing – but has been a controversial project.
And then there is the senior housing project, that would be the only current Measure R project and which focuses on senior housing.
There are really preliminary talks about the possibility of utilizing the land currently housing the school district administration and converting it into single-family homes.
The city clearly has a lot of pent up housing needs. While the Cannery has slowly come on line, Grande Village is going forward, and Chiles Ranch may once again commence construction, the city has not added much in the way of major subdivisions since Measure R was passed in 2000 – that’s now 17 years ago.
There are clear student housing needs that are urgent, with a 0.2 percent vacancy rate, and the council has taken some steps to accommodate that.
There are some senior housing needs – advocates there have often suggested that enabling seniors to downsize would allow families to move into their current homes.
And there are clear workforce and family housing needs.
The trick is that the council faces a situation where there is a shrinking amount of vacant infill sites within the town.
In addition, we have seen three Measure J/R votes in 17 years, and all have failed. Would voters make the Davis Active Adult Community the first successful Measure R vote? That remains to be seen.
But the problem that we note in the article from earlier in the week is, if they do, that might be the one project that the voters approve.
The council has taken the approach that developers are private individuals and the city has little control over what comes forward in the way of proposals. That is completely accurate. However, the council is the gatekeeper as to what projects they approve.
For the most part, we have seen the council evaluate projects on a project by project basis. That means if they find the project acceptable – or, more to the point, when they find the project meets their guidelines – they have approved it.
There have not generally been considerations as to the bigger picture. The question has been is this project acceptable, not how does the project fit within our priorities. And maybe the answer there is we are so far behind at this point, that we need something of everything.
The city has made the decision to start the General Plan update process by focusing on the core area – and that makes some sense as we have pointed out in recent weeks. A vision of downtown that includes densification could include several stories of workforce or rental housing in addition to retail and office space.
Our view is this: we have finite spaces to put new housing. Measure R has not yet produced a project that the voters will approve and, therefore, the council should be very judicious about which projects they put on the ballot.
Neighbors have pushed back against traffic, noise and visual impacts on their homes and, therefore, there will be limits as to what can be redeveloped in terms of infill and how dense it can become.
Therefore, the council should think in terms of housing needs and prioritize which projects they approve accordingly.
—David M. Greenwald reporting