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Davis

Davis, California

Monday, November 29, 2021

City approves Willowbank housing project

Residents and businesses in the city of Davis are engaged in a debate on whether to preserve natural habitat or build new housing.

Despite concern among community members about the impact of the Willowbank housing project and the potential threat it poses to the surrounding environment, City Council approved the measure with a 3-2 vote.

In November, the Council unanimously voted against proceeding with this housing development. Councilmembers required more restrictions on the project, such as moving the 30-foot buffer zone back to the original 50 feet recommended by the Open Space and Habitat Commission.

Although such requirements were met, there remains opposition from some councilmembers and citizens. Councilmember Sue Greenwald voted against moving forward with the Willowbank housing project because she believes there is room to improve aspects of the plan, such as a more accommodating buffer on the north side next to the Putah Creek Parkway.

“I don’t see why there is a hurry to provide 27 to 30 new houses in this economic market when the plan is not designed properly,” Greenwald said.

The buffer zone indicates the larger issue residents have with the development. John McNerney, the wildlife resource specialist for the city of Davis, believes there is enough research and support to formally confirm that this project does not severely threaten the wildlife within the proposed plot of land.

“This area has a high biotic value, so careful thought was put into protecting its wildlife species,” McNerney said. “Even though a middle ground was met to mitigate the disturbance on the environment, this open space has a high aesthetic value to the neighbors”

The expansion will replace trees, vegetation and a walking path with a drainage pond for the new medium-density community. A few of the animals at risk from this development are the Sacramento Valley Red Fox, the Burrowing Owl and the Swainson’s Hawk.

“Impact avoidance was a primary focus in approving this development,” McNerney said. “What happens when a major foraging habitat of these organisms is taken away is still undetermined.”

Tim Ranstrom, a resident concerned with the project’s bearing on the wildlife and habitat preservation of the area, believes the decision ultimately comes down to the city’s values concerning preservation of wildlife corridors in city limits and conversion of open land to housing.

“The biggest danger going forward with this development is that we are squandering an opportunity to preserve diverse wildlife within the city limits for the benefit of a few developers that have openly shown their disdain for wildlife,” Ranstrom said in an e-mail interview.

Ranstrom, and other residents of the current Willowbank neighborhood involved in opposing this project such as Deborah Laird, believe the city will not bring high quality projects to Davis if the sole motivation is maximizing profit.

“It’s frustrating that the views of citizens are basically being ignored,” Laird said. “This project really has some juice downtown because it doesn’t follow the standards of respecting wildlife and is opposed by most of the Willowbank community.”

The group heading this project is Willow Bank Partners LLC. Jason Taormino, a lead developer, said the company has incorporated the requests of the surrounding neighbors and believes this infill development – which does not expand the city limits – will increase the opportunity for people to move to a great community.

Between 27-30 new homes will be built on the 4.5 acre parcel of land, with five below market rate homes helping the city meet California’s fair share housing allocation system.

“The size of the lot compared to the number of homes being built really reflects what consumers are looking for today,” Taormino said. “There is going to be solar panels installed on some of the roofs and it’s going to be the most energy efficient neighborhood in Davis.”

Construction is set to begin on June 1 and will take approximately two years to complete.

MICHAEL STEPANOV can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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