The Planning Commission is not happy with more student housing and they worry about the lack of parking on the large mixed-use project – that was a take home message from the public hearing on the EIR on Wednesday night.
The project seeks to demolish the existing, largely single story commercial entity and replace it with 264 new multi-family residential units and approximately 136,800 square feet of retail space. The proposed 264 multi-family units would include a mix of sizes and result in a total of 622 bedrooms with 894 beds.
The total number of parking spaces is 693 – that includes 264 spaces for residential use and 429 for retail use – 518 of those spaces will be in the new three-story parking garage.
According to Nick Pappani, a consultant with Raney Planning and Management, he noted that the Retail Project Only Alternative is considered the environmentally superior alternative as it would “reduce greatest number of project impacts, including reduced traffic impacts, and would not require implementation of GHG MMs.”
Commissioners were critical of a number of aspects of the project.
Steve Streeter, the chair, said, “Some of my key concerns are the building height, residential density, focus on student occupancy and parking.” He recommends a five-story maximum height. “The University Mall is a neighborhood shopping center that the density proposed would only be suitable in some downtown locations.”
He also noted, “The project objections focuses on students, employees, university-related personnel. The student focus needs to be balanced in relation to other student apartment projects completed or underway to the west.”
Greg Rowe had concerns about how the 894 “is going to be controlled.” He said, “I’m really having trouble understanding why this could be instead of 894 (beds)… next thing you know you have 900 to 1000 to 1200 students living here which then throws all of your environmental analysis (out).”
He said, “I’m really uncomfortable with the way this project is proposed because we don’t know how many students are going to live in each bedroom and we don’t know how it affects our RHNA.”
Mr. Rowe added, “We keep having these large projects coming forward. Especially these large student-oriented projects and in reality that’s what this is, this is another student oriented housing project.”
He noted that Davis Live “is really an experiment” with 71 units and 71 parking spaces. “I’m really uncomfortable going forward with another project that just assumes one parking space per unit for residences.” He would rather wait to see how it works for Davis Live.
In sum, he said, “It’s really not a shopping center renovation, it’s another large student housing project masquerading as a project to redo a shopping center.”
On the other hand, Emily Shandy said, “I don’t share your concerns about the lack of parking. I think we as a community need to move away from parking and away from driving in our own cars by ourselves all the time, to get everywhere. One of the ways that the city can encourage that shift to happen is to start making parking less convenient.”
Darryl Rutherford said, “I was taken aback by the size and scope of it all. The height really threw me off. It seems a little out of place.” He added, “It doesn’t look like it conforms with the community there.”
He said, “I want to see more commercial as well in that spot.”
“I want to see a dense project,” he added. “But I also don’t want to see a student-oriented project here.”
Herman Boschken noted, “In order for it to be anything but student housing, it probably would have to be redesigned – the units themselves.”
He said for workforce or low-cost housing, “this structure is simply not designed for their living habits or desires.”
He said while the student housing used to be deficit, “but more and more I think we’re finding that our real deficit is now for the Davis workforce and low cost housing.”
He also had parking concerns: “Where are they going to park?” He argued that students are going to “insist on bringing a car anyway, whether they use it or not.” He suggested that they look at alternatives with off-site parking, which he didn’t see anything in the proposals.
Eileen Samitz was among the public commenters.
She said, “This UMall proposal is basically this monolithic project of a 264 apartment monolith.” She called it “completely inappropriate,” “out-of-scale” and a “lose-lose for the city.
“The proposed project is far too large and would have devastating impacts not only upon the neighborhoods around it but the community as a whole.”
“This project needs to be a retail only project,” she said, arguing that that is what this site was intended for. “There are few retail sites left that are viable. UMall needs to expand its retail – if anything it needs two stories with offices on top. The city needs the sales tax.”
She too called this “basically a charade… for another student oriented project or mega-dorm.”
She was concerned that the retail would shift to “student serving retail” and argued “we need community serving retail.”
The Draft EIR review period is scheduled to end on December 20. They will prepare a Final EIR with a response to these comments and a mitigation and monitoring plan.
—David M. Greenwald reporting