Ten days ago, in our Saturday column “My View,” I argued that the council needed to get as many thorny issues off the table as possible. Since then, the city staff and developer have moved the project in the right direction, but there are still thorny issues to address.
In a memo approved with a unanimous vote on Friday, the Natural Resources Commission stated, “We are writing to ask that Council reconsider certain Baseline Features that the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) proposed, but that were not recommended in the staff report to the Planning Commission.”
The NRC then makes the point: “While it is not unusual for staff and commissions to disagree, in this case the NRC feels strongly that its recommendations were not given adequate and informed consideration. In some cases, the staff proposal asked for less than what the Applicant offered in their Sustainability Guiding Principles.”
The NRC proposals call for meeting and exceeding Title 24 in the following five categories: (1) commercial building being all-electric, (2) solar connected energy, (3) parking be EV ready, (4) parking unbundled from rent, and (5) master leasing.
It is important to note that the NRC approved their memo prior to release of the final staff report.
Richard McCann, one of the members of the NRC, in a comment on Monday noted, “The new Staff report goes a long way towards meeting the shortened list of recommendations that the NRC adopted on Friday, which is a positive statement.”
He is concerned, however, that many of these commitments are in the form of “the developer commits to” rather than “the developer shall” language, and thus in his view “are meaningless unless these are included as contractual, enforceable clauses in the Baseline Features.” He adds, “The City has experienced negotiating away many ‘commitments’ in development agreements that didn’t have teeth. The City needs to show that its willing to stand firm.”
One of the elements recommended by the NRC that is missing from the staff report is “a requirement that commercial development be all-electric unless a tenant has a specific request for a process-specific need to use natural gas. We must avoid installing gas pipelines that will become obsolete in the next couple of decades as we move toward a ‘zero net carbon’ future to fight the climate emergency.”
We largely agree with the comments of Richard McCann here and believe that all NRC-recommended commitments need to be codified into Baseline Project Features, and that the project should be all electric, barring an individual tenant-specific need for natural gas in the tenets business processes.
The issue of the master lease is a bit more tricky. Realistically, requiring master leasing does not seem to make a ton of intuitive sense. But the need for as many of the residents as possible to work on site remains.
My suggestion there is now four-fold. First, all rental periods should be off-cycle from the university—thus they go from February to February rather than begin in September. Second, the renting should require individual tenants to pass a credit check. Third, to the extent possible, they should encourage the use of master leasing, but do not require it.
Finally, one of the factors in this project is that since it has such a long build out time and the housing units will not be fully built out until the end of phase three, it means they have time to evaluate.
My suggestion is to include a clause to allow for a ten-year check in on the actual percentage of residents living and working on site and allow for the development agreement to be revisited at that point to consider the inclusion of master leasing requirements.
The recommendation continues to allow that “[t]he rate of housing construction shall be limited to one home per every 2000 square feet of residential space, except for projects that are 100% Affordable.”
By increasing the limit to “one home per 3000,” they can largely take the issue of residential project off the table. Therefore I recommend the council attempt to move the ball as far as they can from 2000 to 3000—and I believe the actual language should be square feet of COMMERCIAL space, not residential there.
On the 6.8 acres of the Mace 25, the current language is: “A portion of the Ag Buffer was proposed to be located on the city’s property, known as Mace 25. There is no agreement on the project using a portion of Mace 25 as part of the agricultural buffer and the developer understands that they will be obligated to provide the buffer entirely on the DISC site if no agreement is reached in the future. The City is under no obligation to grant an easement on the Mace 25 for the project agricultural buffer.”
While that is better than previous language, our recommendation is remove the 6.8 acres from the discussion of this project and simply have the city consider what to do about Mace 25 at a separate point in time.
On the work force housing the language is: “Work force housing shall be the style of housing which will include a maximum of 3 bedrooms per unit or maximum of 2 bedrooms for rental units.”
Somehow there should be exceptions for co-housing. In my opinion this is really crucial. Co-housing is a mechanism that can help employees afford housing costs. Perhaps this has to be done in conjunction with master leasing, but naturally that would require more than three bedrooms.
Another suggestion I have would be to disincentivize people driving to work and parking onsite. One way to do that would be paid parking. And a suggestion I would have is paid parking onsite, and that money go to some sort of transit system or improvement of existing transit.
Clearly, since the staff report did not do so, council is going to have to do the last lift—but they are moving in the right direction.
There is one final point that is important to make. The council can’t require it, but a stronger letter from the university, with concrete technology transfer commitments for the university to be involved in filling the site, would go a long way toward satisfying those who are skeptical about commercial demand.
—David M. Greenwald reporting