By Melanie Johnson
DAVIS, CA – Tuesday May 10, the Davis City Council discussed a Mar. 23 appeal of a mixed-use project set to be located at 1031, 1037, 1041, and 1047 Olive Drive, consisting of four apartment buildings containing 47 identical one-bedroom units as well as commercial space.
The City Council ultimately denied this appeal and voted unanimously to proceed with the project. They also discussed the potential establishment of a parking district on Olive Drive in order to supplement the scarcity of parking associated with the project, and directed city staff members to look into this solution further.
Jim Stevens, of North Star Designing Solutions based in Chico, CA, gave a presentation detailing the project plan on behalf of the applicant, Reed Youmans.
He began the presentation by describing the applicant’s initial intention behind the project, which is designed to cater to moderate-income workers in the Davis community.
Stevens explained, “What we’re looking for is to provide some expanded opportunities for affordable workforce housing to support the nonprofessional workforce for [UC Davis] and for downtown [Davis].”
He continued, “The applicants are former business owners downtown … and they came to realize that none of their employees who were service-level employees could afford to live in Davis … This is an opportunity to attempt to quell that need.”
In addition to targeting specific housing needs with this project, the applicant also hopes this project will provide an innovative perspective with regard to transportation.
Stevens detailed that the project is “only providing eight parking spaces” in its entirety, elaborating, “We believe we can do this because of our proximity to the downtown,” as well as the “Unitrans stop right at the corner of Richards [Blvd] and Olive Drive” and the “Amtrak and Greyhound stations for longer journeys.”
He added that the intended site’s location enables their project to “[promote] an opportunity to utilize a range of alternate modes of transportation,” and that “if there’s a spot that would facilitate a reduction of the dependency upon the automobile . . . this is the spot.”
Stevens also explained, “We are purposefully designing this project not to be terribly attractive to students; there’s no study hall, there’s no swimming pool, there’s no recreation room.” He reiterated that these decisions stem from the fact that “we’re hoping to direct this to [the] workforce.”
Stevens stated that the commercial space within the project will provide opportunities for “local serving retail . . . that can take advantage of the proximity to the units.”
In line with a recommendation made by the Davis Social Services Commission, the project is also providing seven need-restricted units; one of which is for a “very low” income bracket and another for an “extremely low” income bracket. This is a total-unit reduction from the “13 units for low-income households” proposed in their original plan.
Stevens explained of this reduction, “We’re doing these need-restricted units without public subsidy and we thought that was too big of a lift for the project . . . We went to the Social Services Commission and they suggested that we have at least one very low and one extremely low [income] unit.”
Another reform made to the plan was the incorporation of appellant Alan Hirsch’s recommendation to “plant thirteen replacement trees off-site to help meet . . . mitigation requirements.” As per Hirsch’s suggestion, these trees will be planted on the sites of two of the applicant’s preexisting Davis apartment complexes.
Stevens affirmed Hirsch’s recommendation, stating, “This is an opportunity for us to provide those trees and also create some attractive and protective tree canopy on those properties.”
Stevens concluded his presentation by addressing the potential parking dilemma associated with the project.
He emphasized, “We recognize that providing eight parking spaces for 47 units is a bit of a risk, but . . . we actually believe that there’s a cohort of folks in Davis that either cannot afford or do not wish to own a vehicle, and this is the spot for them.”
Appellant Alan Hirsch was then given the opportunity to explain the reasoning behind his appeal, and brought up persisting concerns regarding the project.
Hirsch explained, “This is a 13-to-18-million-dollar project; what I’m asking for is relatively small in the scheme of things.” He insisted that “I think it’s a very good project, very innovative,” but maintained that due to the project’s large scope, it is necessary to “explore some issues with the project before it’s approved.”
Although he commended the innovative nature of a parking-free project, Hirsch insisted that because it is unprecedented, “we need to proceed carefully and do it right.”
Hirsch explained, “We are giving this applicant significant benefits . . . and we should recapture some of those benefits for social equity” and “environmental justice,” and require the project applicant to “put more money back into his other apartment complex[es]” in service of these pursuits.
Following Hirsch’s summary of his appeal, public commenters were given the opportunity to address the City Council.
David Brown, a resident of Davis Mobile Estates, illustrated the harm this project will cause to the neighboring community.
He stated that, “Myself, my daughter, and everyone in the Davis Mobile Estates . . . are very against this project. Traffic is already terrible here . . . it’s very difficult to get into the intersection of Richards [Boulevard] and Olive [Drive]. . . And the idea that there won’t be any parking; people will be parking everywhere, and they will be coming into Davis Mobile Estates and taking spaces that they should not be taking.”
Following public comment, Councilmember Will Arnold began the City Council deliberation by encouraging Stevens to address the project’s recent affordability reforms.
Stevens explained, “There was a lot of discussion about this, and while [the Social Services Commission] liked the opportunity of thirteen low-income, they thought the project would be better served and the community would be better served by having a little bit more depth of affordability with one very-low and one extremely-low.”
Arnold affirmed the difficulty of this decision, emphasizing to the Council, “Reasonable people disagree on whether just sheer numbers of affordability is better or whether depth of affordability is better, and I’ve heard affordable housing advocates argue both ways on that.”
Councilmember Josh Chapman applauded the project’s infill efforts, stating that “I appreciate the density; our community has voted over and over that we want to see infill and I think that this is a good example of it.”
However, Chapman maintained that “there [are] a couple of areas around the edges that I have concern around. Obviously, this is in my district and I have spent a fair amount of time on Olive Drive with residents, even before this project was coming forward, about concerns just on that corridor in general.” He requested to know what levels of public outreach have been performed relating to the project.
Youmans responded, “We did have neighborhood meetings. We had the required number . . . and we did have input.” Addressing Brown’s comments, Youmans elaborated, “It was not in the last 18 months so we may have missed these people if they’re new residents at Davis Mobile Estates, but we have had real outreach to this neighborhood, we’ve been a part of the neighborhood for 18 years.”
Chapman also added that while he “appreciate[s] the willingness to try something new around parking. . . Olive Drive right now is severely impacted with overflow parking.” He added that he hears complaints “almost weekly from residents and from business owners.”
Chapman stated, “I’m really trying to figure out and hone in on how we address this idea around: we want to inspire people to live this car-free life and how do we really enforce that or engage people in that conversation through leases or through marketing material.”
Chapman argued that it is irresponsible to “[take] it on faith [that], ‘Hey, we hope this happens,’” and added, “I would love to see some ideas around how we can handle and address the fact that there probably are going to be a number of people who bring cars who live here.”
However, Youmans reinforced that “[t]hat’s not who we’re going to market to. We’re not marketing to students who come from out of town. We’re marketing to people who want to work on campus or work downtown.”
He stated that “we will have a couple parking places on the property” but that those who choose to park on-site are “going to pay an extra lot of money to park.”
Youmans reinforced, “We want to have a new piece of direction that demonstrates … that we can provide in Davis housing that is uncoupled with parking,” and that he hopes to “[bring] people to the project who believe as we believe, this should be the way it is.”
Following their deliberation, the City Council discussed the potential to establish a parking district on Olive Drive in which people could obtain permits to park on the street, as a possible solution to the concerns expressed regarding parking.
Settling on the project’s net benefit to the city, the City Council voted unanimously to deny the appeal application and subsequently approved the project plan application.
Mayor Gloria Partida concluded that she was “very pleased with this project. I think that we need more infill projects.”
She thanked Hirsch for “always pushing us to reach a little farther” and explained that while “this is not completely satisfactory to him … it’s a process that has been started and I’m very grateful to him for bringing these ideas up.”