In June of 2016, the voters of Davis rather narrowly voted down the Nishi project. Two of the biggest issues involved the lack of an affordable housing component and the perception that the developers were allowed to pay a vastly reduced in-lieu fee, as well as concerns about traffic impacts along Richards Boulevard.
For the first time in the Measure J/R era, we have a project that was voted down that has returned with a new proposal.
At this time, the Nishi project includes 2200 residential beds in roughly 700 two- and three-bedroom multifamily rental units. It also includes 10,000 square feet of ancillary retail such as cafes or coffee shops. There are 13.6 acres of open space including 3.3 acres of the Putah Creek Parkway, a 7.1-acre “urban forest” adjacent to Interstate 80 and an additional 3.2 acres of stormwater detention at the southern end of the site.
The site will have only 700 vehicle parking spaces, in part due to its close proximity to campus. “Vehicular access is proposed through a new grade-separated crossing of the railroad tracks to Old Davis Road on the UC Davis campus. Bicycle/pedestrian access would be provided through the Putah Creek Parkway connections to Olive Drive, South Davis and the UC Davis Arboretum. The Olive Drive connection may also be modified to allow bus access.”
The mixed-use development on the Nishi property was approved 5-0 by the city council in January 2016, subject to voter ratification. At that time, litigation was filed after the city council action,
challenging the EIR and affordable housing component.
Voters rejected the ballot measure in June 2016 which invalidated the General Plan Amendment for the project. Late in 2017, the litigation was resolved in the city’s favor, and with the litigant ceding the affordable housing argument. An appeal was filed with Yolo County Superior Court on October 10, but was subsequently dropped.
In October, the property owners submitted a preliminary conceptual plan. Staff explains, “The proposed concept 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 recommendations. The City Council authorized environmental review and directed the proposal be scheduled for Commission review, under a schedule that would allow Planning Commission and City Council hearings in January-February 2018. This schedule would give the City Council the ability to place the project on the June 2018 ballot if it so chooses.”
Staff notes: “Assuming a five-year buildout of the 700 units proposed for the Nishi property, and assuming approximately of 84 units (equivalent 12 percent of the beds) as exempt affordable, Nishi would generate an estimated 123 non-exempt units per year. The total amount of growth, with the Nishi development (totaling approximately 343 total non-exempt units/year), exceeding the 1% growth cap established by Resolution 11-077 in 2011.”
However, “Because the Nishi project would constitute an infill project providing community benefits, and because development 2006 to 2015 was significantly below the 1% growth cap, staff finds the project is approvable.”
Staff also notes that, in July, the council and planning commission met and held a joint meeting. At that time, staff noted “the current vacancy rate of 0.2 percent (about 24 units) and the fact that about 4,850 single-family homes are rented, many to students. If the City were to pursue a healthy vacancy rate of 5 percent, and strive to five to ten percent of rented single-family homes for occupancy by families, it might require 816 to 1,059 new apartments to meet existing needs.”
Staff argues: “Rental housing on the Nishi property, along with other projects approved or in consideration, could help improve vacancy rates and possibly provide benefits to the overall rental housing market.”
On air quality concerns, development of residential projects along I-80 have become a subject of community discussion for the Nishi site.
“The EIR requires the applicant to implement three separate mitigation measures that will reduce TAC [toxic air contaminants] and UFP [ultra-fine particulates] concentrations within the buildings and on the site. These Mitigation Measures have been agreed to by the applicant for the current proposal, with minor modifications reflecting changes in the proposed use (elimination of the condominiums and business park uses),” staff notes.
These mitigation measures include: requirements for the applicant to locate residential buildings as far as possible from I-80 “with no structures in the southwest portion of the project.” Second, “the establishment of a vegetative barrier that will achieve a certain height within 15 years and further improve outdoor air quality conditions.” And third, “the applicant to include a state-of-the-art air filtration system within all on-site structures that will remove no less than 95 percent of UFP from indoor air. Because of this Measure, interior air quality conditions would be very good.”
The Draft EIR for the 2016 SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) Blueprint “acknowledges the health risks associated with Toxic Air Contaminants and placing residential uses and other sensitive receptors near freeways and major roadways (including Interstate 80 through Davis).”
However, the Blueprint DEIR also notes, “The location and pattern of the proposed MTP/SCS [Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy] growth is important, because it impacts travel behavior and provides a means to determine the impact of future vehicle emissions in the proposed plan area. A compact growth pattern served by an efficient and diverse transportation system provides the foundation to reduce automotive travel and increase walking, bicycling, and transit use—all of which reduce individual vehicle trips and associated VMT [vehicle miles traveled]. Reduced VMT and vehicle trips are directly linked.”
The Blueprint DEIR further notes that “in order to achieve the greatest VMT reductions from a compact growth pattern, development also must necessarily be in close proximity to public transit and freeway and major roadway corridors.”
The Blueprint DEIR “proposes mitigation measures, but concludes that impacts are significant and unavoidable even with mitigation.”
On affordable housing, the project’s defeat in 2016 can be partially blamed on the fact that the project was exempted from the affordable housing ordinance and then allowed to pay just $1 million into the in-lieu fee.
The new application will have an on-site affordable housing project that would “provide 264 of the estimated 2,200 beds to extremely-low and very-low income residents within double-up bedrooms integrated into the overall development.”
Currently, Municipal Code Article 18.05 “requires a developer of rental housing developments containing twenty or more units to provide, to the maximum extent feasible, at least twenty-five percent of the units as affordable housing for low-income households and at least ten percent of the units as affordable housing for very-low income households.”
At the same time, the council held a workshop in October “and recognized that the existing inclusionary ordinance requirements should be studied to see if revisions are warranted. City Council also expressed interest in providing for greater flexibility in how to provide inclusionary housing in various development prototypes could be accommodated recognizing a one size fits all approach may not be appropriate given the complexity different rental housing models. The City Council also expressed interest in allowing for original proposals that integrate affordable units/beds into projects inclusive of the potential to serve the student population.”
The Social Services Commission, while seeking a greater number of affordable housing units and requesting a refined affordable housing plan to return to the commission before city council action, did support the concept of integration of the affordable units within the larger development.
Sustainability components of the current proposal include:
- LEED Gold equivalency for all buildings
- Zero Net Energy
- Third-party analysis for photovoltaic maximization
- Water and electric meters or sub-meters for each unit
- VCEA [Valley Clean Energy Alliance] for any required electricity, at the green tier
- Accommodations for bicycle storage and operations
The draft Development Agreement reflects the following commitments of the City and the Developer:
- The Developer has a vested right to develop the property in accordance with the entitlements and the Baseline Project Features.
- Specific commitments to sustainability features, including energy conservation and generation.
- Affordable housing obligations as approved by the City Council in a project-specific plan.
- All Mitigation Measures identified in the EIR Addendum, including air quality mitigation measures, will be incorporated into the project.
- A Development Agreement commitment of 194 maximum weekday pm peak hour auto trips entering or exiting all project parking facilities.
- Agricultural mitigation will be provided in accordance with the Agricultural Protection Ordinance. Compliance will be verified at the time the mitigation land is identified for preservation, which would be required prior to any construction or conversion of the Nishi property.
- The Developer commits to a mechanism for offsetting any foregone property tax revenue to the City as a result of purchase or lease of the non-residential properties by the University of California.
- Developer reimbursement of City pre-development costs under the original cost sharing agreement.
- Community Enhancements inclusive of a $200,000 contribution to arts and other City programs.
—David M. Greenwald reporting