On October 29, the city of Davis will hold a digital public scoping meeting and seek input and comments from the public about a proposed EIR for the Downtown Davis Specific Plan and Associated Form-Based Code.
On October 26 at noon, the Davis Vanguard will hold a free webinar where panelists will discuss their thoughts and react to the Davis Downtown Plan. Members of the public will have a chance to ask questions.
Meg Arnold, Chair DPAC
Heather Caswell, Business Owner
Matt Kowta, Consultant
Larry Guenther, Member DPAC, Old East Neighborhood Association
City explanation of form-based codes…
In 2004, California officially acknowledged FBC as a viable alternative to conventional, use based zoning by passing AB 1268. The formal short definition of a Form-Based Code is as follows:
“Form-Based Codes foster predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code. A Form Based Code is adopted into city or county law as regulations, not mere guidelines. Form-Based Codes are an alternative to conventional zoning.” ~ Form-Based Codes Institute
Form-Based Codes focus primarily on the look and feel of the built environment emphasizing a high-quality public realm. This is accomplished by prescribed massing and form in how buildings relate to one another through the establishment of various scales of block patterns and street types. Land use receives less emphasis and is secondary to form. This differs from the focus of conventional zoning where land uses are segregated and intensity of development is established through parameters such as, density, floor area ratio, setbacks, parking standards, traffic level of service, and general height and area regulations. The conventional zoning code creates the regulatory framework for development that is oftentimes combined with advisory design guidelines that attempt to inform the built environment. Form-Based Codes replace conventional zoning codes and design guidelines serving as a regulatory tool to implement a community plan or vision based on desired forms of urbanism.
According to the Form Based Codes Institute, there are five main elements of Form-Based Codes which are as follows:
Regulating Plan – A plan or map of the regulated area designating the locations where different building form standards apply.
Public Standards – Specifies elements in the public realm: sidewalk, travel lanes, onstreet parking, street trees and furniture, etc.
Building Standards – Regulations controlling the features, configurations, and functions of buildings that define and shape the public realm.
Administration – A clearly defined and readily understood application and project review process.
Definitions – A glossary to ensure the precise use of technical terms
Eric Roe a business person and member of the DPAC was not able to attend, but submitted this:
I enjoyed being part of the DPAC and learned a lot from the many experienced and talented members on the committee. I tried to give input during the meetings from my own experiences as a general contractor and local real estate developer.
I think the proposed draft plan will be a great improvement over what the city currently has in place. I’m worried there was not enough input and involvement from the downtown property owners during the process. It is not too late for the city staff and the consultants to reach out and receive input from many of the downtown property owners.
I also worry there are not enough incentives built into the plan to encourage property owners to re-develop their sites to help create a more vibrant downtown. Most people would like to see more residential options and interesting public spaces downtown. City staff could implement city fee reductions in the early years of the new plan to help jumpstart new projects.
As I said during the late stages of the plan update process, limiting height and density on peripheral downtown parcels will make redevelopment projects less feasible and not encourage redevelopment. This will not make the Old East Davis residents or other peripheral neighbors happy but limiting building height and density will result in nothing getting done. Is that really what we want for the next 20 years of the plan?
Construction costs in California are at an all-time high. The pandemic has not helped. Lumber costs this summer quadrupled making many projects that once penciled out no longer feasible. Every parcel has a sweet spot for size and density which would allow a new project to pencil out. If you limit that size and density you are limiting its redevelopment potential.
I also caution against requiring affordable housing downtown. It sounds good but it doesn’t pencil out. It is the most expensive neighborhood to build in already and if you add more requirements onto a project, such as forcing a developer to internally subsidize the rent on a handful of apartment units, you will make the new project less feasible and less likely to ever get built.
I am starting to think about re-developing a specific downtown parcel now. I have engaged local architect Bob Lindley, who designed the Del Rio Live-Work Lofts for me a few years ago, to help work on some preliminary schematic designs. We are going through the draft form based code right now for the site. We are worried the draft form based code is a little too restrictive in many of the various categories. We both participated in workshops on the draft form based code last year and weren’t completely happy with it. Hopefully any deficiencies we find as it to applies to our own downtown parcels can be shared with city staff for suggested changes soon.
Many people have shared their concerns about downtown parking with me. I originally thought a parking garage on the north side of downtown would serve the community well. The consultants talked me out of that during the plan update process however. I now believe the city should plan to one day redevelop the parcels it owns along Fifth Street between D Street and E Street where the fire station and DCMH building are currently located. The city could put in a small transportation hub for rideshare drop off and pick up. Instead of having rideshare vehicles drop passengers off in the middle of downtown at their preferred destination thereby creating congestion, passengers can be dropped off easily along Fifth Street and walk in to their destination. One day in the not so distant future there will be self driving, electric ride share vehicles operating around town that could drop off and pick up passengers at this Fifth Street transit hub on the north side of the downtown.
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.