Letter: University Mall Redevelopment Project

By Alex Achimore, on behalf of Interfaith Housing Justice Davis

While it is gratifying to see the University Mall get such a major renovation, which will undoubtedly bring new shopping opportunities and energy to the site, it is very unfortunate that such a large project is going ahead without new housing as well.

To their credit, the developer gave it a good shot and prepared a reasonable plan for a mixed-use project, but was unable to find a housing partner, and the city cannot and should not attempt to make the addition of housing a condition of approval. That said, does the city fully understand why no housing developer turned out to be interested?  Perhaps it is due to a reputation Davis has as hostile to development in general, especially to taller or denser buildings?

If so, and given the finally-acknowledged housing crisis, the city should be working toward not only changing that reputation, but also creating new incentives that would have made a housing partner take notice of the potential at the University Mall.

Several new State Laws promoting housing are only recently in effect that might have made a difference.  Rehabilitation of shopping centers that includes affordable housing can skip several of the planning & entitlement steps, taking the wind out of the sails of the NIMBY movement. And the amount of parking in such projects is now up to the developer, not dictated by city zoning. With such close proximity to dense student housing and the University campus, reducing the parking count from zoning standards would be practical.

By themselves, these new laws might not be enough to change the situation, but the city could also be actively courting housing developers, learning what else they would need to work in Davis, and helping prospective non-housing developers find attractive partnerships.

But it’s also possible that no amount of incentive would overcome the cost premium of building above a retail project like University Mall other than a direct cash subsidy from the city, which speaks to the need to build up our Housing Trust Fund. And to that end, it makes sense to consider adding a reasonable linkage fee to future commercial projects like the U Mall redevelopment, because there’s a good nexus argument that adding an employment center generates a need to house the people who work there. Ideally, when the next shopping center redevelopment project comes up, there would be an expectation of some contribution to housing its employees as well as available Housing Trust funds from prior projects that could be combined into a sizable new housing project.

In the meantime, it would be a tremendous gesture of good will if the Brixmor team made a contribution to the Davis Housing Trust Fund.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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