By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – On Wednesday the Davis Planning Commission will hold the fifth workshop as part of their review of the Draft Downtown Davis Specific Plan and Form-Based Code. One of the aspects of zoning that the Planning Commission will be asked to evaluate are live/work units.
The Draft Downtown Plan defined live/work units: “A unit that combines and accommodate both residential and the place of business for the resident(s) of the unit. Typically characterized with having the ‘work’ function at the ground level and the ‘live’ function on upper levels.”
Staff writes, “While it is not expected that live/work units would constitute a significant amount of new development, staff believes that increasing opportunities for live/work units is consistent with the Downtown Plan and City policies to create a range of housing types and also to support commercial uses.
“The proposed live/work standards are detailed and thorough, but staff believes that they can be substantially simplified, which would help to facilitate their development and clarify the use,” they write. “Commercial activity in largely residential areas can create concerns about parking or noise, but staff does not see inherent conflicts created by live/work units within the Downtown Plan area, which is already a highly mixed use area and is envisioned to remain mixed use.”
While live/work units themselves are not expected to play a large role in the downtown, the plan anticipates a sizable increase in mixed-use housing overall—with ground-level retail and other commercial uses, second-story office use and upper level residential use as a more efficient use of space than the current configuration of downtown that is largely one or two stories.
Overall the plan anticipates that, by bringing people into the downtown core, they will create more demand for retail and entertainment opportunities and energize the core area. As noted previously, there are fiscal concerns with the cost of constructing such high-density, mixed-use units.
Will we have more need or less need for such spaces in the downtown as the result of COVID?
Staff overall proposes modifications in order to simplify live/work standards.
Currently the draft code requires an administrative use permit, but that would be changed to a permitted use.
Right now there is a requirement for “at least one of the employees to reside on-site.” Staff is proposing no required occupancy, arguing, “Although typically live/work would have a resident employee, change may also include modifying the definition for flexibility.”
Staff wants to evaluate “the need for operating requirements,” as it “currently does not allow space to be rented to someone not living in the unit, requires notice to occupants, limits retail sales, limits the number of nonresident employees, and references potential AUP conditions for customer visits. Live/Work units would be required to comply with the Building Code which may already establish certain limitations.”
They also want to evaluate provisions for review of changes in use: “It currently requires changes in a live/work unit to an all residential use or all commercial use to be reviewed by the City. Exterior changes to the building or improvements requiring building permits require City review and it is not clear if the provision is intended as additional review or a disclosure of general review requirements.”
Staff has three questions:
Is there any concern if the “work” space is separately rented to someone not living on the premises?
Is there any need to limit the number of employees who do not reside in the unit or to limit the total number of employees?
Is there any need for additional City review if a live/work unit is changed to all residential or all commercial?
One of the questions not addressed in the planning for the Downtown Plan is how the world will change post-COVID, and undoubtedly no one knows for sure. Some speculate that the way we create live/work spaces will change dramatically.
“Design is going to be much more personal and in some ways technical, as people use their homes for work, school, and beyond,” said designer Christiane Lemieux in Architectural Digest last year. “Designers are going to have to be very conscious and thoughtful about how to make people’s lives better in the spaces they have.”
Forbes last year discussed a development in Virginia that, while designed pre-COVID, fit the needs of the pandemic.
“Unlike most buildings, Mission Lofts allow each of the units to be occupied at all time at the tenants’ choice as either a place to live, a place to work, or a place to do both,” says developer Robert Seldin, CEO of Highland Square Holdings. “The combined live/work space winds up with the net result of having a 300% potential utility in a 100% physical class.”
Forbes notes: “Even if, three years ago, when Highland Square Holdings began work on Mission Lofts, Seldin couldn’t have predicted that the development would come online amid a health pandemic that has produced a widespread shift to working from home, the project certainly fits the day.”
“Part of the benefit of this product type is that it allows the building to adapt to wherever the market may go instantaneously and for no additional cost,” Seldin says.
One question the Planning Commission could ask: does the Davis Downtown Plan “fit the day” and can it be adaptable to an uncertain future?
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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