After Unanimous Rejection by Planning Commission, University Commons Project Goes to Council

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It has been a month and a half since the Planning Commission rejected the proposed University Commons Redevelopment Project by a unanimous 7-0 vote.

The proposed project will demolish the majority of the existing University Mall building for redevelopment as a dense, mixed-use project.

The project includes 264 new multi-family residential units and around 136  thousand square feet of retail space—about 50 percent larger than the existing commercial footprint.  This does not include the separate 13,000-foot Trader Joe’s building which will remain untouched.

There will also be a three-level parking structure that contains 533 parking spaces and which would be situated on the west portion of the site with an additional 160 surface parking spaces. The main structure will be five to seven levels, approximately 80 feet in height, with two small pads being proposed. In response to concerns about the project, the applicant has made some modifications.

However, the residential portion of the proposed University Commons Project is expected to be occupied predominantly by university students.

As noted in the staff report, “concerns have been expressed about the amount of recent student housing and the responsibility of UC Davis to house its students.”  However, as staff points out, “the surrounding project area consists of existing student apartments, rental houses, and commercial uses and the University Commons residential development would be consistent with those uses.”

The applicants have made modifications to the project, however.  Staff reports: “To limit the issues surrounding housing that caters solely to students, the applicant has made a commitment that the majority of the units (55%) will consists of studios, one, two, and three bedroom units. Four bedroom units will not exceed 45% of the units and no units with five or more bedrooms are permitted.”

Staff writes: “The commitment to a mix of unit sizes provides for housing opportunities at the proposed project that would be attractive to both student and nonstudent households.”

Staff further notes, “Rental housing for students is a critical need as evidenced by the annual Apartment Vacancy Survey, which has consistently shown apartment vacancy rates in the city at less than or around 1 percent.

“The shortage has been attested to by individual students, student organizations, and housing groups in their comments on this and other housing projects. Additionally, new student-oriented rental projects can have a beneficial impact by easing pressure in the City’s single-family neighborhoods from student rentals and crowding and reducing competition for single-family rentals for non-students.”

There are concerns about the size and scale.  Staff notes that the project is vertical mixed use with 3 to 4 residential levels located above 3 garage levels or above 1 to 2 levels of retail.  That would create a height of 80 feet and “would be larger and taller than the surrounding development, which consists of older low-density development or low-rise 3 and 4-story apartment buildings.”

However, the Davis Live Project, which is nearby and currently under construction, is of a similar height with 7 stories.

Staff writes: “Combining and stacking uses on the site and intensifying development is a more efficient use of the site, but results in a larger sized project.”

They conclude: “The overall project size and scale is reasonable for the large retail site which is surrounded by arterial streets and commercial and multi-family uses and the UC Davis campus.”

There have also been concerns with traffic and parking.  Staff notes: “Comments from the public about traffic and parking were mixed and indicate differing views on the issue. They include calls for both more parking and less parking.”

Likewise, on vehicle trips, “many comments expressed concerns about increased traffic and congestion. Other comments pointed out the benefits for reduced vehicle trips and reduced miles travelled compared to other projects due to the proximity of the University Commons site to the campus and the commuting behavior of students living near the University as documented in UC Davis’ travel surveys and the project’s traffic analysis.”

On affordable housing, “After feedback from the Planning Commission, the applicant continued to explore their ability to provide affordable housing or additional contributions and has revised their proposal Instead of the contribution, the applicant has committed to meeting the City’s current affordable requirement for vertical mixed-use development by providing 5% (45 beds) of the Project’s total beds as affordable to low income households (80% AMI).”

Staff argues that while the project “would be a substantial change for the site” … “the site is an ideal location for redevelopment and the change also results in numerous benefits related to infill development, housing, economic development, sustainability, and smart growth.”

—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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32 thoughts on “After Unanimous Rejection by Planning Commission, University Commons Project Goes to Council”

  1. Ron Glick

    “Likewise, on vehicle trips, “many comments expressed concerns about increased traffic and congestion. Other comments pointed out the benefits for reduced vehicle trips and reduced miles travelled compared to other projects due to the proximity of the University Commons site to the campus…”

    Regardless of this project’s impact the left turn from eastbound Russell onto Sycamore is already impacted with it often taking 2-4 cycles for the lane to clear and traffic often backing up in the turn lane into the thru lane. With construction materials being hauled in from the 113 this will  get worse before it gets better. The city needs extend the length of the turn lane and extend the period for the turn lane to have a green arrow.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Good luck getting the “Druids” on the tree commission to approve the removal of median trees to accomplish that!  It was painful enough when we lengthened the LT lane when Trader Joes went in… even then we had to compromise big time on the length of the pocket even then…

      And, be careful for what you ask for… add’l time for the EB Russell to NB Sycamore movement will reduce time given to other movements, including the bicycle LT from SB Sycamore to EB Russell… it is a truly ‘zero-sum game’…

      But, given tradeoffs, go for it…

  2. Tia Will

    “Rental housing for students is a critical need as evidenced by the annual Apartment Vacancy Survey, which has consistently shown apartment vacancy rates in the city at less than or around 1%”

    Based on the situation prior to:

    1. The approval of Nishi/Lincoln Forty/ the dorms on Fifth St. near the police station and probably others I’m missing.

    2. Unknown effects of COVID -19 on demand

    This seems to me like an opportunity for the city to slow down, reassess our situation and needs based on the realities of 2020 and the future rather than those of 2000 – 2019.

     

    1. Alan Miller

      This seems to me like an opportunity for the city to slow down,

      this and many other projects be significantly delayed or may never see the light of day given the uncertainty of demand (there are forces pulling in both directions), which will be reflected in the inability to obtain financing.

  3. Matt Williams

    Some thoughts that I believe are important.

    (1a) If this gets approved by the Council … and that is a very big “if” it is a location that is just as valuable for young UCD employees as it is for UCD students.  There is a shortage of housing for UCD employees that has not been discussed anywhere near as much as housing for UCD students.

    (1b) Rent by the Bed leases should be prohibited for this site by Council.  My reason for that is I believe Rent by the Bed leases are much more attractive for UCD students than they are for UCD employees.

    (2) Should the City Council choose to go with an approval on Tuesday, that is a clear message to the Planning Commission … all the commissions in fact … that the Council sees little value in their input.  Is that a message that the Council wants to send?

    (3a) The structure of the Staff Report speaks volumes about how senior Staff feel about the commissions … that they are nothing but as nuisance.

    (3b) After paying extremely brief, one-line, lip service to the Planning Commission’s recommendation on page 1 of the Staff Report, and a brief “wave” on page 3 saying The May 27, 2020 Planning Commission staff report, which is included as Attachment 7, provides more detailed information and analysis of the project”  Then after 17 pages of “sales pitch” by Staff comes the following sentence, “The attached Planning Commission staff report provides additional discussion and more detail of the various policy items and project entitlements presented above.” Then comes another two pages of EIR discussion by staff, leading into a one-page four-bullet summary of the Planning Commission’s comments on the EIR.

    (3c) Finally on page 24 comes a two-page summary of Commission comments followed by a two-page summary of Public comments.  So at the end of page 27 we have had 21 pages of up-front staff “sales pitch” and 5 pages of “buried” commission and community comments.

    (3d) In the page 28 Conclusion staff clearly says they “believe [the project] is consistent with the City’s policies

    for land use, transportation, economic development, and

    sustainability.” and effectively says disregard most of what the Commissions have said.

    (3e) Next comes the 119 pages of EIR, followed by 16 pages of staff-proposed Resolution language, followed by 58 pages of Development Agreement

    (3f) So on page 225 the Staff Report gets to Attachment 7 … the Planning Commission info, which starts off with 29 pages of Staff Report “sales pitch” then 48 pages of written public comments provided to the Planning Commission … and then without providing the Planning Commission recommendation language or meeting minutes, moves on the the FBC documentation.

    (4) If staff had used a backhoe in a graveyard, they couldn’t have buried the Planning Commission any deeper or better … effectively saying to the Council that the Planning Commission is nothing but as nuisance.

    1. Alan Miller

      Scathing!

      a clear message to the Planning Commission … all the commissions in fact … that the Council sees little value in their input.  Is that a message that the Council wants to send?

      It’s been done before . . . I imagine it will been done again.

      Thanks for digging in hundreds of pages past what 99.9% ever would, to find the backhoe on the Back 40 of the Davis Cemetery.

      1. Alan Miller

        Scathing!

        a clear message to the Planning Commission … all the commissions in fact … that the Council sees little value in their input.  Is that a message that the Council wants to send?

        It’s been done before . . . I imagine it will been done again.

        Thanks for digging in hundreds of pages past what 99.9% ever would, to find the backhoe on the Back 40 of the Davis Cemetery.

        Not sure how I feel about the project, as I don’t know what the new normal will look like yet (nor does anyone else). But good to know we have citizens with the time and willingness to dig deep.

        1. Matt Williams

          Thanks Alan, unfortunately screwed up processes have become the norm in Davis rather than the exception.  This is just the most recent example.

          When the process is really screwed up it is hard to step back and objectively look at the project, which is a real shame.

    2. Bill Marshall

      Until such time that commissioners are elected, instead of appointed, it’s kinda’ like consulting folk for tarot readings… you might get good advice, you may not… have known great commissions on several commissions who I respected whether they agreed with me or not… those made up ~10-15 % of the commissioners I’ve interacted with… many have appeared to be ‘putting in their time’ to run for another office… many others just like to hear themselves talk and express their views (and expect others to share them, or else),  and until recently, get televised.

      So, the CC should weigh the merits of the points made, but decide based on their own judgement… that is what they are elected for…

      Should the City Council choose to go with an approval on Tuesday, that is a clear message to the Planning Commission … all the commissions in fact … that the Council sees little value in their input.  Is that a message that the Council wants to send?

      Sounds more like an ego problem for commissioners than a sign of flawed process…

      Matt… you and I have often come away from a discussion in disagreement… but I know I have valued your perspective, your input, (and I thought it has worked both ways), but you have not always persuaded me to agree (and vice versa)… perfectly acceptable… we made our points, LISTENED to each other, but often have not agreed… same for CC and commissions… IMNSHO…

      And for the record, if the project is approved, fine by me… same if it is denied… what I care about most is WHY (on what basis) was that decision made… if it is vox populi, I have a real problem with that… if it is rational (whether I agree or not) I’m good…

  4. Don Shor

    With respect to housing demand, we have an interesting data point:

    https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/uc-davis-admits-record-number-new-undergraduates-fall-2020

    UC Davis has increased the number of students to whom they have offered admission by record numbers:

    The total number of new students admitted for undergraduate study represents a 13.6 percent increase compared with last year, according to statistics released today (July 16) by the university system.

    UC Davis admitted a record 35,838 freshman applicants, an increase of 17.5 percent from last year, and 9,982 transfer applicants, a 1.4 percent increase.

    So while they are clearly expecting some decrease in acceptances, they have buffered that somewhat by increasing the number to whom they have offered places. How that will exactly turn out, nobody knows. UCD enrollment could turn out lower for the upcoming school year, or it could actually turn out higher if the percentage who choose to attend tracks with prior years. So, given the very low vacancy rates of recent years, and the fact that UCD is clearly taking steps to keep their numbers and cash flow up, I suggest that ‘slowing down’ and ‘reassessing’ the situation could be detrimental to young renters.

    This project checks all the boxes of New Urbanism, in a location where those theories and principles actually apply for once. It’s a bunch of off-campus student housing, surrounded by off-campus student housing, within walking and biking distance of campus. It’s a natural place to build a bunch of housing for students who are entering their sophomore and upper division years. I see no reason to believe the demand will be insufficient to fill this location. It would help to free up housing elsewhere in the city. The shadow pattern isn’t an issue. The traffic impacts could be discussed and perhaps mitigated, but this is really just a continued increase in the density that’s already occurring on both sides of that stretch of Russell. The retail footprint actually increases from the current amount, providing fiscal benefits to the city.

    So I suggest the council approve this project.

    1. Alan Miller

      I don’t disagree and am leaning towards support of the project, though the issues of concern need addressing and once again it seems like the majority of people don’t want to address issues, just ‘support any building’ or ‘reject all building’.  Yeah, OK, oh yee simple-minded pea brains who are 90% of who call in to council meetings.  I expect more of the same on Tuesday from both ‘sides’.  I don’t like sides.

      However, what does ‘increased enrollment’ even mean for Fall ’20?  If courses are largely online, how many students will even need to return to Davis?  And if they do, from such places as LA, SF, Imperial County, East Bay — and a few hundred of the 10’s of 1000’s may bring the Covid-19 to Davis and spread it around, as many students have shown to not be too fearful of the vid nor understand or care about being part of the spread (see Berkeley frat party spreads).

      I’d expect yet another Yolo spike come late October when the results of this become measurable.

      1. Don Shor

        And if they do, from such places as LA, SF, Imperial County, East Bay — and a few hundred of the 10’s of 1000’s may bring the Covid-19 to Davis and spread it around, as many students have shown to not be too fearful of the vid nor understand or care about being part of the spread (see Berkeley frat party spreads).

        Those are very good questions to direct to the county health officer and the county supervisors. I hope, if they aren’t already meeting about this, that they will be initiating meetings with UCD administrators to determine the safest ways to educate and enforce COVID-19 health orders among the returning students. I don’t know whether UCD is communicating to returning and incoming students that they won’t be able to party AT ALL, that fraternities and sororities might have their charters suspended if they host parties, etc. All very relevant issues. I drive out via Russell Blvd every day, and the other day I started counting as I went by young adults (presumably students) singly and in groups. One (1) out of 24 was wearing a mask. Groups were not social distancing. We are likely to have a spike of infections in the fall. County and UC officials need to be working now on this. But while the topic is interesting, it doesn’t seem to me to rise to the level of blocking approval of this project.

        1. Alan Miller

          But while the topic is interesting, it doesn’t seem to me to rise to the level of blocking approval of this project.

          I wasn’t insinuating that.  Whether the project gets delayed or built at all will depend on financing which will come with perceived demand.  I imagine the developers want to be ready to go in case there is demand.  If Lincoln 40 and Post Office 131 don’t fill up due to declining students actually in town, the project won’t be built, at least not for awhile, even if it does pass muster.

      2. Bill Marshall

        I’d expect yet another Yolo spike come late October when the results of this become measurable.

        Nah… if it happens, more mid-late November… younger folk tend to have longer incubation periods… but you are correct, it might happen late Oct/mid-Nov) will be interesting…

        But it does raise an interesting question re:  on-campus dorms… will they be open?

        Given the size of the dorm-rooms I lived in for 3 years, maintaining 6+ feet (we ought to go SI… 2 meters, slight add’l safety factor), or wearing a mask 24/7, (and definitely not both) does not seem tenable…

  5. Tia Will

    It would help to free up housing elsewhere in the city.”

    Only if the number of physical attendees at the university meets your projection…a huge unknown at this point. And it won’t take months to know that answer for the upcoming year. What’s the rush?

     

    1. Don Shor

      What’s the rush?

      Why do you use the term “rush” to describe a project that has spent over two years in the planning and commission review process? Why would you propose to intentionally delay the planning and approval process?

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        Also it is going to take several years to build. So the urgency is to plan for meeting the demand for housing into the future so that we don’t have to repeat the last few years.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Alan… your 4:58 post rings true (not 100 % but definitely over 50%)… in many fields, particularly education, it has trended towards the old “guild system”… in fact, graduates still wear ‘mortar-boards’, part of the guild system for masons (lc “M”)…

          Also true in many other areas… pay enough money, spend enough time (both ‘paying your dues’), you get your diploma, your ‘dinner ticket’… irrespective of how much ‘of value’ you have learned in your field of study… it is, in fact, an ‘industry’…

          One of the best engineers I have known had only a HS diploma… he ‘learned by doing’… smart guy… eventually, the ‘sheepskin-ceiling’ ended his advancement… have known others who even had MS degrees, and couldn’t perform @ his level…

        2. Bill Marshall

          David, regarding your  5:32 post…

          The education isn’t expensive, the housing is.

          Patently untrue for Davis residents, living at home, attending UCD.  Actually, a …

          For others, it is close to a “push” as to tuition, textbooks, fees, etc. vs. housing… but you may be figuring in ‘subsidies’ that some students get, others do not… grants, etc… some folk get that, vast majority do not.  Helps the lower income folk… which is appropriate… doesn’t help middle income folk to the same degree… but they should just ‘suck it up’ as ‘reparations’, etc.

          To a DJUSD teacher, for example, sending one or more children to a UC is significant!  Whether here or elsewhere… if you doubt, ASK THEM!

          It appears that you are downplaying Alan and my comments, to focus on ‘housing’… which given the topic, one could see as important… yet, Alan and my comments are, I believe valid… as to total costs for students…. and the benefits of a degree…

           

  6. Ron Oertel

    The education isn’t expensive, the housing is.

    The education (while not cheap – even the portion charged to resident students) is subsidized by taxpayers.  In reality – it’s quite expensive, as can be seen in the rate charged to non-resident students.

    1. Ron Oertel

      – even the portion charged to resident students

      Assuming they even pay that, at all.  In which case it’s fully funded by taxpayers.

      But, it is not “inexpensive”.

  7. Ron Oertel

    Finally got a chance to watch the movie “Lady Bird”, the other day.  (Normally, not my kind of movie, but I heard that it showed off Sacramento pretty well – which it did.  Ultimately, kind of a love letter regarding Sacramento, to some degree – despite poking fun at it.)

    In any case, the primary theme being that the young woman didn’t want to attend UCD (a half-hour away), but instead wanted to attend a more prestigious east coast school – which her parents really couldn’t afford.

    One wonders how often this occurs, in reality.  But, with attendance at UCD being the “prize”, instead of one nearby – for at least the first couple of years.

     

     

    1. Bill Marshall

      We all make choices…

      Despite the impact on my finances and my family’s, UCD was a good choice… made partially possible from me being a NMS… actually, that was huge then… having a tuition-free ‘ride’… Mom and Dad figured they’d have to pay for my groceries in any event… books and housing were the main costs… I covered half of those by working summers, full-time…

      I would have been bored at the local JC, and would likely have had worse outcomes… many ways…

      1. Ron Oertel

        In “your” day (and to some degree “my” day), everything was relatively cheaper (tuition and housing), and college degrees were more valuable. I believe that at one point, tuition was nearly free in many California public universities.

        (Though, perhaps there was less financial aid available, back in the day.)

        Everybody AND their grandmother has a degree these days. So, unless one studies the right field (as you did), your only available job is going to be as a full-time “protester”.

        And, there wasn’t a pandemic occurring, kick-starting what will likely be at least some permanent changes (due to technology).

        Seems to me that the time for sending kids off to school “elsewhere” for the entire 4 years as an “experience” is a luxury that fewer can (or should try to) afford.

        1. Bill Marshall

          You are entitled to your opinion…

          I disagree, in the main… true for some, not for others…

          Please don’t try to tell folk what they should aspire to, or do… unless you want to foment serious reactions…

          1)  you have been spouting the 2 yrs JC long before the pandemic… please own that!

          2) you have indicated you grew up in Marin… as did my spouse… college for two kids (both UCD) at the same time was less a burden on her family, than my family sending one… %-age wise…

          3) none of my parents, grandparents had college degrees… my spouse’s parents had one… so, our kids have one grandparent with a college degree…

          4) we have 3 kids… youngest is 36… one college degree (who also holds a Masters) between them

          so, for us,

          Everybody AND their grandmother has a degree these days.

          Is a patent lie.  And a “classist” one as Hiram has opined, others have affirmed…

          Well, maybe hyperbole on your part…

          May I respectfully, friendly, suggest you crawl back under the bridge?

          Or, using your pattern, did you go to JC?  Did you transfer to a 4-year college?  Did you graduate? How has you life worked out?  I “wonder”…

          Altho’ I know there is no way in perdition that you will answer questions… despite your asking them of others…

          You will not even disclose if you reside in the boundaries of COD, or DJUSD!

           

        2. Ron Oertel

          Hilarious.  And, shows the continuing reason why you’re not allowed to respond to my comments, per Don’s instructions. To which you keep ignoring those instructions.

          You’ve got some stuff wrong about me, as well.  But, I’m not on here to share my personal life story (or learn about yours), as it’s irrelevant.

          It’s also not likely of interest to anyone else.

          So is the reason that you are apparently harboring some kind of personal grudge against me, without even having met me.

          The theme of the movie I cited, however, is relevant to many parents and their kids.

        3. Ron Oertel

          I’m still not sure if protection of your city pension is a reason that you attack those with slow-growth views – since I’m not the only slow-growth individual who has been the recipient of your wrath and doxing attempts. (You’ve already helped “chased off” another, to a different blog.)

          (Especially since the development Ponzi scheme might put off the inevitable reckoning, for awhile.)

          I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you, though.  I suspect that the city would not renege on those pensions (or even reduce them to a more reasonable amount), regardless.

          You’re likely financially set to continue commenting on here, for the rest of your life.

          Seriously, there’s got to be a better thing for both of us to do, with our time. Can’t imagine that this is all that satisfying to you, either.

          I suspect that if I met you in person, we’d both find each other a lot more reasonable than we do on here.

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