Council Unanimously Approves Mixed-Use Project in South Davis

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By David M. Greenwald

One commenter apparently was anticipating a long night for the University Research Park Mixed-Use Project agenda item, and called in to complain about a midnight vote after lengthy public comment—neither of which materialized.

While there were some concerns by the Planning Commission about aesthetics and lack of affordable housing, the applicant at Planning Commission promised to build a “beautiful” project and this time, the renderings were far more flattering even though the project design has not changed.

Mark Friedman of Fulcrum, the project applicant, noted that the project is located close to the downtown and the university.

“It creates a wonderful opportunity for tech and research companies to interact closely with faculty and students,” he explained during his presentation to council.  “Our major objective is to figure out how to continue to provide the kinds of amenities, lab space and office that will continue to make this a viable and desirable park for those who want to do research.”

The problem with URP, he said, was it was designed in a 1980s mindset with 16 single-story buildings and one two-story building.  He said, “It’s really not very respectful of the environment.”  So what they would like to do, he explained, “is densify the land use and to make a more vibrant environment.”

When they first purchased the property, one of the first things they did was go on a tour around the country of other research facilities and they found “it is increasingly important to have locations that have some kind of amenities and vibrancy.”

He said looking at places like Atlanta where Chancellor Gary May originates, he said it is very important to locate facilities and amenities in cities to attract young people who do not want to live in remote locations.

While this will never have the density of a place like Atlanta, he said one of the things they found attractive was “a campus style of development.”  Campuses, he said, are good at bringing people together and it’s that kind of design “that’s really really important for cross-pollinating businesses, for sharing ideas, and for promoting creativity.”

In this project, he wants to introduce a mixed-use element because “there really isn’t any kind of jobs and housing balance here.”  Many businesses expressed concerns about their own staff “being able to find affordable housing close to where they work.”  He said, “One of the needs of the project was to figure out ways to create housing that might serve the needs of the people who work here.”

The buildings here are arranged in a “relaxed quad formation” and by leaving it open on one side it opens it to other people doing research at URP, as their goal is “create a mix of uses that bring people to this area on a daily basis.”

The ground floor could include a café, a child care facility, a co-working facility and an incubator.

“The idea is to create the kind of interaction that you might see in the Bay Area all the time,” Friedman said.

One of the concerns of the Planning Commission was about the aesthetics of the project.

Friedman admitted, “I thought the renderings of the project really didn’t do a good job of dealing with some of the attention to materiality of landscape and design that I know are inherent in this project.”

He noted that the inside material is a glass panel.

He said, “Unlike ceramic, because it’s translucent, it has a beautiful reflectivity that changes with the sun.  I think this is going to be a very very handsome project.”

Friedman said this project, by providing housing, “will enhance our ability to attract tech companies to the rest of the park.”  He added, “If this is successful, I hope, it will be a model for how we densify the rest of the project so that we can accommodate more uses—more research on this fine piece of property.”

Councilmember Dan Carson asked, “Why are mixed-use buildings like this expensive to build?”

Mark Friedman responded, “When you mix uses it is important to separate them for sound purposes, code purposes.  There is a lot of space that is required in terms of the floor plan to handle simple things like utilities.”

Carson asked how much of the current facility is leased up.

“We’re very fortunate, there’s good demand in Davis for research tenancies,” Friedman said.  “We’re 98 percent leased.”

Carson also asked about the COVID factor.  He asked whether Friedman was comfortable that companies would be demanding this space.

Mark Friedman responded, “It’s actually interesting, at the moment I’m more concerned about the apartments than the lab and the research space.”

He noted that, the kind of tenants they have, “it’s very essential for people to come in and make sure their experiments are working.  That’s not something that you can do from home.”

But because the campus is closed, he said, as a result, “the residential market has begun to soften considerably.”

Davis has not experienced the level of this that San Francisco has, Friedman explained, he said said “it’s possible.”  On the other side of the equation, “the cost of new construction has not declined.  It’s still very challenging to figure out how to make the numbers work.”

But he believes in the project and the community of Davis and thinks that it ultimately will.

Perhaps the most notable part of the discussion was a public comment left by Larry Guenther, prior to the meeting, that seems out of place compared to the tone and direction of the discussion.

Larry Guenther said, “By short-circuiting the process, we have left far too many major issues with this project to be resolved at another late night meeting after hours of angry public comment.”  He said, “I believe major issues need to be resolved before coming to city council for final approval.  Trying to resolve these issues at midnight in a last minute scramble to get what few concessions the proponent is willing to give is bad process.”

It is not really clear what Guenther was talking about, however.  There were a total of six public comments—a few minor issues raised, but also a lot of support.

The council in fact asked for no changes, and the discussion concluded before 8 pm.

“It is almost midnight in Rio de Janeiro,” Councilmember Will Arnold would quip.  “I hope they’re still up watching.”

Mayor Gloria Partida added, “We talk a lot about process in our community and I have to say that it is something that we’re sometimes too good at.  Although I’m sure there are plenty of people who think that we need more process.

“We have to find the balance between shooting ourselves in the foot by not doing the things we need to do,” she added, including providing housing and “projects that we need in this community.”

She said, “I am pleased with this project – it is providing everything that we’ve been asking for.”  She noted we have been asking for workforce housing, infill and mixed-use projects which are very difficult to develop.

Will Arnold was among those who were strongly supportive of the project stating, “I am very supportive of the project and the process that got us here.”

The council unanimously supported the project.

—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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18 thoughts on “Council Unanimously Approves Mixed-Use Project in South Davis”

  1. Alan Miller

    Bland Rules!

    I’m so excited for the plain milk-toast building, with a parking lot, too!  This shows that Davis CAN be just as the same as other cities!  I wish to congratulate the architect on a building with the character of hard boiled egg – and a white one at that.  Hip Hip Who-Bland!  Hip Hip Who-Bland!

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I think the building is a lot better than people have let on. As someone pointed out last night, Fulcrum is a very quality develpment company, they weren’t going to build a crap building.

  2. Ron Oertel

    He noted that, the kind of tenants they have, “it’s very essential for people to come in and make sure their experiments are working.  That’s not something that you can do from home.”

    Hmm.  Nary a test tube in sight, in those images.  Looks like the inside of an Apple store, instead.

    In general, I would think that living spaces cannot (always) be located directly above laboratory spaces.

    Regarding going downstairs to check on one’s “experiments”, I guess the folks conducting lab work in the rest of the (commercial) site are living in their cars, instead.

    Regarding the relative lack of public participation, maybe examples like University Mall and Trackside show that the council is going to proceed regardless of concerns.  Or, maybe they’re too busy fighting other (larger) battles that the council has foisted upon the city.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      In general, I would think that living spaces cannot (always) be located directly above laboratory spaces.”

      Basis for that?

      The housing is serving the entire site, not just the building.

       

        1. Ron Oertel

          I see that you don’t want to answer the question.

          I would think that the activities, equipment and facilities which comprise “lab space” is a topic which could be explored in-depth.

          Seems to me that a residential building which houses “lab space” could be a different animal than a normal apartment building.  (If they even exist, to a large degree.)

          In any case, it appears that this one is a place you might wander into, thinking you could purchase a home computer or cell phone.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I’m not answering your question because I believe you under a false impression about the housing serving this building rather than the entire site.

          2. David Greenwald Post author

            What Mark mentioned was: The ground floor could include a café, a child care facility, a co-working facility and an incubator.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Those don’t sound like “lab spaces” to me.

          Regardless, he also claimed this:

          But because the campus is closed, he said, as a result, “the residential market has begun to soften considerably.”

          Mark Friedman responded, “It’s actually interesting, at the moment I’m more concerned about the apartments than the lab and the research space.”

          Meaning that he thinks he has more of a market for “lab space” (which he actually isn’t building).

           

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            That’s correct – he isn’t building additional lab space, he is building housing along with flex space and incubator space for the people working in existing labs which are filled to 98 percent capacity.

  3. Ron Oertel

    I’m not answering your question because I believe you under a false impression about the housing serving this building rather than the entire site.

    You’re deflecting.

    You’re not answering the question because you don’t want to acknowledge the discrepancies in the statements made.  Such as this one:

    He noted that, the kind of tenants they have, “it’s very essential for people to come in and make sure their experiments are working.  That’s not something that you can do from home.”

    So, how are they “checking on their experiments”, now?  And, why is he building apartments (for “softening” demand), but not “lab space” which he claims is a stronger market?

     

     

      1. Ron Oertel

        Truth be told, I don’t care all that much if Davis makes bad decisions within the city limits, except as noted in my last sentence (below).

        But, to claim that there’s a big demand for lab space, and softening demand for residential space (as claimed within this article) doesn’t “jive” with the result, here. 

        As usual.

        Ultimately, making bad decisions within the city increases pressure to develop peripheral lands (and “opens the door” for false claims, in the process). And that’s what I care most about (both “real”, and “imagined” claims resulting from bad decisions within the city, leading to sprawl).

  4. Alan Miller

    The ground floor could include a café, a child care facility, a co-working facility and an incubator.

    The latter to house any premature infants born in South Davis.  The lack of affordable housing can be excused – what other development has provided early-birth housing?

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