Planning Commission Rejects Extension for Chiles Ranch, Key Question: Why Can’t Chiles Ranch Get Built?

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Back in 2009, Chiles Ranch was approved on a 3-2 vote by council over the vehement objections of the neighbors.  Sue Greenwald and Lamar Heystek opposed the project.  At the time, the development agreement was a ten-year term, but the project never got built and came back in 2017 before the council, with a reduced size from 108 units to 96 units and a requested reduction in the number of affordable units from 22 for-sale down to 14.

In 2017, critics questioned the desire to remove the condos and have questioned the city policy that allows developers to use in-lieu fees as a means to avoid on-site affordable housing.  The Planning Commission was split 3-3 on the issue of the proposed revisions.

But despite council approval now five years ago, the project still hasn’t been built.  On Wednesday, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended against granting another extension—at least without updating the development plan to meet current requirements.

Critics again point out that while Dan Fouts has sat on his entitlements, the value of the homes have nearly doubled.

Fouts was unavailable last week, so Project Manager Lydia Della-Schlosser presented to the Planning Commission.  The current extension expires on July 6, 2022, and the request is to extend it until July 6, 2024, “with no modifications to the Chiles Ranch Subdivision as previously approved.”

She explained the delay, “Our original approvals were received in 2009, but at that time we paused due to the economic conditions of that period’s so-called Great Recession. In 2015, as the economy recovered from the economic cycle, we were fortunate to acquire the entitled land at Grande Village and the El Macero property.”

She said, “For many reasons, we chose to focus on Grande Village and the Villas at El Macero.”  They did bring Grande Village and the Villas to completion.  However, when they directed their focus back to Chiles Ranch in late 2019, “at that time, COVID came, and sort of threw us all back and because of the extensive uncertainty of how a worldwide pandemic would affect the overall economy and specifically the housing market, we made the business decision to not break ground on Chiles Ranch in 2020 … who would’ve predicted the housing market would take off as it did under these unprecedented times.”

She acknowledged, “In hindsight, we should have gone for it, but with so many unknowns, we chose to keep our risk low.”

As Sherri Metzker, the City’s Principal Planner, explained to the Commission, “It’s not like your typical situation where you’re asked to approve a design review or even a map for that matter.”  She said, “This is a development agreement.”  And the best they can do “is, one, recommend it to the city council, but it doesn’t actually end up in the development agreement and, two, decide yes or no, if you want to actually recommend approval of the additional time. So it’s not like what you normally do, where you all decide what conditions go into a project. You cannot automatically add something to a DA without agreement from the developer.”

Commissioner Darryl Rutherford said, “I’m a little concerned with where things are at with this development—it’s been almost ten years, a lot of things have changed.”

Commissioner Georgina Valencia said, “I think this is a real important project and I think it’s important for the community, and I’d like to see it built.  But I do think we need to put it in the context of today, and when it was originally developed and there some items that are in the works that somehow I think need to be resolved in this project.”

One of the problems faced by the commission was that if they rejected this and this went to the council, and the council rejected it, the development agreement would expire and they would have to begin again from scratch essentially, something Della-Schlosser suggested would be difficult.

But the commission decided that they were playing an advisory role anyway, and it would have to go to the council.

Emily Shandy pointed out, “We have the option that we could decline to approve this time extension, make our recommendations to council and then it becomes their decision to make ultimately.”

Rutherford noted how strong the housing market is and the expectation that even construction costs are about to either level out if not drop.  “I think it would be prudent for us to really think about making a recommendation to reconsider the current DA, have it renegotiated on standards and terms for today’s market, and do what we can to streamline and expedite it.”

The commission determined if they said no, it does not go to the drawing board, rather it goes to City Council, and it was going to go to council regardless.

“If the council agreed and also declined the extension, then Mr. Fouts and his company would have to start over.”

Metzker ultimately did not see much difference between either proposal.

“I would envision that we would take the recommendations that have been suggested by the planning commission. We try to work with Mr. Fouts and his company and negotiate as much of if we can, based on your suggestions and get that written up into the development agreement and then present that to the city council, along with an explanation of those things that he doesn’t agree to do and why he doesn’t agree to do them,” she said.

The commission ultimately decided that not recommending approval was the stronger message.

Emily Shandy said it came to down to semantics … “are we as a commission okay with this time extension and hope that these revisions get made or are we opposed to this extension unless these revisions get made, council has to act on this either way. Our action tonight is only a recommendation to council.”

Shandy said, “I think we have to make a strong statement.”

She said, “I would move that the Planning Commission decline to approve this amendment to the development agreement, unless concerns regarding ADUs, in lieu fees, traffic calming expense cap, and tree establishment and maintenance procedures are addressed … and first-time home buyer definition be used for this project.”

Valencia added some amendments to use HUD’s definition of first-time home buyers and the in-lieu fee should have a cost-of-living fee increase annually from 2009 through the beginning of the project.

“That’s a reflection of the fact that costs have continued to go up,” she explained.

The motion was unanimously approved.

About The Author

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.

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