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Davis, California

Monday, April 15, 2024

Davis housing development sets examples in community planning

North of Covell Boulevard and between F & J streets, the location previously occupied by the Hunt-Wesson tomato processing facility will soon be the site of the Cannery Project — a 100-acre development implemented by The New Home Company (TNHC).

It will comprise of 547 residential units and 10 to 15 acres of mixed-use commercial space. With the goals of the city and developer being to balance out demographics and bring in private-sector jobs, the community will house a mix of students, seniors and families.

Affordable housing is also an important part of the project, with 40 to 60 units slated to be built. The number of housing units is variable due to the affordable housing subsidy coming from property tax on the lots surrounding the units.

Rob White, chief innovation officer for the City of Davis, addressed the income gap which would inevitably result.

“The more higher income you can bring in, the more you can subsidize the affordable,” White said. “What we’ve found, in planning, is that the more you can mix neighborhoods and income levels, the more you help those in lower-income levels rise faster.”

Among senior citizens in Davis, agreement hasn’t been reached on whether TNHC has done enough to accommodate accessible housing. Community groups such as Choices for Healthy Aging (CHA) have called for more single level houses to be included in the project, while the City Senior Citizen Commission found the plan sufficient in March 2013.

Community development administrator for the City of Davis, Katherine Hess, noted the lack of consensus.

“The Davis Senior Citizens Commission said … they were comfortable with the project as it was presented,” Hess said. “Different people have different priorities, and it may not be possible to make everybody happy.”

However, according to Mike Webb, director of Community Development and Sustainability for the City of Davis, including more single-level units would pose a density problem.

For businesses in Davis, the Cannery helps alleviate a bit of the pressure applied by the opposing forces of keeping overhead low while remaining in a desirable location. Half of the commercial space at the Cannery will be leased to tech companies while the other half will serve the neighborhood with retail and restaurants. White is responsible for attracting businesses to the area.

“A lot of the folks that are going to go there are university startups [or are] coming out of incubation programs such as Davis Roots,” White said.

White went on to mention that research and development companies are more likely to succeed the closer they are to the knowledge base of a region (i.e. UC Davis). They also tend to have fewer issues recruiting employees on account of the desirable proximity to the university.

“We have even had companies come forward saying ‘We’ll pay the premium to stay, if you’ll open up land for us to use,’ … So that’s a big driver for us to make that opportunity available,” White said.

Economic diversity provided by the influx of high-paying private jobs will stabilize the Davis economy, which is currently skewed between the service industry and academia.

“We need to grow private sector jobs … in order to create the diverse economy which will really keep us healthy,” White said. “We have a university which really is a crown jewel of Northern California … It gets you thinking, why aren’t we doing more to support it?”

White added that while students are a large and important part of the population, they aren’t the providers of the most financial driver in the city.

One of the primary concerns voiced at public hearings is a fear that the current plan for bike connectivity is unsafe and/or incomplete. There have been three options discussed, the most likely to be approved is a pathway which runs parallel to Covell, underneath the train tracks which links to the H Street Tunnel.

Ellen Moriarty, a co-owner of local green planning firm MAK Design+Build, expressed concern that TNHC won’t be putting in a bike path linking the Cannery to North Davis. In doing so, the TNHC is cutting off one community from another without anticipating the interaction that will inevitably occur.

“Some parents are going to feel squeamish about sending their children on bikes across Covell. [They’re] going to wind up driving them,” Moriarty said.

Covell Boulevard currently lacks a bike path on its north side, so biking to North Davis would require multiple crossings across a fairly busy intersection.

The problem with vehicle access on F Street is that any crossing would require the train running alongside the street to sound its horn whenever it passes through. This safety precaution has drawn the ire of Davis locals who want to keep the noise out of their neighborhood.

“We talked to people from the railroad to discuss other alternative signaling devices with a more localized sound, but their short answer was ‘No, we’re going to sound our horns,’” Webb said. “Should the tracks go away, we can reassess.”

Traffic buildup was also brought up as an issue at the public hearings.

“I’m really surprised that the city planners and the traffic surveyors think that this is a workable solution, knowing how Covell already works,” Moriarty said. “You’ve got two points of entry which are not far away from one another … I don’t see how there isn’t going to be any back up.”

Even though there are still concerns being voiced by the public, city officials believe that the Cannery Project would be an asset to Davis. TNHC has proven responsive to locals’ needs, and the development will likely be adjusted throughout the course of its implementation, but it is definitely going forward.

There will be one more public hearing on Nov. 12 at City Hall at 7:30 p.m., and anybody with concerns is welcome to participate.

“[TNHC] is listening to the community. Some of it has been shouted so loudly that they didn’t have a choice but to listen. Davis is not an easy place to develop; there are a lot of competing demands,” Hess said. “In order for a project to also be financially viable, it can’t always be pushed to the level that some people want. It might never get off the ground otherwise.”

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