by Alan Pryor and Pam Nieberg
The Davis City Council has approved a sprawling senior housing development project located in West Davis along Covell. Voters will have a chance to approve or reject the project in this year’s November election. The project is called West Davis Active Adult Community (WDAAC).
On Tuesday, 8/28, an article by the author was published in the Vanguard (https://www.davisvanguard.org/2018/08/guest-commentary-wdaac-includes-massive-developer-give-aways/) which discussed the massive reductions in Development Fees given away by the City to the Developer.
On Thursday, 8/30 another article was published (https://www.davisvanguard.org/2018/08/guest-commentary-wdaac-includes-massive-developer-giveaways-guest-commentary-part-ii/) which discussed the erroneous financial assumptions used by the City to project a positive annual financial benefit to the City. That article also discussed how the Development Agreement and Baseline Features for the project are so vague so as to make them functionally unenforceable
This current article focuses on the gross deficiencies in general land use and planning for the project and how it fails to meet objective City guidelines for senior housing nor regional sustainable urban planning standards.
1. The Far Edge of Town is Exactly the Wrong Location for a Senior Development and This Project has Exceedingly Poor Connectivity for Seniors.
A. Wrong Location: – Even if the WDAAC did serve a needed demographic segment in our community with the right down-sized units needed by seniors who might be able to afford them, the location of this project on the very edge of town is a serious shortcoming. Seniors need to be close to amenities, services, and the vibrancy of downtown and not warehoused on the edge of town.
Earlier this year on January 7, 2018, former Davis Mayor Robb Davis published an article in the Davis Vanguard entitled “Creating a Vibrant Downtown.” In that article he stated,
“…we have an aging population—one that is interested in downsizing, aging in place, and living in walkable and bikeable places. Providing options for this population and these needs is best done in dense urban cores. Even as we remain a “young” university town, our aging population will benefit by the creation of a vibrant downtown.”
Further, the project fails to meet most of the Location Guidelines in the City’s own “Guidelines for Housing that serves Seniors and Persons with Disabilities.” That document states as follows:
“LOCATION – Since seniors and persons with disabilities may not have personal transportation, the preferred location for any proposed housing for seniors and persons with disabilities should be close to the following:
- Public transit lines (Unitrans and/or Yolo Bus) if there is no on-site shuttle, preferably within 200 feet of a transit stop.
- A neighborhood shopping center, especially a grocery store and pharmacy.
- A medical facility that could provide general health services and prescriptions.
- A variety of housing options should be provided for local seniors and persons with disabilities, including options that are within close proximity to the downtown and other destination areas within the city.”
The WDAAC project meets only one of these four Location Guidelines established by the City which is its proximity to health facilities at Sutter Hospital directly to the East.
However, as discussed below, the nearest bus stop for the entire development is on Covell Blvd. which is far greater than 200 ft. from the for-sale units. And there are otherwise NO nearby shopping centers within walking distance as also discussed below which means residents will need to get in their cars and drive for every retail need. The project is clearly not “within close proximity to the downtown” or other amenities as otherwise specified in the Guidelines.
One most important question to ask is: If this isn’t the right location, “What other more suitable parcels in Davis are available?”
First, the City itself sits on prime developable real estate within easy walking distance of downtown and that is the City’s facility yards right on 5th St. This large parcel is ideal for a development that would serve seniors, but this prime real estate is still held by the City for the lowest possible use – portable office trailers and parking. Perhaps the City should overcome its own inertia, move its facility yard, and use this extremely valuable real estate for an affordable senior and/or working family housing development complex.
Second, many local land use experts claim the school district’s offices on 5th St across from City Hall would also be a prime development site for intensive senior and/or family housing, offering immediate adjacent access to the downtown core.
The proponent claims to be offering a “self-sufficient” senior housing development, but is actually proposing to warehouse our seniors away on the edge of town instead of integrating them into the broader community. It is one thing to have a multi-story building or small, dense complex of buildings such as University Retirement Community or Eleanor Roosevelt Circle dedicated to senior living as this allows provision of specialized services that might not otherwise be cost effective to provide. However, the WDAAC, a sprawling community on the edge of town, is the antithesis of smart urban planning, especially for independent seniors. This type of segregation is non-inclusive and does not integrate seniors into the broader community.
- Poor Connectivity: – Illustrative of this lack of integration with the community is the extremely poor connectivity of the project for resident seniors. For instance, there would be no neighborhood shopping center to which seniors can walk or comfortably bike. To get to the Stonegate shopping center, one has to walk out to Covell continuing west down to Lake Blvd and then cross a minimum of 4 lanes of traffic and then south for a total of about 1.5 miles. Getting to the Marketplace shopping center to the east across 113 is not as long (about 0.75 miles), but equally harrowing for seniors as they negotiate the Hwy 113 over-crossing and associated freeway on- and off-ramps. Other than minimal changes to curbs and sidewalks along the Covell frontage of the property, the developer is not contributing anything to make these journeys easier. Neither of these routes is shaded and those who are able to walk to stores will be immediately adjacent to traffic generating auto exhaust and poor air quality, to say nothing of the difficulties walking back with groceries, purchases, etc.
By contrast, when The Cannery was built in North Davis and access across Covell Blvd was a key connectivity consideration. The developer, New Homes Company, contributed over $1,000,000 in additional traffic impact fees solely for construction of the under-crossing to allow safe passage for children and seniors across Covell. Unfortunately, our City Council failed to make a similar demand when it was proposed that the WDAAC make such a contribution for a Covell crossing. This is just one more instance when our Council has bestowed give-aways on this project to the detriment of the community.
One has again only to read the City’s own “Guidelines for Housing that serves Seniors and Persons with Disabilities” for guidance on Transportation needs of seniors. That document states as follows:
“TRANSPORTATION – Continue to promote and encourage public transit as an affordable and environmentally-sound alternative to personal vehicles.
Locate new ownership and rental housing projects conveniently near public transit access (e.g. bus stop) and make it accessible through a safe and easily navigated route. Preference for distance to transit access to be within 200 feet.
Assess transportation for new housing projects based on project size. Based on size, projects should contribute to City public transit needs by one of the following:
Provision of a shuttle service for project residents to use for daily living & activity needs (i.e. medical appointments, shopping, entertainment); or
Payment of the appropriate development impact fees and any additional funds negotiated via Development Agreement that could be utilized to enhance City transit services, particularly on weekends and holidays.”
Unfortunately, as stated above, all residents in purchased units will be far in excess of 200 ft. from the bus stop. Some residents will actually be required to walk up to 1/3 of a mile to get to the bus stop and the developer has made no contributions to City public transportation to improve the transportation infrastructure for the project.
In summary, this development meets almost none of the City’s Transportation needs specified in the City’s Guidelines for senior housing development.
- WDAAC is a Sprawling Development Reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s. It does NOT Meet any of the Sacramento Council of Governments’ (SACOG) Seven Principles for Smart Growth and Clearly Needs More Density, Different and Diverse Building Types, and Good Transportation Infrastructure.
Over the past several years, a number of notable urban development consultants have been retained to speak at public forums in Davis in hopes of spearheading new and innovative ways of thinking about development in the community. This was done with the knowledge that a number of major developments were being proposed in the community and a serious attempt was made to educate the Council, Staff, and the public about pitfalls to avoid when planning and entitling these developments. Unfortunately, all of these lessons learned were lost during the planning and entitlement approval process for the WDAAC.
Among the speakers were representatives of SACOG who presented their Blueprint Principles for Smart Growth (www.sacog.org). These include:
- Compact development
- Mix of land uses
- Transportation options
- Quality design
- Use of existing assets (land or buildings)
- Housing options
- Preserving natural resources
This development does not really meet any of these smart growth objectives. The project otherwise meets every reasonable definition of “sprawl”. The lot sizes for the 161 “Greenway” homes proposed are almost 4,600 sq. ft. (16.87 acres x 43,560 sq. ft./acre / 161 homes). Although the project developer has the option to build 1,400, and 1,800 sq ft. homes, he is not required to have a fixed mix of different size units and all of the units built could be 1,800 sq. ft. to maximize his profits.
The proposed “Custom Small Builder” lots are even bigger at almost 5,200 sq. ft. (5.96 acres x 43,560 sq. ft./acre / 50 homes). Further, as was discussed in an earlier article (Guest Commentary, Part II: WDAAC Includes Massive Developer Giveaways) there are no guarantees that any of the other proposed smaller units will ever be built because they are not listed as required in either the Baseline Features or the Development Agreement!
There are virtually no form-based design principles incorporated into the development, as all the structures (with the exception of the affordable units) are proposed to be single-story. In fact, the entire development is functionally a uniform sea of monolithic single story homes laid out in rectangular fashion using off-the-shelf architectural designs. Only the affordable housing multistory buildings provide any change in the terrain of the project and these may never even be built because the developer is not putting any money into the actual construction costs as was done by every single other major development in Davis (Cannery, Nishi, Lincoln40, Sterling and even the proposed new developments in South Davis).
While stairs can present challenges to seniors, families often prefer the compact design afforded by multiple story structures, while stacked flat condos (utilizing elevators) are proving popular with seniors seeking down-sized quarters. There are innumerable options to a sea of single-story homes but it requires a developer with imagination and vision and a City Council that actually demands what they profess in terms of smart urban planning.
As also discussed, there are no significant transportation alternatives to driving as the only public bus stop will be too far for most seniors to walk. Use of existing assets (such as rehabilitation of older buildings which admittedly there are none on this site) is non-existent and there is no preservation of natural resources because the land is currently productive (albeit not Class I) farm land which will become a housing development.
Rather than focusing on a modern, dense but diverse development model, the WDAAC project proposes a huge number of sprawling ranch-style homes on 5,000 sq ft lots reminding us of the excesses of the past. In addition to being a waste of precious farm land on our periphery, this type of sprawl development does not provide diverse housing benefits necessary for an integrated, inclusive community. Instead, additional 2- and 3- story residential buildings in much greater density would result in many more units at the site, being more dense, much more appropriate and better use of the land, AND much higher fees for the City.
Further, although both the Baseline Features and the Development Agreement refer to the possibility of additional types of buildings at the project including bungalows, cottages, and attached condos, a close reading of the Baseline Features and the Development Agreement show THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEES THAT THIS TYPE OF HOUSING IN ANY APPRECIABLE NUMBERS WILL EVER BE BUILT!
These documents do not specify the minimum number of different types and/or sizes of homes to be built! They only specify the maximum number of units that can be built, so it is entirely possible, and consistent with the Baseline Features and Development Agreement that the vast majority of the homes at built at WDAAC will be 1,800 sq. ft homes with very few smaller homes, bungalows, cottages, or condos.
Once again, as further discussed above, our City Planning Department and Council have agreed to a very poorly worded Development Agreement and Baseline Features that clearly benefit the interests of the project developer without regard to City and community needs.
And readers should be reminded that the Planning Commission did not approve nor recommend approval of the Development Agreement or the Baseline features of the project because they were too vague and unenforceable. However, instead of requiring the Planning Dept and developer to revise the agreement to meet objective enforceable standards, our City Council rushed approval of the project to get it on the November ballot. This project approval process was not deliberate nor thoughtful.
It must be emphasized that to approve a project with these fundamental problems in the Development Agreement and Baseline Features would set a terrible precedent for future developers by setting the lowest of expectations.
- WDAAC Opens Up the Entire Northwest Quadrant of the City to Speculative, Piecemeal Development with Absolutely No Overall, Comprehensive Specific or Master Plan for the Area.
Approval of this project would open up the northwest quadrant, a huge tract of land, for development with no planning guidelines or restrictions. With no previous community Specific or Master Plan for this entire area, it would allow developers to bring forward any type of project with no regard for what is best for the community or its residents.
According to the article by Bob Schneider, Davis resident and former builder/developer, titled “Planning First” published in the Davis Enterprise and the Vanguard on June 9, 2018 (http://www.davisvanguard.org/2018/06/letter-planning-first/#)…
“Properly planned, the northwest corner of Davis offers an important opportunity for meeting development needs in Davis in a manner that reflects Davis values. Neighborhoods, a natural habitat swale for the Covell drainage, flood water pond storage, edible vegetation, affordable co-housing, senior housing, community gardens, appropriate commercial, and live-work buildings, bordered by protected farmland and open space reflects my values and I believe our Davis values. Working towards this vision necessitates a General Plan update or a Northwest Specific Plan. Piecemeal development, focusing on one development at a time, may preclude this important opportunity.” (Emphasis added)
Yet, by this entitlement, the Davis City Council has rushed to open the door to piecemeal development and sprawl without first calling for a thoughtful community discussion on what should be done with the entire northwest quadrant, and how any development there should reflect community values and needs, not the needs of a single developer.
It is time to stop this project until we have had a community discussion on what we want for this entire area.
The authors are officers or affiliated with the No on Measure L Campaign