Council Creates Subcommittee to Look Into Final Form of Plaza 2555

The Davis City Council on Tuesday was unsure of the final form of Plaza 2555, but the councilmembers were convinced that the site should be residential rather than commercial, as currently zoned.  There was pushback from a handful of members of the public on the type of housing at the location, with a push for more family and workforce housing – a theme on Tuesday – and away from student housing.

The council, which was not going to approve the project anyway at this meeting, voted 5-0 to create a council subcommittee, comprised of Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida and Councilmember Dan Carson, to work with the development team and the city to create a final project that was acceptable to both.

For their part, the development team pushed the notion that most of the units – two-thirds in total – would be three bedrooms or fewer.  They argued these were not “purposed-built student housing,” pointing out that the front doors of the facility open inside rather than into an interior corridor, that the buildings themselves are detached and the building mass is separated rather than monolithic, that leasing would be by the bed and the majority would be smaller apartments.

They argued that many families in Davis live in rental housing, and that family households of four or more people comprise about 20 percent of the renter population, but compete for just six percent of the rental housing stock.  They argued, “This shows that there is an unmet need for larger rental units to house families in Davis.”

The developers pointed out that there are actually 5.5 times as many families with four or more people in a household as there are non-family households of that size in Davis.

Finally, the developer called the overall location great but argued it was not feasible for commercial development, citing the distance from the freeway among other factors.

Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida said, “This project is really difficult for me because I feel like it pits two of the things that are really important – I’m really a proponent of economic development and we need housing.”

She said, “It’s unfortunate that we have to pit those two things against each other.”

She said that, in their goal setting, they want to do an inventory of their commercial space and stated, “We don’t know if it’s reasonable to give up commercial in exchange for housing right now.”

With respect to the four- and five-bedroom apartments, “It feels like we’ve latched onto this idea that four and five bedrooms make this a student project.  I disagree with that to some extent because I lived with my three children in two apartments in town.”

Two of the apartments she lived in were one- and two-bedroom apartments “and those are full of students.”

“The only place where we lived that only had families was an affordable housing unit which was Fox Creek,” she said.  That was a three bedroom.  “Students are going to go wherever there is space.”

She added, “If we had more housing, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation so intently.”

Councilmember Will Arnold pointed out that he would like to see “more of the smaller units.”  But he pointed out that, as a Transit Priority Project, which is exempt under CEQA, they are maxed out at 200 units.

He said, “That does add a level of difficulty here that every time you ask for a smaller unit, you’re not just changing the configuration, you’re taking beds under a roof away from potential renters.”  He called it a “balancing act.”

Councilmember Arnold said, “I’m not convinced it is a great place for commercial… it is kind of hard to get to.”  He noted that the hotel would be “equally hard to get to” but pointed out that “in 2018 you book a hotel online, you plug it into your maps, and you go to wherever the map tells you to go and that’s where you stay that night.”

He said, “That’s not the same if you’re trying to get people to eat at your restaurant or go to your coffee shop.  I do think there’s a difference between a hotel and commercial that’s trying to attract passersby.”

He also pointed out, “Commercial land is not all created equal.  I take exception to the notion that we’re talking about an innovation center and yet we’re taking this out of commercial production.”  He noted that the innovation center is about “scalability of these businesses – a 200 acre parcel – allows for something different than a seven and a half acre triangle in town.”

He said he’s in favor of converting this to residential and also a proponent of an innovation center.  “I don’t think those are mutually exclusive ideas,” he said.

Councilmember Arnold added, “We are still very far behind in providing adequate rental housing for our citizens.”  He said, “I find it somewhat interesting that folks that were opponents of these other projects that we’ve passed have said, well these projects passed we don’t need anything anymore.  When  they were fighting tooth and nail against those projects and at least three or four of them are still under lawsuits, so who knows what we’re going to get.”

He did add, however, that despite the lawsuits, some of these projects are going forward.  Davis Live, for instance, passed the deadline for the opponents to file against that one.  Sterling is being built.

And so he did argue, “We are in a position to be more discerning and make a bigger ask.”

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs noted that this site was identified for housing as far back as 2007-08 when he served on the Housing Element Steering Committee.  He noted that this site was considered at the top of the yellow sites, which meant that it was considered acceptable for housing by 2013.

He said, “The need for housing is real in Davis in 2018.”  And he added that, while he is skeptical about the reports that commercial doesn’t work there at all, he did say, “I’m not totally torn up over losing the commercial site.”  However, he suggested the developer may want to look into more mixed-use components for this site.

“I’m pretty intrigued by the micro-units,” he said.  In terms of unit mixes, “Ones, twos and threes – absolutely.  No question – we need those.”

He said he would go with some fours, but added, “I’m not excited about five bedrooms or larger.”

Councilmember Frerichs added, “Any mix – regardless of the project before us – any mix is going to be rentable, basically from now until probably eternity.  There is going to be a demand for these units.  I do not see a situation, whether it’s a two-bedroom unit or a five-bedroom unit, where you’re not going to have the ability to have that rented.”

Mayor Brett Lee had early pushback against the project and noted that he has “some discomfort with the proposal as is.”  He said, “I think there’s something lacking.”  And he asked the developer to think “about how to make it more special.”

The council then assigned the two new councilmembers to sit on the subcommittee and get the project from where it stands now to the point where they can approve it.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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23 thoughts on “Council Creates Subcommittee to Look Into Final Form of Plaza 2555”

  1. Tia Will

    I suggest that we rethink a concept that seems to have become deeply ingrained. The idea that every individual must have their own room. My family was not affluent. I grew up sharing a bedroom with my sister. I suspect many of you did. At one financial low point, my mother and I shared a tiny studio with a fold down bed., for four years.  Not luxurious, but not housing insecure. In college, I shared rooms with my contemporaries. I suspect many of us have similar stories. If/when we have another economic downturn we will see many more people needing to share smaller spaces. I think our planning should include such contingencies not as something to be avoided, but as something we will, at some point, need to embrace.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I’m not sure of your point. For instance, my kids all share rooms. However, I can tell you that while six people can live in a three bedroom, it does get pretty cramped. The point that I think was made is that there seems to be a notion that families can’t use four or five bedroom homes, and that’s not true at all.

      1. Ron

        David:  “The point that I think was made is that there seems to be a notion that families can’t use four or five bedroom homes, and that’s not true at all.”

        I recall that you previously stated that families (e.g., with more than one kid) would be more likely to rent a house, vs. a 4-5 bedroom apartment. (Even more so, if the apartment is charging “by the bed/bedroom”.)

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          These are townhouses, not apartments. Unless they are “affordable” – I do think they’ll be too expensive for families, so that issue needs to be addressed.

    2. Ken A

      Tia is free to “rethink the concept” of room sharing (and no one is stopping her from renting a cot in her bedroom to a UCD student or bunks in her other rooms for more students) but as family size continues to fall for the college educated (I bet there are more 30 something gay Republicans than 30 something Ivy League grads with four or more kids) less and less kids are sharing a room and there are less and less young adults who want to share a room in college (or after college)…

  2. Ron

    From article:  “Finally, the developer called the overall location great but argued it was not feasible for commercial development, citing the distance from the freeway among other factors.”

    If it was any closer to the freeway, it would be in the freeway.

    The exit/entrance ramps to I-80 are not far away, either.

      1. Ron

        Maybe 1/2 mile.  Your second statement is factually incorrect.

        There are lots of businesses fronting the freeway (e.g., along Chiles Road on the South Side, and 2nd Street on the North side) that are probably just as far, or farther from exit/entrance ramps.

        Also, the entire downtown is often far more challenging (due to congestion) to reach, from the freeway.

        How far is University Research Park, from a freeway entrance/exit?

        1. Ron

          And – for that matter, is Davis only interested in commercial zoning that attracts workers (from outside Davis) who use the freeways to get to work?  Is that the new “development model”, now?

        2. David Greenwald

          They showed the 1/2 mile radius on a map yesterday, the project is clearly outside.

          That said I probably am closer to Lucas’ viewpoint on the viability of commercial there.  It’s worth noting that putting in a hotel and the potential out of town traffic generated there might mean that a commercial center is more viable.  but remember, it is very close to the Safeway shopping center with restaurants, coffee shops, etc.  So that would detract from viability.  On the other hand, there is not only commercial at Comcast, but also commercial on the other side of Davis Diamonds including a new mobile dispensary.  I think that point was overstated, even though as with Lucas, I come down on the side of we need housing, I’m okay with putting housing there given its location, shape, and the fact that according to the owner there have been no inquiries about commercial development there.

        3. Ron

          The map that you posted for this very article shows businesses (along 2nd Street) that are essentially the same distance from freeway entrance/exist points.

          I don’t see how the proximity to Safeway would detract from viability.

          Again, I question the reason the developer cited, regarding commercial viability.  If commercial demand was stronger (and there wasn’t more money in it for them for housing), then you’d likely see a proposal.

          It seems this circles back to a lack of demand for commercial space, compared to the money that can be made from residential development. The same reason that commercial sites all around the city are either being totally lost to residential development (including this site, as well as 3820 Chiles Road), or are being converted from commercial to semi-residential areas.

        4. Matt Williams

          Ron, mileage/distance is not a good proxy for commercial viability/value.  The areas north of I-80/UPRR are much more viable/valuable than the areas south of I-80.

        5. Ron

          Matt:  If true, why would that be the case? Note that it took decades, for 2nd Street to be fully developed. (Actually, I’m not sure that it is at this point, either.)

          Also, there are viable businesses along Chiles Road (along with the recently-approved, nearby Hyatt hotel proposal).  Not to mention University Research Park/Interland, on the same side of the freeway (and also not near an exit/entrance).

          If you look at the totality of what’s being proposed in Davis, there’s no doubt that existing commercial sites are primarily being converted to residential (or semi-residential) zoning.  Here are a few, off the top of my head:

          Plaza 2555
          3820 Chiles Road
          WDAAC – on a portion of the site previously proposed for an innovation center,
          the withdrawal of an MRIC commercial development,
          the elimination of a commercial component at Nishi,
          the elimination of industrial zoning to accommodate Sterling,
          the proposed semi-residentialization of Interland/University Research Park, downtown, and the large University Mall proposal,
          the probable conversion of the skilled nursing facility on Pole Line Road.

        6. Ron

          Oh – and then there’s the semi-residentialization of the (former) commercial site at 5th and Pena (one block from 2nd Street), to accommodate “mixed use”.  (Has anyone looked into whether or not there are actual, viable businesses, there?)

          Sterling is also essentially one block from 2nd Street.

          Developers primarily want to build housing in Davis – not commercial developments.

        7. Ron

          Here’s another (statewide) factor that will come into play:

          https://sf.curbed.com/2018/8/15/17693392/prop-13-california-split-roll-signatures-tax-vote

          This would put a real damper on commercial investment, and would encourage even more conversion of commercial property to accommodate residential development.

          If this goes through, anyone owning commercial property is going to be left “holding the bag”.  And, cities will probably be dealing with even more requested conversions, across the state.

          Even the threat of this proposition is probably already discouraging commercial investment.

          California will be nothing but houses (which don’t contribute sufficient property tax), as far as the eye can see. (Actually, it’s already like that, from my perspective – and the perspective of cities which aren’t collecting sufficient taxes from residential development to stay afloat.)

        8. Ken A

          I don’t know if this will make Ron happy, but if the state is able to increase commercial property taxes to market it won’t result in new housing development since a 300% increase in property taxes will impact almost EVERY business and force more business to close and/or leave the state (WAY more than the 60% 2007-2019 increase in the minimum wage) and most people will be forced to move if they can’t find a job in CA…

        9. Ron

          Ken:  There is that possibility, as well.  (Not sure where you’re getting 300%, though.)

          I’m just trying to point out that the city is losing/compromising existing commercial spaces, while some are apparently/simultaneously counting on a “Hail Mary” commercial peripheral development to “save the day”.  Even though two such peripheral proposals have already pulled out.  (Three, if you count the elimination of the commercial component at Nishi.)

          All while other nearby communities are pursuing the same commercial market.

          Hasn’t stopped the residential developers, though.  The WDAAC site overlaps with the former Davis Innovation Center site:

          http://davisinnovationcenter.org/the-project/project-location/

           

        10. Matt Williams

          Ron said . . . Also, there are viable businesses along Chiles Road (along with the recently-approved, nearby Hyatt hotel proposal).  Not to mention University Research Park/Interland, on the same side of the freeway (and also not near an exit/entrance).

          Ron, taking your statements in reverse order, University Research Park/Interland is indeed on the south side of the freeway AND it is immediately adjacent to the Richards Blvd. exit to I-80.  In addition, it is substantial in size, over 50 acres reaching from the edges of the Playfields Park on the east to the Solano County border on the west, and I-80 on the north and Morris Way (one block south of Richards) on the south.

          The Chiles Road and Cowell Blvd. sites you refer to are all significantly smaller and substantially removed from the Richards Ave exit to I-80

          With respect to viable businesses, proceeding east from the beginning of Chiles at the corner of Chiles/Drummond/Cowell, when do you run into the first viable business?  It is the largely vacant Days Inn, then the 4120 Chiles Road building, Hanlee Motors, University Honda, McDonalds and two gas stations.  The auto dealerships are viable, and McDonalds thrives serving those dealerships, but beyond that there is nothing that is thriving along the Chiles corridor.  In addition, the El Macero shopping center has long-standing vacancies.

        11. Ron

           

          Matt: “Ron, taking your statements in reverse order, University Research Park/Interland is indeed on the south side of the freeway AND it is immediately adjacent to the Richards Blvd. exit to I-80.  In addition, it is substantial in size, over 50 acres reaching from the edges of the Playfields Park on the east to the Solano County border on the west, and I-80 on the north and Morris Way (one block south of Richards) on the south.”

          I’ve previously tried to find a good map of the URC/Interland site.  If you’re able to do so (and post it), I’d appreciate it.  I’m curious as to how much closer it actually is to the Richards Blvd. exit and entry points, to the freeway.

          However, I understand that URC/Interland is actually one of the existing commercial sites that will be “semi-residentialized”.  So, it actually is further evidence that developers primarily want to build housing vs. commercial – regardless of freeway access points.
           

          Matt: “The Chiles Road and Cowell Blvd. sites you refer to are all significantly smaller and substantially removed from the Richards Ave exit to I-80.”

          I don’t know what your point is, here.
           

          Matt: “With respect to viable businesses, proceeding east from the beginning of Chiles at the corner of Chiles/Drummond/Cowell, when do you run into the first viable business?  It is the largely vacant Days Inn, then the 4120 Chiles Road building, Hanlee Motors, University Honda, McDonalds and two gas stations.  The auto dealerships are viable, and McDonalds thrives serving those dealerships, but beyond that there is nothing that is thriving along the Chiles corridor.  In addition, the El Macero shopping center has long-standing vacancies.”

          Again, the map that accompanies this article shows some businesses that are just as far (if not farther) from freeway access points.  Just beyond this map are other businesses (some quite new and large) along 2nd Street that are also not adjacent to freeway access points.  (And, they now have to deal with a new stoplight on 2nd Street, near Target.)

          Regarding vacancies at the El Macero shopping center, doesn’t this provide more evidence that there really isn’t much demand for commercial space – even when it’s near a freeway access point?

          The bottom line is that there seems to be some unsubstantiated assumption that businesses will only locate near freeway entrance/exit points.  Even if that were true, is accommodating that in Davis’ best interests?  (In other words, encouraging workers to commute from other communities, using the freeway system?)
           

        12. Ron

          One of the main problems that I see is that Davis has to “compete” with other communities (who frankly have much lower “standards”) to land businesses. (And, even there, it’s often built with housing, these days.)

          West Sacramento, for example, has the space and would likely “bend over backwards” to accommodate businesses that want to locate near Sacramento or Davis.  (In fact, I understand that one large business already left Davis, for West Sacramento.  And, that the deal that was offered (by the seller?) was essentially too good to pass up.  (Almost a below-cost type of deal, from what I recall on the Vanguard.)

          Unlike housing (in which developers can demand a “premium” price – for a Davis address), this does not apply to commercial development.

          Commercial developers essentially have to be “legally bribed” (by approving accompanying housing), in order to locate in Davis. (Perhaps a better word is “incentivized”.)

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