As we go forward with the discussions around downtown planning, the community ought to turn its attention to the University Mall redevelopment, because it illustrates a possible future direction for the core.
While University Mall sits on a 8.25 acre parcel with over 100,000 square feet of retail, the mostly single-story commercial development (there is a very limited second floor with offices), has already seemed like an under-utilized parcel.
That could all change with the proposed redevelopment that would see the addition of 264 multi-family units and about 893 beds, taking the project to seven stories – 80 feet in height with three stories of parking, retail and restaurants on the bottom and four levels of residential.
This type of redevelopment project naturally will cost a tremendous amount of money and will take deep pocketed and generally out-of-the-area developers to pull it off. But it demonstrates there is a private sector perception that this kind of vertical mixed use is cost effective, even in Davis.
And if it can be pulled off at U-Mall outside of the core area, there is no reason that we cannot see a similar plan inside the core.
When the Vanguard met with the new owners of the Brinley Building, one of the things they talked about was that, within ten years, they would redevelop their building to go perhaps to four stories with residential over retail and restaurants.
As we move forward in the downtown plan, there is increasing talk about densification. Indeed, the July discussions showed a lot of push for greater height and more density.
As one person, cited in the summary report, noted, “We must go up in downtown Davis. I might say four stories, but there could be a case for higher… I would also like to see higher density housing/business combinations and flex space where use of the building can vary over time based on community needs and demand.”
A common refrain was: “Multi-stories in the heart of downtown that provides ground-level retail, professional spaces and residential. A mix of 3-6 stories will create diversity and unique architecture.”
But there was by no means a consensus here. Others pushed back and said, “No building over three stories downtown. We do not want canyons. We are not New York.”
Never mind that the three to six stories is nowhere even approximating New York and, built correctly with setbacks, you could retain the open feel of the present downtown while increasing density and creating a much more efficient use of land.
The city had a fiscal analysis done that showed “redevelopment only made financial sense when it was greater than or equal to 4 stories tall. It is foolish to set a zoning standard below that limit if the desire is to see the downtown evolve with the changing environment.”
In our view then, what we are seeing with the University Mall redevelopment could be the future of Davis. We are looking at a community that is no longer likely to grow much horizontally, and the next step will likely be vertically.
Davis Live housing is basically across the street from University Mall. We have seen some nearby residents complain that the building, at seven stories, would be too high and too dense. Others have argued that right across the street from the university is an appropriate place for height and density.
That will be an interesting discussion to follow.
By creating a mixed-use community at University Mall, we retain – and actually slightly expand – the commercial element, adding about 30,000 more square feet of space to the existing footprint on the ground level, and we add residential.
Right now we are looking at a mix of multi-family rental housing. The developers estimate about 893 beds.
More student housing? Probably.
In their description they write: “Due to the immediate proximity to the University of Davis campus, the residential is primarily focused on student use, but will also welcome and include many options for non-students as well.”
We are looking at one-, two-, four- and five-bedroom units. Right now the rental housing market is dominated by student housing needs, and to pretend like any substantial multifamily housing is not going to have a large portion of students is, frankly, folly. Other than creating a luxury apartment development with strict credit check requirements, there is very little way to limit student housing.
Wesley Sagewalker earlier this week made the point, “Davis has not–even on paper–solved or ended the housing crisis. If we acknowledge that the rate of rental increases outpacing inflation by a factor of 2-4x per annum for the last 20 years has created a rental housing market that is unaffordable to many students (as this blog has for at least the past year), then merely creating enough housing to theoretically accommodate the planned increase in enrollment (plus a little extra) is nowhere near sufficient to start passing out the congratulations.”
The bottom line – there is still a need for student housing but if this development maintains flexibility in terms of structure, it could serve a multitude of uses. But the bottom line remains that, in this market and with this location, this is a project that will attract students.
A final point that could be looked at is that right now this project is looking at 693 parking spaces. That is 429 remaining for retail use and 264 for residential use.
Once again, given the location, perhaps they could reduce at least the number of residential spaces from 30 percent to 15 percent. Given that it is mixed use, and given that it is located across the street from the university – in theory, a student living at U-Mall would be in walking distance to everything they need, from classes to entertainment (The Graduate) to food (restaurants) to coffee (Starbucks) to clothing (Forever 21 – okay a niche clientele) to pharmaceuticals (Rite Aid) to groceries (Trader Joe’s).
That is as self-contained a segment of the city as there is. Why would someone need to drive at all, living at University Mall?
I will be watching the discussion of this project, as it will be very telling about the possibilities of the future of Davis.
—David M. Greenwald reporting