Student Housing Project Comes Back to the Planning Commission for a Second Time

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Two months ago, the Davis Planning Commission rejected the student housing project, Davis Live Student Apartments.  The proposed 71-unit, 440-bed housing project is located adjacent to existing student housing, and would provide high density housing basically across the street from campus.

According to the staff report, the project site is just over one acre in size and is located at 525 Oxford Circle. The site fronts Russell Boulevard, across from the Orchard Park Apartments site, in the vicinity of the UC Davis campus. The site was previously developed with a two-story building that was occupied by the Sigma Nu Fraternity.

But the Planning Commission expressed concern that, while they were in general support of the project, they lacked sufficient information to make an informed decision.  The two key findings were a 5-2 vote finding that the project was not statutorily exempt from CEQA and a 6-1 vote that the Planning Commission not recommend council approval based on this determination.

The Planning Commission conveyed the following information: there was general support for the project design and location, they were unable to make CEQA determination based on findings, they preferred that the project meet the 15 percent minimum affordable housing threshold, and they requested further review on the traffic study and wanted to know the justification for parking.

Staff has decided, rather than allow council to hear an appeal, to have the Planning Commission take a second shot at the project.  Staff continues to believe that the project qualifies for two exemptions from CEQA based on it being an infill project and a Transit Priority Project.

“The proposed project is located on an infill site within an Established Community growth type category,” staff writes, noting that on March 2, SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) determined that the proposed land use, density, and building intensity are consistent with the assumptions of the MTP/SCS (Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy) for such communities.

A second letter was received from SACOG on June 21, 2018, which confirmed the consistency and shows that the site is within ¼ mile of a transit corridor.

Staff, at the time of the meeting, issued a negative impact finding, despite their expression that they did not have sufficient information to determine “whether the proposed project would satisfy the criteria set forth in PRC [Public Resources Code] Section 21155.1 for exemption from CEQA as a Transit Priority Project.”

Staff notes that one objection was that the project was 71 units but contained 440 beds, thus it did not meet the restriction that TPPs may not exceed 200 units.

However, staff notes that the city’s Municipal Code defines a dwelling unit as “one room, or a suite of two or more rooms..”  Thus, by this definition, the project has 71 units.

Staff further notes that the typical household size in the city is 2.5 residents per unit – calculating that ratio at 440 beds would be the equivalent of 176 units, which is still less than the 200-unit maximum established for TPP.

Staff also determined that there is a second statutory exemption for infill projects.  Staff argues that “the project would not result in significant effects on the environment that have not already been analyzed in a prior EIR, that are more significant than previously analyzed, or that uniformly applicable development policies would not mitigate to acceptable levels, and thus qualifies for the Infill Project exemption.”

On the affordable housing front, the project’s original application contained a proposal that 12 percent, or 53 beds, would be designated as affordable.  Based on feedback from the Planning Commission, the applicant has revised the plan to provide 15 percent of the project, or 66 beds, as affordable.

On the transportation issue, staff notes, “Although the project is exempt from CEQA, staff engaged Fehr & Peers to do a traffic operations analysis for the purpose of identifying conditions of approval and determining consistency with City infrastructure assumptions. The study as provided to the Planning Commission May 23rd, was revised and resubmitted on June 2018.”

Based on the trip generation and traffic analysis, staff concludes that “the proposed project would not result in significant impacts to the study intersections under Existing Plus Project and Cumulative Plus Project conditions.”

On parking, while the Davis Municipal Code requires two vehicle parking spaces for each apartment with three or more bedrooms, the project proposes one per unit.

Staff writes: “The applicant designed the project with these features based on the project’s proximity to UC Davis, the Davis Downtown Core, grocery and other shopping, Amtrak, and bus lines; the robust bike culture in the City of Davis; the availability of two electric carshares dedicated to the proposed project; the City’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and car dependence; the project orientation to students; and the statewide focus on reduced car reliance.”

Staff adds: “The project as proposed balances the need to provide adequate parking and the benefits of reducing automobile travel, considering the following factors: 1) other portions of the Davis Municipal Code where parking requirements are reduced for residential uses in close proximity to transit and other uses; 2) data from the UC Davis Campus Travel Survey; 3) data on car ownership trends when car share options are available; 4) requests from the BTSSC; and 5) project design.”

A key point that the Vanguard has made is that the UC Davis Campus Travel Survey supports the conclusion that few parking spaces are needed for a project of this sort.

The most recent survey notes that, overall, around 35 percent of students drive to campus, however, for those who live within a mile of campus that number shrinks.  Based on this data, staff estimates “at worst, 5 percent or 22 residents would use their cars to travel to school.”

Staff did not include data that show the shrinking percentage of students who even own cars to begin with.

This is a housing project that even people like Eileen Samitz, who came to the May Planning Commission, supported.

Ms. Samitz during public comment noted, “The Oxford Circle Project is a project that seems to be a good project given its location for student-oriented housing.  It makes sense.”  She said, “Many of the students’ needs would be provided right immediately around it.”  She noted that there would be “very little traffic generated” by the project.

—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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10 thoughts on “Student Housing Project Comes Back to the Planning Commission for a Second Time”

  1. Craig Ross

    I don’t understand how the Planning Commission reached the conclusion previously that it didn’t qualify for the exemption.  Maybe that guy who posts here who is on the commission can explain that thinking.

  2. Todd Edelman

    The bicycle infrastructure interface and parking design for Davis Live may have some serious problems. Let’s take a look…

    1 –  A resident coming from UCD campus who arrives by bike on Russell is required to a) Negotiate narrow shared path from Alvarado (everyone walking and cycling from all the apartments on the northside of Russell and  east of the 113 entrance goes this way); b) Stop and use access device to open front entrance door; c) Walk across entry lobby; d) Enter second door to bike parking area, which may also require an access device; e) Dodge anyone parking bike on two-level rack right inside entrance; f) If necessary walk to far end – dead end – which has no windows to park bike; g) Walk back – possibly carrying a shopping bag or two if they stopped at Trader Joe’s – assuming they have a bike which makes it easy to do so – and exit door to bike parking; h) Enter presumably unlocked door to elevator lobby; i) Enter elevator; j) Exist elevator; k) Walk to their own apartment and enter; l) Put stuff away in kitchen; m) Enter bedroom.

    2 – Approaching from the north via Oxford Circle they have to a) Enter automobile parking area through automobile gate; b) Ride or walk bike to ramp down to c) above. 2a – If they approach from the north – or reverse this – but just want to stop at home briefly on the way to school, Downtown etc, they either have to park at short-term parking at the north side of the building and take the rear elevator upstairs, or walk their bike through the garage, and then outside and park at short term spaces on Russell and re-enter building.

    3 – It’s not clear if the space-efficient two-tier bike parking will have technology that makes it easy for shorter, less strong students to easily place their bikes in upper rack.

    4 – It’s not clear if the rack spacing will interfere with front-of-the-bike cargo carriers, as some of the latest city racks now do.

    5 – It’s not clear if there will be a Jump bike electric charging station – and if there is – if there will be room for additional charging stations by other bike share operators.

    6 – If there are shared large electric-assist cargo bikes available, it’s not clear where they will be parked; if a student owns one note the steps in 1), above.

    The Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission (BTSSC) addressed to a certain extent some of the above when we looked at Davis Live on May 10, but the plans have not changed since April and nothing we suggested has been implemented.

    The City is without a Senior Civil Engineer with a cycling speclalization, and has been for well over a year.

    My fellow BTSSC Commissioner Eric Gudz and I have formed a sub-committee on parking which has bicycle parking optimization has one of its goals. The extremely poor design of the bike parking at Davis Live will inform our recommendations to the City Council.

    1. Craig Ross

      Pisses me off to read this stuff.  Todd, there are people I know that do not have a place to live.  As far as I can tell, you do.  So you’re sitting comfortable at night, while students are suffering and you are getting all high and mighty about stuff that really doesn’t matter and trying to put obstacles in teh way of people being able to have homes.

      1. Ken A

        While Craig is worried about students sleeping in cars and taking the bus or driving to Davis every school day Todd is worried about “shorter, less strong students” who can’t “easily place their bikes in upper rack”  It seems like Todd is assuming that the evil taller stronger students won’t use the upper racks and will take all the lower racks just to punish the poor “shorter, less strong students” who can’t “easily place their bikes in upper rack”).  If taller stronger students even have the option to take lower bike rack spaces from the “shorter, less strong students” it looks like we should send the entire project back the drawing board (maybe we could require that the developer make each bike rack be big enough to fit a electric assist tandem cargo bike)…

    2. Todd Edelman

      obstacles

      The architects are creating the obstacles to “Live”; my concern is making some serious changes in one particular element so the overall design is improved. The BTSSC tried this in May, and immediately preceding the debacle* that was the first time Davis Live was seen by the Planning Commission I detailed lots of ideas for improving the mobility situation (not just with bikes).

      The design is incompetent: Consider how easy it is for someone who lives in a single family home  to ride down their wide local street, open the garage door with a button, park their bike and go directly inside: Three or four steps – following the same structure as above – and yes Davis Live is across the street from school which is great – rather than the 12 with the current design of Davis Live.

      Yes, I did mention in my longer comments to the PC that Davis Live will have expensive rents, especially for shared rooms. However, it’s not hard to argue that my suggestions – if implemented – would add value to the place.

      * That the developers came to the May PC meeting in a ridiculous state of formal unpreparedness seems to have been forgotten…

      1. Craig Ross

        At this point, all I really want is an available supply of housing.  Rent is expensive everywhere.  The best way to address that is more capacity.  The worst way to address that is to make it more difficult to build housing here.

      2. Craig Ross

        “The design is incompetent:”

        You know what improves the mobility – the fact that most students don’t have cars and this is across the street from campus.  Other than that, we don’t need your help.

      1. Todd Edelman

        Silly goose. Instead of “Alvarado” I should have written “Sycamore”, but didn’t catch it before the Greenwaldian Editing Threshold caught me.

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