In January 2016, the Davis City Council voted 5-0 to put a mixed-use development for the Nishi property on the ballot, subject to voter ratification. The voters however, by a margin of just over 600 votes, rejected the project following a contentious election cycle in 2016.
On October 6, the property owners submitted a “preliminary conceptual site plan for development on the Nishi property.” The city has also received a revised application and project narrative.
The new project focuses on a student housing proposal, including an affordable housing component. There would be vehicle access through a crossing under the Union Pacific Railroad tracks to the UC Davis campus.
Vehicle trips would be reduced and the applicants are considering elimination of private automobile access to west Olive Drive.
The project also includes open space, potentially a farm to provide produce for UC Davis students, and surface parking with opportunities for photovoltaics.
The proposed concept, staff writes, “would be generally consistent with the ‘Nishi Property – Option with Access Via UCD Only’ site recommended for housing in the City Council’s 2008 resolution
regarding Housing Element Steering Committee recommendation.”
The applicants have requested that the proposal be placed on the June 2018 ballot.
Staff writes, “The schedule would entail action by the current City Council, who are familiar with the site and its planning history. There are no other ‘Measure R’ proposals anticipated at that election.”
Litigation was filed against the original Nishi project in 2016. Earlier this year, that litigation was resolved in favor of the city, with the litigant conceding the affordable housing argument. However, earlier this week, Michael Harrington announced he had filed an appeal of the ruling.
In a release to the Vanguard, he wrote, “Plaintiff has filed its appeal today as we believe that certain aspects of the trial court’s decision after hearing are legally incorrect or need further clarification by the Court of Appeals. Those aspects include the traffic issue and the lack of affordable rental housing. Further comments will come at the time of briefing.”
A key question will be whether the legal challenges are nullified because of the major differences between this project and the previous project that was subject to the litigation. Plaintiffs challenged the adequacy of the traffic study on Nishi, but if the applicants here are recommending limited to no private vehicle access, the project may not impact Richards Boulevard at all.
However, staff notes, “A June ballot might be possible only because environmental review for the previous application was completed and the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) certified by the City Council. That EIR analyzed development of the Nishi property with 650 residential dwelling units (210 condominiums plus up to 1,500 beds), 325,000 square feet of research and development use, and 20,000 square feet of accessory retail.
“The EIR evaluated two ‘equal-weight’ access scenarios: one with vehicle connections to both Olive Drive and UC Davis; and the other with vehicular access only from West Olive Drive.”
Staff believes at least preliminarily “that the revised proposal could be evaluated through an Addendum to the previous EIR. Recirculation would not be necessary pursuant to Section 15164 of the state guidelines for the California Environmental Quality Act.”
Staff adds, “While recirculation under CEQA is not required, the analysis prepared for an EIR Addendum would be crucial to community, commissions, Council, and ultimately voter consideration of the updated proposal.”
In order to make a determination that an Addendum is the appropriate level of environmental review, the City would need to make the following determinations:
- The changes in the project would not result in new significant environmental effects or a substantial increase in the severity of previously-identified significant effects;
- There are no significant changes in circumstances that would result in new significant environmental effects or a substantial increase in the severity of previously-identified significant effects; and
- There is no substantial new information that shows new significant environmental effects or a substantial increase in the severity of previously-identified significant effects.
In the narrative submitted to the city on October 4, the applicants write: “The guiding concept of the Nishi proposal is to retain elements of the plan already approved by The City Council, while simplifying that plan to lessen impacts questioned by the voters of Davis.”
Among the priorities, consistent with already-approved land uses, “is the creation of a new student housing neighborhood that takes advantage of the site’s unique proximity to both Downtown Davis and UC Davis. The site also offers direct bicycle and pedestrian access along the extensive Arboretum corridor strongly connecting the site to the balance of our community both North and South.”
Accordingly, the project continues to meet, as before, “the critical need for rental housing at this uniquely convenient location. This convenience, particularly for UCD students, provides economies in both travel time and automobile use to students during their normal 2-5 year tenure at UCD.”
The revised project suggests that the residential area would “provide 650 housing units which could accommodate up to 2600 occupants.”
They note, “Even though the prior project was exempt from affordable housing requirements, the new plan could include housing available to underserved students. Most students do not qualify for the necessary conventional Federal and State subsidy benefits.
“Nonetheless, if some path to feasibility can be found, such housing will be a benefit to students who need assistance.”
Moreover, “Accessory structures and amenities normal for such housing projects will be built and maintained for residential use.”
In terms of circulation, they write, “A vehicular and bicycle/pedestrian undercrossing connecting Nishi and UCD is planned in generally the same location first identified in the approved plan. This new connection will augment already existing bicycle/pedestrian access both North and South, and provide alternative emergency access in addition to the emergency access at Olive Drive and the existing 1-80 bike path/ emergency vehicle undercrossing.
“On-site bicycle paths will complete the circulation offering convenience by connecting between existing routes and new routes offering more options for bicyclists.”
Largely because of feedback from the community, they write, “a reduction below certified EIR benchmarks, or even the elimination of private automobile access from Richards Blvd to the Nishi site needs to be explored. Input from appropriate City commissions will be relevant in determining a path forward.”
The applicant writes that, due to its unique location, “Nishi student residents may not need daily access to their cars. Accordingly, apartment on-site parking might be feasibly limited, in the aggregate, at lower ratios normally found at apartment projects in more remote parts of the community.
“Further, a survey has shown that a satellite car storage area is acceptable to student residents. Accordingly, a satellite car storage facility, generally located where commercial buildings and parking lots were first envisioned, might be a feature offered to all students, including campus residents. This in turn may permit greater density and more efficient uses for core University lands adjacent to the Nishi property.”
The narrative concludes: “The Nishi property was selected by the California Strategic Growth Council, as the #1 site for sustainable development in the State of California. As a result of that process funds were provided to prepare a comprehensive sustainability implementation plan which is incorporated into the approved EIR. Additional opportunities may be available to enhance the sustain ability plans by adding PV panels in the satellite car storage areas.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting