Davis Planning Commission Discusses Downtown Form Based Code

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By Flor Sanchez and Renee Applegate 

DAVIS — The City of Davis Planning Commission met Wednesday evening to discuss the Downtown Davis Specific Plan Workshop. 

This meeting was set with the goal in mind of continuing discussions of the 2040 plans for Downtown Davis. According to the city website, “The City of Davis is planning for the future of its downtown and looking to the community to participate in the conversation. Together, we are creating a 2040 Vision for Downtown Davis.”

Principal planner, Sherri Metzker, and planner, Eric Lee received public comments as input for further recommendations. While the previous meetings have taken place to review the Draft Downtown Plan, this meeting further elaborated on staff updates. 

Lee iterated that this meeting was not to finalize any recommendation – at a later date additional workshops will be held as needed. 

The meeting discussed the planning commission’s input on the live/work standard and potential modifications, which is based on the draft for Downtown Form Based Code. According to Subsection F- Occupancy requirements, “at least one individual employed in the work unit/work portion [must] part be a resident of the site.”

The majority of public commenters stated that this requirement might not allow much flexibility in terms of what certain building types can be used for. 

In response, Metzker stated, “Do we really need to have regulation over who works and who lives in a building? Not sure that is the intent of the downtown plan.”

Vice-Chair Greg Rowe stated, “I think we should be looking at, in terms of placing restrictions or loosening restrictions on live/work units, is that if COVID-19 hasn’t taught us anything, the world is changing and will probably continue changing a lot, and for something like live/work, an old downtown plan to succeed, we need to have some flexibility and ability to adapt to changes in market conditions and social society conditions as possible.”

“I think that a lot of the restrictions the city has had on live/work in the past really need to be loosened up as we go into this downtown plan and I think that’ll help the downtown thrive a great deal. Staff has proposed reducing these limitations and I would totally concur with that” Rowe concluded.

Under the Live/Work Units section of the draft, operating requirements are also found. 

Included in this section are Sale or Rental of Portions of Unit, “No portion of a live/work unit may be separately rented or sold as a commercial or industrial space for any person not living in the premises or as a residential space for any person not working in the same unit.” (Article 40.13: Downtown Zones)

The Non-Resident Employees section states: “Up to two persons who do not reside in the live/work unit may work in the unit, unless this employment is otherwise prohibited or limited by the Minor Use Permit” (Article 40.13: Downtown Zones)

Commission Alternate Michelle Weiss expressed concern with the numerous requirements stating, “I’m really with the maximum flexibility idea. I also think the notion of what live/work is will change over time. It’s going to be different, and we need to make sure we’re with that.”

Another section of the draft discussed was the ‘Specific to Building Types’ portion of the document. 

An expert from the draft states: “Building types are categorized into two groups: house-form buildings and block-form buildings. House-form buildings are those that are the size of a house, typically ranging in footprint from as small as 25 feet up to 80 feet overall. Block-form buildings are individually as large as most or all of a block or when arranged together along a street, appear as long as most or all of a block.” (Article 40.13: Downtown Zone)

For example, a cottage court: “This Type is appropriately scaled to fit within low-to-moderate intensity neighborhoods and can be applied in nonresidential contexts” (Article 40.13: Downtown Zone). This would allow for a maximum of 1 unit per building. 

More information can be found for other specific forms of houses on the Downtown Form Based Code Draft. 

Lee stated, in regards to the elimination of unit maximums, “DPAC, along with the other recommendation, did suggest that we [Planning Commission] consider eliminating the unit maximums just to allow for more density—more units and leave it up more to the developer and the market.” 

According to Lee and the staff report, detached house and duplex building types need to retain the unit maximums and minimums. 

Lee said, “In general, we would probably want to keep the units minimum so we can encourage more units but then we would look at eliminating the unit maximum for the other building types.” 

Rowe agreed on this issue and reiterated that it is important to provide increased flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing conditions.

A public comment by Steve Greenfield—representing the trackside center property located within the G street transition railroad quarter area—stated that he was, “Very concerned that the current version of the form based code severely constrains these larger lots, specifically those along the railroad tracks…none of the layouts in the form based code take the presence of the railroad tracks into account.”

Greenfield continued, “I request the planning commission recommend that staff revisit this corridor to create economically feasible options with design parameters that take into account these parcels’ unique configurations.” 

The next workshop is scheduled for sometime in May and will discuss civic spaces, signage and definitions. 

 Flor Sanchez is a third-year student at UC Davis, currently double majoring in Communications and Managerial Economics. She is from Patterson, CA and enjoys traveling. 

Renee Applegate is a fourth-year student at UC Davis, currently majoring in Political Science (Public Service) and minoring in Environmental Policy & Planning and Professional Writing. She is from San Clemente, CA.

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3 thoughts on “Davis Planning Commission Discusses Downtown Form Based Code”

  1. Ron Oertel

    If you eliminate the requirement to both live/work at a mixed-use development (because some feel that this is “overly-restrictive”), then the primary purpose (to convert a commercial area to a semi-residential one) is to allow more residences – not necessarily connected to the remaining businesses.

    Which is certainly a “goal” of some, but let’s be honest about what it actually is – converting downtown to a semi-residential area. Personally, I think this should be examined regarding the impacts this would have (e.g., on parking, traffic, deliveries, types of businesses that can co-exist with residences, parking for visitors to residences, increase in the amount of driveways/curb cuts – thereby reducing street parking and obstructing pedestrian traffic on sidewalks, etc.).

    Or, you can just call it “form-based code”, and marvel at how “cool and hip” that sounds.

    1. Richard_McCann

      A lot of those considerations were already discussed extensively during the DP workshops in 2019. One of the objectives of the DP is to increase downtown residency to increase walk in traffic to businesses. You can go look at the plan documents if you want to see more about that.

      1. Ron Oertel

        One of the objectives of the DP is to increase downtown residency to increase walk in traffic to businesses. 

        Just noting that someone from “beyond” walking distance isn’t going to suddenly start walking to downtown.  Nor are they likely to suddenly take up bicycling, as a result of the change.  If anything – they’ll avoid it, as it becomes tougher to park, deal with traffic, etc.

        Now, if you want to state that new residents and customers will keep downtown going, that’s a different argument.  But, I’m not sure that it needed “help” to begin with.

        But if the city decides that this is where SACOG growth requirements will be met, well then – so be it, I guess.  I’d rather see the state officials who are behind this type of effort removed from office in the first place.

        California “ain’t” growing anymore. And to roughly paraphrase Martha Stewart, “that’s a good thing” (something like that, in regard to an entirely different subject). Though they are sprawling outward as a result of permanent telecommuting (which “ain’t” a good thing).

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