DCAN’s Village Farms Scoping Comments

On December 8, Davis Community Action Network submitted the following comments on the Village Farms Project.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION SUMMARY

The Project site is located North of East Covell Boulevard, East of F Street, and West of Pole Line Road, Davis, CA 95616. The Project consists of a mixed-use development community, including a total of 1,800 dwelling units, comprising both affordable and market-rate single- and multi-family residences, across various residential neighborhoods. The proposed project would include neighborhood services; public, semi-public, and educational uses; associated on-site roadway improvements; utility improvements; parks, open space, and greenbelts; and off-site improvements.

There are 300 proposed affordable units, mostly within the high-density portions of the project site plan. A program for down-payment assistance included and “affordable by design” (market rate) units are planned for addressing the need for mid-level housing options. 310 units are planned under the downpayment assistance program and referred to as “starter homes,” but first time home buyer status is not specified nor any income restrictions. A preschool/day care site is included.

COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

1. Preserve open space and unique habitat while maintaining 1800 units by increasing density overall and lowering the project We suggest the EIR analyze the impact of only medium and high density zoning (no low density housing included in the project) without lowering the number of units.

1a: Increase the number of attached dwellings (cottages, townhouses, and similar) overall and increase the number of stacked apartments.

This builds in market-rate affordable designs while also significantly lowering energy consumption, adding to both affordability and climate resilient design. It also increases the potential utilization of public transportation by clustering residences for transit stop placement, thus lowering traffic overall. Tighter clustering and attached dwellings also provide larger contiguous spaces for mature and healthy shade trees that provide cooling canopy. (see 2e)

1b: Ensure that permanent, deed-restricted affordable housing is not reduced in any future design iterations.

The current number of affordable housing units is a step forward for Davis but should be increased within the project. We support the intent of the down payment assistance project but would prefer this funding be contributed to the Housing Trust Fund for purchase anywhere in the city and not within the project. We will not support this project if the number of affordable units is reduced.

1c: Shift the current allotment of open space and the residential project footprint by increasing density along Pole Line road and removing the low density housing zone overlaying the potential vernal pool area (pending EIR results).

1d: The EIR should examine the project’s impact on the presence of a Vernal Pool and related species dependent on that ecosystem. We support a full habitat review and biological inventory of the project site, as expected within a standard EIR process, but with special attention to the potential vernal pool site. We must understand the presence of special status species and habitats and, if present, incorporate their protection and conservation within the design. A footprint shift (1c) would not sacrifice housing units and would also provide protection of unique habitats and protected species, meeting both goals of climate resilience and housing access.

2.  Design the neighborhoods for climate resilience pursuing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the project by incorporating low-emission construction design, methods, materials, and technologies, and including lower-emission housing types (see 1a).

2a: Incorporate microgrid for all medium and high density sections, with battery storage for all single family dwellings. Alternatively, district thermal or electrical battery storage should be implemented to mitigate GHG emissions by load shifting over the course of the day.

Solar systems are required on new construction, but not storage or microgrid capability. This is an innovation now that will likely be required in the future as technology and affordability of adoption align. Please incorporate this option to increase the affordability of energy costs for future residents across the board and when combined with solar, contribute to climate resilience and lower emissions. We suggest the EIR consider the impact of a renewable energy microgrid option due to its capacity to provide local renewable power and significantly reduce emissions.

2b: Utilize best practices for climate resilient design throughout the project.

We support net-zero ready designs and systems. This includes the use of low emissions construction (materials and techniques) as well as other design features that maximize energy efficiency and heat resilience. Envelope air leakage of single family homes should be less than 5 air exchanges per hour at 50 pascals and qualify for the California Energy Commission performance credit. Homes should be outfitted with whole-house fans in addition to heat pumps that meet or exceed latest efficiency standards.

2c: Ensure flood resilience in building design for optimal flood mitigation.

We appreciate the strong flood management already included in the design but due to the current site plan including a significant flood zone, we suggest ensuring flood resilience in building design as well. Consider elevated foundations for buildings in the flood zones and use flood resilient building materials.

2d: Ensure public transit access and pedestrian/bike mobility are prioritized over car-centric design. We suggest the EIR examines the traffic and emissions impact of a lower car dependent neighborhood design.

In addition to the current transit options within the project plan ,plan ahead for future expansion of public transit by securing right of way now as necessary for linkages across neighborhoods.

For EVs, include capacity for two-way charging with virtual power plant solutions for private residences and include chargers for public use. We also suggest limiting street parking for any resident with a garage or driveway to ensure streets are for bikes and pedestrians more than car storage.

We support the inclusion of safe bike and pedestrian crossings via over- or underpass across Covell. This avoids conflict with cars to ensure a seamless connection with the local shopping plaza, neighborhood and regional schools and the downtown and campus area. We suggest including narrower, traffic-calming street design for residential streets that invite slower speeds to improve pedestrian and bike safety.

2e: Utilize heat and drought tolerant plant species to plan for the tree canopy and landscaping to lower the heat index on the ground.

A significant tree canopy and native plant landscaping is necessary for heat resilience, water conservation, and public safety. This should be increased throughout the current design.

Summary and Conclusion

The DCAN team looks forward to the next iteration of this project and the results of the completed EIR process. To summarize, our top EIR alternative suggestions are as follows:

  1. Analyze the impact of only medium and high density zoning (no low density housing included in the project) by altering the footprint to avoid habitat area without lowering the number of
  2. Examine the project’s impact on the presence of a vernal pool and related species dependent on that ecosystem. We support a full habitat review and biological inventory of the project site, as expected within a standard EIR process, but with special attention to the potential vernal pool site.
  3. Consider the impact of a renewable energy microgrid option due to its capacity to provide local renewable power and significantly reduce emissions.
  4. Examine the traffic and emissions impact of a neighborhood design with lower car

We believe the Village Farms project has the potential to expand access to affordable housing in Davis while preserving open space and unique habitat if revisions to the site plan are completed. We look forward to the analysis illustrating the environmental impacts of maintaining 1800 units by increasing density and lowering the project footprint. The best outcomes are possible if the benefits of climate smart design are fully incorporated in the final plans.

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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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2 Comments

  1. Tim Keller

    A nice, comprehensive response and a reasonable request from this process.

    My comments to the council for today’s discussion are similar.  This is what I just sent in:

    ——-

    Council-members,

    As you may be aware, there is a group of us in the community who are developing an approach to housing that calls for a modification of measure J to adopt an urban limit line, and to allow for development of properties within that limit line if they meet strict guideline for sustainability, including moderate levels of housing density, energy efficiency standards the intentional development of this housing around a transit line so that this new housing does not require a proportional increase in the number of cars in our city.

    The Village farms property is a critical first link in these peripheral properties and I think that understanding the difference between the developer’s plan and what the same property would look like if developed per the proposed measure J amendment would incredibly useful in that process, so I would ask that an equal weight EIR be conducted on an alternative that has an equal number of units, but those units are medium density housing with limited parking all existing in the lower 1/3 of the property where they can be reliably served by the transit line.

    This is the only kind of housing we can built which we can expect will actually be occupied by our local workforce who are currently commuting in.

    If we build car-centric housing, we can expect that it will be significantly occupied by outbound commuters which makes for more vehicle miles in our community, not less.

    In summary, my request for an alternative EIR would be:

    Same number of units, but of moderate density (Apartments / Condos / Townhomes and Co-Co-Ops)  all located in the lower 1/3 of the property

    Assumption of a frequent transit line running from the cannery through the southern part of the property (map attached)

    Leave the northern 2/3 of the property alone for now

    Thank you for your service to our community.

    Tim Keller

  2. David Thompson

    I appreciate the good suggestions of DCAN and Tim Keller, for the sakeof global warming, affordabilty and inclusion we certainly need major changes in the Village Farms proposal. Allow me to outline additional comments for now;

    60 of the starter homes should be replaced with an additional Dos Pinos community (60 units of limited equity cooperative) to provide for permanent affordability instead of the one off bonanza starter home program
    Previous for-sale afordable home programs have been a disaster with more than $15  million dollars escaping the program and foregoing public repayment
    60 of the starter homes should be assigned to the city’s for-sale permanent affordability program. I’d still prefer some gain cap on all the starter homes
    Like DCAN I need to see more specificity to the starter home program; define who is eligible, (in one of the previous programs the husband and wife independently applied and both won a home) define which income category the starter homes will target, Alan Pryor has stated that they will serve low income families. I doubt it. But provide the formula, for example “the starter homes” will be priced at X which means they will be available for the following income specific group by having housing costs be 30% of that income groups category.
    The number of units set aside for permantly affordable low income rental housing be raised from 16.7% to 25% to increase inclusion within Village Farms for the lowest income families in our community
    All of the multi-family units be sited as close as possible to the Covell Blvd and Pole Line sides of the site to induce bus usage

    David J Thompson, my own opinions and not representative of Neighborhood Partners, LLC or Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation.

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