By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA -After long delays, the CEQA approval will go before the Davis Planning Commission tonight in a special meeting where the Planning Commission will recommend that the City Council adopt a resolution approving the CEQA findings and certifying the EIR.
The city began this process back in 2017, when it began the downtown plan update hoping to “guide the long term development of the downtown Davis area and address a number of recurring development challenges and community issues.”
This process led to extensive community outreach, the Draft of the Downtown Davis Specific Plan and the associated Draft Form Based Code, which were completed in 2019. The special community based DPAC completed their work in 2019, but delays and COVID meant the preparation for the EIR did not proceed until 2022.
According to the staff report, “The new Downtown Plan will replace the existing Core Area Specific Plan (CASP) and will establish the vision with overall policies and implementation actions to guide the long-term development of the specific plan area to the year 2040.”
Staff notes, “A goal of the Downtown Plan is to improve opportunities for reinvestment and development for a mix of uses in a way that is more predictable and feasible.”
The Downtown Plan includes up to 1,000 new residential units and up to 600,000 square feet of new commercial space for buildout under the plan.
“It establishes a hierarchy of built form implemented through the Form Based Code with more intense development focused in the core area and on the major commercial streets,” staff writes. The form based code, “establishes form-based zoning, which is intended to improve development certainty with more predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form, rather than separation of uses, as the organizing principle for the code.”
Staff adds, “A form-based zoning code focuses on the desired building form and addresses pertinent building elements and development requirements to achieve that form, while providing flexibility for specific architectural styles and design details.”
There are a number of changes that are required in this process, one of the biggest is that it would change the downtown area to Mixed Use, which requires a General Plan amendment that requires recommendation by the Planning Commission and final approval by the City Council which is anticipated for December 13.
Among the proposed changes includes an “Expansion of the allowable 7-story building height within the Main Street Large Zone around E Street Plaza and intervening blocks between the Amtrak Station.”
It would modify the “Building height adjustment in the Neighborhood Medium-zoned properties located on the east side of the railroad tracks and on the northern portion of the Davis Community Church site to allow a stepped-back 4th story.”
Finally it would “Rezone to include an additional portion of the University Avenue/Rice Lane Neighborhood to Neighborhood Medium – 3 stories maximum.”
While the DPAC recommendations including the one for the University Avenue/ Rice Lane neighborhood adjusting the allowable stories there and on the east side of the railroad tracks and Davis Community Church site were incorporated, other changes such as a suggestion to include the Hibbert Lumber block in a Designated Special Area were not pursued.
Staff writes, “While a Designated Special Area can provide more specific design considerations for the site, staff believes that the Form Based Code offers sufficient direction and standards.”
Staff notes, that while DPAC also included general recommendations related to affordable housing and sustainability implementation, “staff believes that the suggestions are addressed as part of existing City efforts to update the affordable housing ordinance and Climate Action and Adaptation Plan and for an implementation plan.”
Staff summarizes some of the EIR comments.
For instance one commenter expresses concern that the specific plan and its associated form based code violate SB 330, which prohibits downzoning residential properties without replacing the lost residential units elsewhere in the city.
However, “The City maintains that the proposed zoning will actually increase the amount of housing permitted on the site.”
Staff believes that “the commenter fails to take into account other applicable requirements such as on-site parking, floor area ratios, and open space requirements which would have a constraining effect on the intensity of development under the current zoning.”
They add, “What may be the most limiting factor is the allowable density for the properties. The existing Core Area Specific Plan currently limits the density to 30 dwelling units per acre.”
Another comment addressed the five stories proposed for the Hibbert site.
Currently that site is proposed to be zoned Main Street Medium which would allow up to four stories, but the property owners have requested the zoning be changed to allow up to five stories.
Staff notes, “if the request is granted, there would be a continuation of the proposed zoning along the westerly side of the railroad tracks. However, the Hibbert site does abut several existing single-story homes. It should be noted that those properties are also proposed to be zoned Main Street Medium. Therefore, if the additional story is granted to the Hibbert site, it is reasonable to consider making the entire block eligible for 5 stories.”
Finally a number of commenters have expressed concern that the Specific Plan does not satisfactorily address trees in the downtown area.
Staff responds, “It should be noted that the Specific Plan does have implementation programs, which include working out the specifics of the infrastructure plans, which include street trees. It is not likely that there will be many trees planted on private, redeveloped property because the properties in downtown Davis are relatively small (size wise) and will in all likelihood be largely covered by structures.”