Sunday Commentary: Plaza 2555 Responds to Feedback, Shifting Away from Student Housing

Plaza 2555 goes before the council and a big question with it has always been – what type of housing is it going to be?  From the start, despite the word of critics, this wasn’t simply going to be another student-oriented housing project.  That has remained the case, and probably is more so now than when it came before the planning commission a few months back.

The project was always going to be some sort of mix – shifting between traditional stacked flat apartment units in two- and three-story buildings, and row-house style townhouses that would swing from micro units that were studio to three-bedroom homes.

At one point there was a clear push away from student housing.  That made sense – after all, the city had already approved projects like Lincoln40, Sterling, Nishi, and most recently Davis Live.  The campus was planning to build 9050 beds, including 5200 by 2023.

But things have changed – again.  Projects are on hold due to litigation.  The campus itself is facing a CEQA lawsuit and that will delay the building of student housing as well.  Student housing may be in more immediate need than it appeared even just two months ago.  Maybe more so in the short term – the next five years – than the longer term.

In the meantime, the project continues to shift, seemingly away from student housing.

Back in early September we noted that two-thirds of the units were projected to be three bedrooms or smaller.  On the other hand, critics pushed back that 78 percent were three, four, and five bedrooms.

The swing of course was that 89 units – including 29 townhouses and 60 flats – were to be three-bedroom units.

Those figures have shifted again.  Fewer of the units are expected to be micro units – with only 20 units being micro units compared to 30 before.  But now the project is a good deal more versatile.  Instead of breaking out the one-, two-, and three-bedroom units separately, the developer is proposing 114 units at one to three bedrooms with a maximum of 342 beds.

This is likely to once again trigger opposition to student housing.

Staff points out in the staff report, “The total number of possible three-bedroom units continues to be a topic of discussion. Theoretically, as many as 57% of the three-bedroom units (114) could be proposed as three-bedroom to the exclusion of one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. Combined with possible four- and five-bedroom units the overall theoretical percentage could be considerable (90 percent).”

However, as staff points out: “The applicant has expressed that is not their intent and in addition that the capacity of the site could preclude this.”

Back in September, Eileen Samitz called the project “basically a reconstituted mega-dorm.”  She said, “In one of the worst locations in the city.  How much more remote can it be from the campus?”

My read continues to be as follows.  First, this isn’t a dorm at all.  There are apartments here, but there are also townhouses.  There has always been a mix. This has never been conceptualized as just student housing.

My second point, though, would be, given what is happening in town, we still clearly need more student housing, particularly in the short term.  So why are we so opposed to building housing for populations that already reside in this community, that are in need of more places to live?

Ms. Samitz has also attacked the connectivity to campus (again for a project that is not primarily student housing), but, as we pointed out previously, the connectivity is actually pretty good.

Todd Edelman in his post yesterday laid out the route for a bicycle commute – and, bear in mind, the location is right on a bus route as well, since Ms. Samitz has previously argued that rainy days (such as they are) might be a problem.

For Mr. Edelman, he points out the route is Research Park Dr. to Playfields Park, through the park to the path under Pole Line, then take the path to East Olive, and East Olive to West Olive to Putah Creek Trail to the Arboretum.

He writes: “Cyclists will not need to stop more than two times, and likely will only need to do so one time, at Richards. It should take around 10 min.”

Furthermore, he adds, “Hopefully in the not too distant future there will be a new crossing next to Lincoln40 from East Olive over to Davis Depot, creating a less than ten-minute journey to the Depot or Downtown with only one stop sign (at Research Park next to the project), so likely no need to stop at all.”

Others points out there are shorter routes that do not cross Richards at all – but the point is, this is not a long bike trip to campus.

A point I will make here is that, with everything in flux, I am not sure it pays to try to micromanage what this project looks like.  To me, this project seems like a transition from the purely student housing projects we have already seen approved to the workforce and mixed-use housing projects we are likely to see as a next wave.

One thing I would point out is that having three-bedroom townhouses, particularly if some of them are affordable, would make this a good project for families.  There are several advantages with this location.  First, it is near a concentration of other families, both down the street and in the adjacent neighborhood.

Second, townhouses are more conducive to a family atmosphere than apartments are.  Third, there are amenities close by for families – the parks nearby, the Playfields across the street, Davis Diamonds, and the project is down the street from groceries and not far from Montgomery Elementary.

Finally, I think the council needs to have a discussion on housing again.  We have seen a wave of student housing projects that clearly were badly needed.  But the next wave of housing is more likely to be mixed use, either at University Research Park or with redevelopment in the downtown.  Those are likely to be more workforce housing types than student housing.

The other question is where and how the council and city foresees more family housing – another housing type badly needed.

Those are questions, of course, largely for another day.  Plaza 2555 figures to provide housing for all three groups – family, workforce and student – but while it provides housing, it will not be a project that aims to solve any of those housing shortfalls.

—David M. Greenwald

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About The Author

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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