By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Drilling down a little further into the Housing Element proposals, it is worth noting the analysis on Measure J. Six projects have now gone through the development process of Measure J—and four of those six have failed to gain voter approval.
The most recent, DISC (Davis Innovation Sustainability Campus), “proposed 850 medium- to high-density residential units, 153 units of which would have been designated as affordable.”
The Housing Element Draft report notes: “While Measure J adds costs, extends processing times, and has been used to halt development projects that would convert agricultural land to urban development, it is only a constraint to meeting housing needs if the city lacks sufficient infill housing sites.”
Key point: “[T]here is not currently (2021) enough land designated for residential development to meet the sixth-cycle RHNA.” Further, “All of the sites identified to meet the lower-income RHNA are non-vacant sites. Although, Measure J supports infill development, these sites are not sufficient to meet the lower-income RHNA.”
They continue: “Even with the increased residential densities planned for the Downtown under the Draft Downtown Davis Specific Plan, the City will need to rezone additional sites to meet the RHNA.”
However, they find: “Had DISC passed, the City would have sufficient sites to meet the sixth-cycle RHNA upon adoption of the Downtown Davis Specific Plan and would not need to rezone additional sites.”
The report notes that while Measure J does not “fully prevent the City” from redesignating agricultural land to meet RHNA, “Measure J does place limitations on the City’s ability to rely on rezoning and annexations to meet the RHNA.”
In addition, “the process to rezone and annex land can take a long time and the City only has three years to rezone land to meet the unaccommodated RHNA per State law.”
BAE and AIM Consulting proposed five potential rezoning strategies.
Business Park and Office Land: Redesignate and use vacant land designated for Business Park and Office uses to allow for high density housing (of at least 20 units per acre). Approximately 25 acres of land has been identified and could provide approximately 500 multi-family rental housing units if fully developed for housing. Or a smaller portion of the sites could be identified for housing.
Commercial Land: Redesignate and use vacant land designated for Commercial to allow for high density housing (of at least 20 units per acre). Approximately 1.5 acres of land has been identified and could provide approximately 30 multi-family rental housing units.
Residential Low-Density Land: Redesignate and use vacant land designated for Low Density uses to allow for high density housing (of at least 30 units per acre). Approximately 12 acres of land have been identified and could provide approximately 230 lower income units.
Downtown Davis Specific Plan: The Downtown Davis Specific Plan is expected for adoption in late 2021. The plan would encourage redevelopment of the Downtown and could provide capacity for an additional 100 lower income units within the 2021-29 Housing Element Planning Period.
Sphere of Influence: Annex vacant land withing the sphere of influence into the city and designated for high density housing (at least 30 units per acre). The multi-family rental housing unity capacity within the sphere of influence is unknown and may not be able to meet the City’s rezone obligation within the first three years of the Housing Element Planning Period (May 2024). Annexations are often complex but could be a long-term solution for providing an adequate buffer of multi-family rental housing units.
This is a helpful exercise to look back at even after the fact, because it shows the possibilities and tradeoffs. In particular, while DISC was not primarily a housing project, the fact that it was voted down could have a very profound impact over future development considerations.
One of the strategies includes rezoning about 30 acres of land identified as Business Park and Office Land—by our calculation that would be nearly half of the viable vacant commercial land in the city.
AIM Consulting reports: “Participant’s opinions were split on the proposed strategy to rezone Business Park and Office Land, although responses were generally positive. Those who agreed that the City should pursue this strategy liked that the proposed sites would accommodate high-density housing well and be located close to commercial services such as groceries, greenbelt access, and public transit stops.”
Rezoning Commercial Land (which was pretty limited with 1.5 acres identified and 30 low income units potential), “Responses to this proposed strategy were generally positive. Those who were proponents liked that the site identified is in close proximity to public transit stops, grocery and retail stores, and an elementary school.” Meanwhile, “Those who were did not support this strategy expressed concern of a perceived shortage of commercial space within the City.”
The Davis Downtown Specific Plan could provide 100 low-income units: “A significant number of participants responded positively to this strategy. Those who supported this strategy felt that higher density housing in downtown would help meet the needs of service workers who are employed there.”
AIM noted concerns about traffic congestion and impacts of a denser downtown which “would make Davis feel like less of a small town.”
Not enough seemed to question the viability of the redevelopment, especially in the short-term.
Rezoning of low-density land—about 12 acres, 230 low-income units. “Participants generally responded positively to this proposed strategy. Respondents expressed that the site located near J Street was close enough to downtown, schools, grocery stores and public transportation. Many respondents were enthusiastic about rezoning both sites and felt that high-density housing would fit in well with the surrounding neighborhood.”
Finally, the sphere of influence strategy was mixed—about 39 percent agreed, 43 percent disagreed (25 percent strongly) and 18 percent were neutral.
On the plus side: “Those who agree with this strategy felt the City was growing enough to warrant expanding the City boundary.
However, they noted that the “City should pursue housing opportunities within City boundaries before annexing more land. Proponents encouraged the City to look at annexing more land near the downtown areas and near UC Davis.”
On the opposition: “Those who were not supportive of this strategy felt that there was no need to expand the City’s boundaries, and annexation would lead to more urban sprawl and less farmland. Participants expressed their concern over annexing land to develop more multi-family housing that is far away from Davis’ commercial and downtown core. This may lead to people walking and biking less, as they would need to use a car to access more services.”
One thing that would have been interesting: presenting this analysis to the public prior to the vote on DISC. The choice presented to the voters at that time was DISC or No DISC. (Perhaps as well the consideration might have influenced somewhat the vote on Measure D). There was not a calculation built into there that No DISC meant… we would have to consider additional options for housing in the next eight years.
A you can see with the results on the sphere of influence, the swing voters there would determine the outcome. The fact is that there are no longer easy and great strategies for providing enough land to accommodate our housing needs.
—David M. Greenwald