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