The Davis City Council on Tuesday night received their first update on the Downtown Plan – there was a clear push for things like mixed use and residential in the core, as well as a push for sustainability to make Davis a “bold” “cutting edge” “global sustainability” leader. But there remains concern about how the city will get from where they are now to these bold and sometimes lofty goals.
Dan Parolek of the consultants, Opticos Design, laid out a lot of the concepts that we have presented over the last several months. He pushed what he called “incremental evolution” and explained, “This is not going to happen overnight… It’s going to take time.”
With regard to economic development, he said the big concept supported across the nation is the notion of “placemaking.” So instead of focusing on a big move or development, “The idea is to focus on making changes that create a high quality place, remove barriers for those things that need to happen to make those high quality places, that will generate economic development, it will bring businesses, it will retain existing businesses, allow them to prosper and continue to evolve.”
The strategies that they are suggesting are: reinforcing the time and risk for developers by giving them a clear path through entitlement; leveraging city-owned property; public-private partnerships that might be necessary to plant the seeds for some of these changes; and investing in public improvements.
Michelle Byars, the Vice Chair of the Downtown Plan Advisory Committee (DPAC), laid out eight goals that they came up with.
First was “we believe that the addition of residential opportunities in the downtown will serve our community and the adjacent neighborhoods well.”
The DPAC “is generally in support of increasing building heights in appropriate parts of the downtown to allow more residents.”
Second, “We are convinced of the need for predictability for projects for the benefit of both the neighborhood and the businesses.” She said that they “are striving to help the consultants as they formulate the form-based codes intended to provide this certainty.”
Third, “We support the idea of universal design being incorporated right from the beginning, both in the formal sense of being a minimal requirement but going even beyond that and becoming a leader in universal accessibility.”
Fourth, the DPAC “recognizes that it is essential that our final plan be financially viable – both for the city and for the businesses.” There is a need for more attention to an economic development strategy for downtown.
Fifth, sustainability – “It has been expressed by the citizens and DPAC as a desire for Davis to do something bold, cutting edge, and to be a global sustainability leader.”
Sixth, to “prioritize parking management before adding new parking.”
Seventh was “we see a need to create a downtown center.” They support the consultant’s current recommendation to accomplish this by expanding the E Street Plaza.
Eight, “The DPAC fully supports creating a stronger sense of hierarchy or distinctiveness in our downtown streets.”
She also said they are aware of the concerns expressed by the Planning Commission. They support the change requirements that bank branches be located downtown and they support a modification of the fee structure to encourage rather than discourage small housing units in the downtown.
Councilmember Dan Carson, during his comments, supported the notion of housing in the downtown. “If we can bring additional housing to the core downtown that has a great lack of housing compared to comparable cities like us – you bring people, you bring economic activity.
“I think what investors fear most is uncertainty,” Councilmember Carson stated. “If through our re-writing the codes, we can mitigate some of the great confusion but just how do you navigate the planning process to build anything downtown and do set up clear rules about what you can build… and clear demarcations about what you don’t want.”
City Manager Mike Webb stated, “With the form-based approach to things, there’s an element of durability to zoning, to the approach, as uses ebb and flow over time, as market conditions adjust over the decades, the form-based approach gives some resiliency to those changes.”
Councilmember Lucas Frerichs stated, “The downtown is the heart of this community… Everyone agrees that downtown is a place that everybody cares about.
“It’s an inspiration to think of what it all could be, in addition to everything that exists,” he said.
“This is a status update,” he said. “There’s still a fair amount of additional steps to go. We don’t have all the answers yet.”
He agreed with others that “additional housing in our downtown is important for economy.” He also noted that it was important for our environmental goals. He supported the call for the need for affordability, stating that “it’s something that’s a nut that we need to crack.”
Councilmember Frerichs said that placemaking is not just a good economic development strategy, “it’s also just a good strategy irrespective of economic development.”
Finally, with respect to transportation issues, he pointed the grant funding already secured for an overcrossing from Pole Line to Olive Drive and he is hopeful for one that connects Olive Drive to the Davis Downtown.
Councilmember Will Arnold said, “My biggest question I think is the biggest question that remains for everyone – how do we get from here to there? That seems always to be the central question when we do these type of plans.
“The simplest way to explain how do we get from here to there from where I stand – have the city help where we can and get out of the way, elsewhere,” he said. “That’s almost the best we can do for the downtown as well.”
He, like others, wants to alleviate some of the “procedural hindrances to redevelopment in the downtown.” “We ought to prioritize those,” he said. “They can certainly make projects more viable in the downtown.”
He sees a conflict between those wanting to incentivize redevelopment and mixed use in the downtown and those wanting to ensure the highest levels of sustainability and affordability.
“Those – if you’re investing in a project – just look like dollar signs,” he said, while noting they have long been goals for many in the community including himself. “If it makes sense anywhere to incentivize folks doing mixed-use development, it would be my opinion that the downtown is where it makes sense. So that is a balancing act.”
Gloria Partida said simply, “I support this. I don’t have a whole lot of concerns right now because I realize this is just a check in, I’m going to wait to see what the next level is. I’m very happy with the direction.”
Mayor Brett Lee pushed on affordable housing, noting “some of that can be by design rather than big ‘A’ affordable housing.
“One of the things that is really important for people to understand is where we are today,” he said. “Where we are today is zoning and ordinances that are outdated for the downtown. When things come before the council, it really is zoning by exception. There is no certainty… It’s discretionary… There is no coherent plan, there is no vision.”
He called this “the remnants from a decades-old vision which is not appropriate in today’s world.”
Mayor Lee added, “I’m not as worried as some in the community about how we get from here today to some future vision.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting