Last week Plaza 2555 went to the Davis Planning Commission, and the project got forwarded to council with a recommendation that the project is CEQA-exempt, and for approval with a General Plan amendment.
There were some questions about the affordable housing plan, which led to a 4-3 vote against recommending the plan to council – it had to do with how the 15 percent was allocated between beds and units, and that is something the council will have to reconcile when the project comes to them on September 25.
However, the big discussion was over what kind of project this is. In our previous coverage we have pointed out that this project really is designed for a mix of uses. It includes a mix of micro flat, 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom, 3-bedroom, 4-bedroom, and 5-bedroom apartments in a total of up to 200 apartments (approximately 607 bedrooms). Most of the units are smaller apartments.
Moreover, it has a mix of townhouses and apartments, and the rent is by the unit rather than by the bed.
The developers said that the project is aimed at a mix of people: workforce, young professionals, families and people downsizing, as well as students. But there were questions from the commission as well as the public about exactly who will live at this project.
Eileen Samitz has been attacking this project from the start – calling it a mega- dorm, even as the unit configuration and rental scheme does not fit that narrative.
“The project is basically a reconstituted mega-dorm,” she told the commission on Wednesday. “In one of the worst locations in the city. How much more remote can it be from the campus?”
This point clearly needs to be addressed. It seems like every project is in one of the worst locations in the city – given that we are looking at vacant parcels for the most part or blighted existing land uses in other cases, there may be something to do that.
But why is this location so bad? It is a pretty straight shot to campus via bike simply by crossing Research Park Drive onto the campus bike path. One would not even have to go onto the congested Richards Blvd. to get there. There are also plenty of buses and the distance from campus is not that bad.
The students who live at this site mostly are going to bike and bus to campus, not drive. So I fail to see the logic here.
She noted that they wanted to “jam” in a 607-bedroom project onto this land, and she accused them of “charading as a project for everyone. But it’s clearly designed to target students. Seventy-eight percent of the apartments are 3-4-5 bedroom.”
Notice the sleight of hand here. In her previous speeches, she has called for more 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom apartments, which she believes could accommodate families. Here she says the mix is 78 percent 3, 4, and 5.
The developers claim that 67 percent are 1, 2, and 3. Eileen Samitz shifts that to claim the inverse – 78 percent are 3, 4, and 5.
Semantics? Somewhat. There are 30 micro units, 4 one-bedroom, 11 two-bedroom, 29 three-bedroom townhouses, and 60 three-bedroom flats. And then 46 four-bedroom and 20 five-bedroom units. What’s clear? The project aims for the middle, with 89 of the units in the middle tier.
She adds, “Meanwhile the biggest demand for workforce is studios, 1 and 2 bedrooms.”
She cites no source to support that claim. But again, 45 of the 200 units are in fact studios, 1 and 2 bedrooms. But again, notice she moved the goalposts, because in previous iterations, she claimed the key was 1, 2, 3 bedrooms. Here she cut off 3 bedrooms and added studios.
I think it is reasonable to ask, as Commissioner Herman Boschken did, “who these units are being made for.”
But what is also clear is that Plaza 2555 offers a much broader range of housing types than any of the previous projects.
We have to recognize the time we are in. Right now, there is a huge glut of students on the market. There is a huge demand for rental units, with a low vacancy and with students making up a huge proportion of the renters in Davis – anywhere from 65 to 85 percent right now.
I have talked to a number of the developers and one of the points they made is that right now the rental market is so tight that students are going to eat up the lion’s share of available apartments, no matter how they are configured. I know that some have an inherent distrust of developers, but these are folks betting their own money on a given market, and their research tells them that that market will be students.
What is different from Plaza 2555 compared with some of the other projects is that this site can cater to students, but it is not necessarily having to cater to students in the future.
That is, if the market shifts, the project does offer a range of options from students to workforce to family. Contrary to Eileen Samitz’s point, I don’t believe that families are going to make up the bulk of renters at projects like these.
What we are more likely to see is younger workforce folks needing a place to live, and many of them will go into larger apartment-style living arrangements due to cost considerations.
What we do not see here are bed rentals. That definitely opens it up to non-students. Moreover, we do not see the private bathroom arrangements here.
But, at the same time, we should not be oblivious to the fact that over the next 10 years, the overwhelming rental housing demand is going to be to accommodate students – whether the project directly caters to them or not.
Students definitely don’t see the market for student housing as saturated, especially with litigation holding up development of approved projects. The more we recognize this, the less we will get bogged down in these sorts of debates.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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