Last month, after the Planning Commission denied to recommend approval of the Davis Live project, the commission came back with a revised proposal and recommended the dense student housing project for approval.
The applicant is proposing the construction of a 71-unit student-oriented housing project with 440 beds in a site previously developed with a two-story building, parking lot, and landscaping that was occupied by the Sigma Nu fraternity. The building was approved for demolition by the city in October of 2017 and was removed from the site in January of 2018.
It sits in the middle of other student housing, but will represent a major increase in size, scale and density. The proposed structure consists of seven stories totaling 85 feet in height.
Each unit will contain three to five bedrooms ranging from 1200 to 2000 square feet.
Of the 283 total bedrooms included in the proposed project, 126 bedrooms would be single-occupancy and 157 bedrooms would be double-occupancy, for a total number of beds for the proposed project at 440.
The Planning Commission originally found that the project was not statutorily exempt from CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act). Originally they rejected it as a TPP (Transit Priority Project). However, staff came back with additional documentation from SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments), dated June 21, that helped to confirm the consistency of the project as a TPP. In addition, staff uncovered another reason for exemption, noting that the project is an infill site.
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 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.”
Based on the new documentation, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to recommend approval of the project.
The affordable housing component of the project increased to 15 percent as required by the interim ordinance and as requested by the planning commission.
The program, titled, “Davis Live Dream” (DLD), was revised to provide 15 percent of the project, or 66 beds, designated as affordable. The DLD Program proposes that 5 percent of all beds would now be affordable in each of the three targeted affordability categories: Extremely Low (22 beds), Very Low (22 beds), and Low (22 beds).
Staff notes: “The program is not exclusive to students and will be offered to all potential financially dependent and financially independent residents. The DLD Program will run in perpetuity with the property.”
Planning Commission discussion focused on the limitation of affordable beds to double occupancy rooms, addressing students with disabilities and availability of units to families.
In a letter that has threatened a lawsuit from attorney Patrick Soluri, he criticized the project prior to the Planning Commission meeting, arguing that “the dormitory-style accommodations makes the point (that this is a student-only project).”
He said, “Project’s affordable beds are exclusively contained in double-up rooms inside larger four-to-eight bedroom apartments, with shared kitchens and bathrooms.” He adds that “there is no guarantee that a family could even share the same double-up bedroom, or even the same apartment.” He writes, “By the Project applicant’s own concession, these are not suitable family accommodations.”
The representative from the property management company, Greystar Student Living, responded, “Since we lease by the bed, a family would have to lease multiple beds within a unit to be able to hit those requirements laid out in our lease agreement.” He said, “There are situations where families can lease with us and do lease with us. I’d say that it’s rare that those things happen because of the by-the-bed leasing.”
He noted that it’s not an environment typically that families want to live in. He added, “It’s not precluded, it’s an option.”
Commissioner Darryl Rutherford asked whether “there could potentially be single-occupancy affordable beds.”
The representative responded, “It’s still being determined.”
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 is recommending the city council finds that the project qualifies for two statutory exemptions from CEQA, directs staff to file a Notice of Exemption, and approves the Davis Live project by approving the General Plan Amendment and other documents based on findings of fact and conditions of approval.
—David M. Greenwald reporting