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Davis

Davis, California

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Ongoing Willowbank Park project delayed

The ongoing Willowbank housing project has been suspended once more, due to neighborhood and environmental concerns.

The Davis City Council met on Nov. 17 to discuss the future of a vacant lot in South Davis off of Mace Boulevard that local developers hope to convert into a medium-density residential area.

Councilmembers unanimously denied approval of the Willowbank Park project and requested developers resubmit an improved design.

Katherine Hess, Davis Community Development Director said the analysis of the environmental impacts was thorough, but proposal improvements must address the buffer on the north next to the Putah Creek Parkway.

The subdivision of the lot will divide the area into single family residential homes, public streets, city greenbelt, private drives and common open space. About 27 units would be built to qualify the site as medium-density. If approved, the Willowbank Park site will create a compact residential area of mixed housing sizes and prices from between $247,500 to $750,000.

“Having another type of residential development would add some other options for residential living,” Hess said. “There hasn’t been much residential construction lately and this would provide a proposal that would offer some affordable housing units, and it would provide some improvements to the Putah Creek Parkway unit.”

The Staff and Planning Commission said it supports the Willowbank Park project, but amendments must revolve around the impact on the buffer. Neighborhood concerns circulate around compatibility with the existing homes, Hess said.

While neighbors have vocalized their worries, many are afraid the development will affect the native Sacramento Valley red fox population whose habitats are on this lot.

“My best guess, based on observations of this and many other fox groups throughout the Valley, is that foxes depend on these urban marginal patches to avoid the open agricultural landscape, in which they are highly vulnerable to coyote predation, and the interior of the urban matrix, where prey are likely less abundant,” said UC Davis professor Ben Sacks in an e-mail interview. “Thus, I think that these native red foxes and other wildlife would be best served if this swath of land were left undeveloped.”

Sacks is an Assistant Adjunct Professor/Director of the Canid Diversity and Conservation Unit Center for Veterinary Genetics.

The Open Space and Habitat Commission recommended creating a 50-foot buffer zone along the Putah Creek Parkway to alleviate the fox issue. Instead, developers reduced the buffer down to 30 feet, causing concern from City Council.

If the council approves the proposal, Sacks believes the city must further investigate the effects on the surrounding environment. This information should then be considered in future planning to avoid or lessen impacts in other development projects, he said.

Other individuals expressed concern with residential overcrowding and possible drainage issues. Currently, developers are looking to minimize the greenbelt area from a nearby park to meet drainage requirements. City Council was also concerned about the safety of the current bike path that connects to Mace Blvd.

“The project would comply with Davis’ Green Building Ordinance and proposes a Carbon Reduction plan that would meet the greenhouse gas emission reduction standards,” the Staff Report stated.

The Willowbank Park project has been a topic of discussion since February 2007. This area came to the General Plan Housing Element Update Steering Committee’s attention due to its close distance to neighborhood greenbelts, schools and shopping.

The Willowbank Park project decision was delayed until January 2010.

SAMANTHA BOSIO can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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