Guest Commentary: Adopt the Downtown Specific Plan – Hibbert Site Is One of the Best Sites for Mixed-Use Housing!


by Jim Gray

Here is a letter which we submitted to the Davis City Council regarding the Downtown Specific Plan and the Hibbert Site. It is important that Davis residents voice their support for revitalization and infill housing. Let the readers and the City Council know if you agree.

Dear Members of the Davis City Council: ( Please see that this is also forwarded to Councilman Bapu Vaitla)

As a long time, Davis resident and as a commercial and investment real estate broker who has many clients in the downtown, I recognize firsthand that our Downtown Core is the Heart of our community, the University is the Brain, and the Davis Unified School District is the Central Nervous System. This week the Davis City Council is considering the adoption of a needed Downtown Specific Plan, a Form Based Code, and concurrently the certification of the EIR for this Specific Plan.

I encourage you to adopt this Plan and related actions. This effort has been a very lengthy one, interrupted by the Covid pandemic and confronting the consequences of the impact of those delays and of the economic and societal changes caused by the pandemic. There have been extensive public discussions and significant input by the citizenry and many professionals advising on the Specific Plan. This Plan is designed as a “guiding document” for re-investment and revitalization of the Downtown and will contribute to the overall health of the community at large.

The overall objectives of the Plan were to eliminate conflicting public policy.
It conceptualizes a good path forward for the downtown and for the city of Davis
In an era without a Redevelopment Agency, it hopes to stimulate additional investment where it is difficult and problematic to attract investment.

The Plan as proposed upon build-out anticipates, maybe overly optimistically, 1,000 needed infill residential units and 400,000 square feet of commercial space.

We have very few places to build additional housing within Davis. Our children and our grandchildren, the workforce of Davis, as well as future students and grandparents want to find additional housing options in Davis. Infill development that is built to modern sustainable codes, that encourages biking and pedestrian activities, which are close to transit such as Amtrack and safe bike lanes, is clearly a preferred environmental approach. More houses will allow more people who work in Davis and at UCD to live here and many of them will have children to move into those units and benefit from the Davis Unified School District which is confronting fiscal problems from declining enrollment.

This plan will create additional jobs, it will create more opportunities to purchase goods and services, and it will create more fees and taxes for the city, County and State. It will be a guide for a more dynamic downtown. Those are but a few reasons to adopt the Specific Plan!

I would now like to offer a few reasons why I believe that the Hibbert Lumber Site should be approved for 5 Stories of Residential, Mixed Use and Work Live improvements. The number 1 reason is that it is a “great site” with minimal impact and tremendous benefit for the Downtown. Downtown is characterized by lots of small and individually owned houses and bungalows as well as many small dated commercial buildings. The ability to assemble and plan and construct meaningful residential units will be very difficult in our downtown. The Hibbert Site at the north/east corner of 5th and G Street of ±1.49acres is one of the few sites of scale in one ownership where that Specific Plans’ vision can promptly be implemented.

My partner Nahz and I represent the Hibbert Sisters, who with their family and dedicated employees operated a lumber yard and served Davis citizens for decades, open until 2019. Upon their retirement, we found a local real estate professional interested in acquiring the site, “subject to the adoption of the Specific Plan.” Much preliminary work, environmental and utility assessments, concept development both design and economics, working with the City Staff and consultants and meeting with the neighbors and with interest groups has and continues to transpire. At all times, efforts are based upon “doing something that will work” and “which will be good for the community”.

The evolving plan now before the Council this week for your consideration is reviewing and adopting a Specific Plan, not a project plan for the Hibberts Site. You are being asked to affirm that 5 stories could be appropriate at that site. I would like to offer that what we have seen to date is a “great design” by local and well-known architect Bob Lindley guided by project proponent Doug Buzbee with the review and encouragement from the Hibbert Sisters. The project plan includes an attractive and creative design that with proper scale can likely be implemented without cutting corners. It incorporates 5 stories of residential, it is stepped back close to the railroad tracks and to the old commercial fabric along 5th and I street. It envisions a roof top patio, it includes a potential café, it envisions work live along the ground floor fronting 5th Street. It will likely act as a catalyst for improvements to 6th street where it dead ends into the railroad, at the entry to the Davis Food Coop.

I would like to point out the following to address head on some concerns being voiced by others who are advocating against the site becoming denser.

Please look at the neighboring fabric. Immediately south is the 5th and G Plaza, very dense, office, 5 story Parking Garage, Theaters, and a mix of retail shops. This dense site was co-developed by the City Redevelopment Agency that felt scale and density were appropriate here 25+ years ago. Immediately south of this site the plan envisions up to 7 stories.

To the east there are the railroad tracks and older commercial buildings within the “Old East Davis Neighborhood.” Modest immediate impacts. Building adjacent to the railroad increases complexity and cost.

The Hibbert and the future project plan by design steps back from the small bungalow/house structures which are primarily small commercial businesses on the east side of G Street between 5th and 6th. One of those building immediately adjacent to the retail lumber yard is owned by the Hibberts and is included in the plan. The other lots are subject to the plans of those building owners and their future owners. I predict that transition there will be slow in coming because of small lots, the higher costs associated with “assemblage” from multiple owners.

Any real detrimental impact on “old north Davis” particularly those who reside between F and A Streets north of Russel Boulevard is non-existent from a practical point of view. We argue that neither this Specific Plan nor the building at the Hibbert site will induce growth or detract from the neighborhood charm of old north Davis and its small bungalows and large trees.

This is not a last-minute change to the Plan. This is an effort to advocate for better clarity of the intended use and scale set forth within the Specific Plan. We have been seeking to clarify this matter and to advocate for a high-quality plan that has a chance to succeed. Many other sites in downtown Davis have been seeking clarity about their density and conditions set forth in the proposed Specific Plan as well. There has been no hearing on these matters in more than 2 years. Now is the time to request some clarity and common sense. At the City Council is the appropriate time for review and amendments to a proposed plan. At every opportunity provided during this delayed and complicated process to address constraints regarding the proposed Specific Plan – “historical,” “include it as a parking structure,” etc. the Hibberts, Buzbee and I have raised our hands early and often to offer an implementable and quality plan. The record will show that we have consistently and repeatedly advocated to flexibility, for quality, for eliminating conflicting elements within the plan and for making timely and important decisions that would enable the Plan to be successful.

I have been in the development business, the real estate business and active in the community for more than 40 years. I have learned in that period “that the only thing that many citizens of Davis like less than sprawl is urban infill.” Too often the default reaction is “not in my back yard”, and “not over 3 blocks from my house and around the corner from my favorite landmark”. Too often the Davis way is default to a lengthy process and to offer what are often “alternative non-solutions.” Victory is often declared by those stopping or diluting something that is innovative and leads to needed change. You have an opportunity – this time – that the City Council is committed to enabling flexibility and change for the benefit of the city and its current and future citizens.

This is a Specific Plan I hope that you support and embrace. This is a great site for reinvestment and innovation, and it is a great time for you to vote for a preferred alternative. I conclude by offering you a choice – a Plan that gathers dust on a shelf, or an environmentally superior plan that enables additional housing and residents in the downtown while encouraging and supporting projects that will be contributing to important city goals and to private investment.

Thank you for your attention and consideration. Happy to address any questions. Jim Gray

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  1. Richard_McCann

    The Hibbert site would seem to be the perfect candidate. Multistories on the other 3 corners, a rail line next door, only businesses to the north and across the street and across the rail line. The Plan appears to protect the existing residential in Old North.

  2. Todd Edelman

    It would be great if some of the construction materials and equipment – as well as the demolition stage – could be facilitated with railway vehicles*.

    Definitely no on-site parking please with the exception of a few spaces reserved for people who work in trades or need them for emergencies plus what is required by ADA.

    * SACOG should do a preliminary study on existing businesses which could utilize railway transportation. However I am not optimistic. While Woodland, for example has two large Walmart stores within a few hundred feet of a functional railway line, the regional distribution center is far away from one. 

    We really screwed up. 

    For construction purposes, I imagine that there’s no plan to use the railway for the Rail Yards Project in Sacramento. Farm to Truck to Fork….

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