Monday Morning Thoughts: The Road Ahead in Davis

University Mall redevelopment could be approved by the end of next summer

With the passage of Measure L last week, the city of Davis has done a lot to address housing issues in the past two years.  For student housing, the council has approved Sterling, Lincoln40, Nishi (affirmed by the voters in June), and Davis Live Student Housing.   Now it has approved the senior housing project, West Davis Active Adult Community.  The city has also approved the Trackside Center.

As I have posted previously – the passage of Measure L means that it is unclear when and where the next peripheral housing development will come forward.  There simply is, at this point in time, not another project waiting in the wings.  Based on that, my expectation is that it will be at least another ten years before we see another major peripheral housing project.

Despite my commentary over the weekend, I would add that I really do not expect MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center) to come back at this point.  This means that most of what we are looking at will be either infill or redevelopment (or both).

Current Proposed Developments

While the council has approved a number of projects, there are still at least four major ones that are coming down the pipe.

The most immediate will be Plaza 2555, which has already been heard by the city council once.  That is a project that figures to be a mix of uses on a six-acre, vacant parcel along I-80 and across from Playfields Park.  That one has undergone some shifts away from student housing – with a mix of apartments and townhouses, and an emphasis on one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments with about one-third of the units still being four and five bedrooms (see our story).

The University Mall Redevelopment project is one of the biggest projects that we will have, as it seeks to level the existing university mall which is largely one (with some second level uses) story and turn it into a seven-story mixed use facility with retail on the ground floor, residential and parking.  A lot of the housing will be for students, given its location across the street from the university (see our story).

We have also run a story on the University Research Park Mixed-Use project which will be focusing on workforce housing.  The developers told the Vanguard that the lack of housing in Davis has been a barrier to companies wishing to come here, and they are seeking to address housing needs first on their site before looking into redevelopment and densification (see our story).

Finally, the city has received an application for the Chiles Road Apartments.  They have recently completed the draft EIR for the proposed apartment complex, which sits on 7.4 acres of land on Chiles Road and La Vida Way in south Davis with close access to I-80.  The 225-unit project is seeking to create a diverse community with housing for multiple generations and lifestyles and provide “Davis  residents  and  employees  with housing  options  that  are  accessible  to  employment centers and are convenient to destinations for daily needs.”

Downtown Plan

In addition to the current proposals, the city is in the midst of conducting its Downtown Plan.  One of the big questions going forward will be whether the community will back a heavy redevelopment of downtown with residential and mixed-use buildings as the new norm.

We have already talked with the owners of the old Brinley Building, who have given their building on the north end of Second Street a facelift, but in the coming decade they will be looking to redevelop the building up to about four or five stories, with retail and restaurants at the ground level and residential above.

In September, the DPAC (Downtown Plan Advisory Committee) communicated to the council that they are “generally in support of increasing building heights in appropriate parts of the downtown to allow more residents.”

This was clearly a view the majority on council also supports. Councilmember Lucas Frerichs stated that “additional housing in our downtown is important for economy.” He also noted it was important for our environmental goals.

Dan Carson also argued that, by bringing in housing into the downtown, “you bring people, you bring economic activity.”

But the economic analysis by consultants Bay Area Economics (BAE), as the Vanguard has already reported on several times, shows that margins are thin and costs are high. The key question for the DPAC and ultimately the council may not be the vision of bringing more people to the downtown and developing a more vibrant and mixed-use environment, but the feasibility of making that pencil out along with the other goals.

This will be a key and ongoing discussion and one that may ultimately rival our great land use debates in scope and intensity.

Measure R Renewal

One commenter this weekend accused the Vanguard of attempting to get a conversation started on Measure R several times but failing.  Another suggested (most likely facetiously) we ought not to mention it and hope the issue goes away.

The reality is that the debate is coming at some point, sooner rather than later, as Measure R is going to expire and the current council is going to have to figure out what to do with it.

There are basically three options here.  The first is to renew the measure as is, put it on the ballot and see what happens.  The second is to have a host of community outreach sessions on ways to revise and alter the plan.  Finally, the council could simply allow the measure to expire and leave it to the community to put a new measure on the ballot.

For some, Measure R is sacrosanct and any alteration would be undesirable, and for some it is even a third rail to even discuss it.

I would at least like to have a discussion (at some point) on some possibilities if we look to change Measure R.  One possibility is that we simply set aside a certain amount of land every ten years that would be excluded from Measure R and not require anything more than a council approval process.  That would be akin to a form of an urban limit line and to go beyond that would require a vote of the people.

A second possibility is that we exempt commercial projects from Measure R votes.  That would facilitate commercial and economic development, but it would mean any mixed use project would still require a Measure R vote.  That idea was floated a number of years ago, but seems less likely today to come forward.

A third possibility is that we keep Measure R as it is and the council simply utilize a pre-approval process.  It would not take any alterations of the current ordinance to do this, simply put up a location and a land use suggestion and allow the public to vote on whether it goes forward, exempt from a future Measure R vote.  This would work best for an Innovation Center rather than a residential development.

A fourth possibility is that we change the nature of affordable housing exemptions.  Right now an affordable housing project as a standalone is exempt from Measure R requirements.  The problem, of course, how is an affordable housing developer is going to get land outside of the city to build the project without it being attached to a market rate project.  One possibility is we could allow a 50/50 affordable project to be exempt.  That means that if a project had half of the units (and I would say in light of the last campaign, half of the land) set aside for affordable housing, the market rate portion could be exempt from the vote as well (you probably need a stipulation that the affordable project gets built first).

There are probably other potential changes as well.  Will we have this discussion?  The passage of two Measure R projects this year probably makes it a lot more likely that Measure R will be renewed in 2020, but it seems a little silly not to at least have a discussion of what it might look like.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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1 Comment

  1. Craig Ross

    For those who say that Measure R is working, part of the problem is we don’t know when it causes a project not to even be proposed at all.  So we have a shortage of affordable housing, family housing and the like, and no more proposals on the horizon.  That’s the problem with Measure R.  Instead we’re going to go dense, small, and not very practical.

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