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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Should Davis Adopt an Urban Limit Line?

During the course of the debate last year over the creation of open space potentially on the Shriner's property, the Mayor brought up the term urban limit line, a term that had been used just a few weeks prior by City Staffer Mitch Sears during the discussion on agricultural mitigation. The original idea would be that included in the two-to-one mitigation to development, would be a one-quarter mile strip of adjacent mitigation along the boundaries of any new development. Over time as the city developed outward, there would be a one-quarter mile strip of ag mitigation that encircled the city as a form of an urban limit line.

The advantage of this policy is that the city could create mitigations against future development as part of the development agreement. The developers and not the city would be purchasing this mitigation.

The disadvantage of course is that the city would need to continue to grow at least one development around the city in order to create this urban limit line. But given the pressures currently in place around the city do exactly that, from the county and elsewhere, it might be the most preferred option in terms of limiting future peripheral growth.

The problem right now is that we can see all around the city developers have purchased agricultural land and then are putting pressure on elected bodies in order to convert agricultural land into urban development. Developers have access, resources, and time that other citizens do not, in order to press their point.

Other cities have actually imposed an outright urban limit line, a point after which, development cannot occur. The idea there is that right now developers have purchased parcels of agricultural land, not in hopes of continuing the present usage, but rather in terms of hoping to convert the land from agricultural uses to urban development. This has led to a large-scale purchase of land to developers who act as speculators.

Woodland's urban limit line drew controversy from both environmentalists and the county. Environmentalists complained that then-Woodland Mayor Matt Rexroad moved the line further out, allowing for more growth and less agricultural development.

The county on the other hand was already concerned about "county needs." The plan from Woodland was criticized by supervisors such as Mike McGowan and Helen Thomson for annexing too much land and running in the face of current county policies. On the other hand, the most staunch defender of farmland protection on the board, Supervisor Duane Chamberlain complained that the urban limit line involved too much prime farmland.

Regardless of specific criticisms as to whether Woodland extended the urban limit line out too far, the basic effect was that Woodland did not have the county breathing down on its periphery this cycle. Davis did.

The proposals at Oeste, Covell, and along I-80 represent just some of the properties that have had recent development pressures on them. You can add to that the Gidaro and Signature Properties north of Covell and East of Wild Horse, and you can throw in Ramos' property to the Southeast, Tsakopoulos to the East, etc.

The Davis voters have given themselves Measure J by which they can decide upon future peripheral growth. However, every time Davis citizens have to fight a Covell Village-type proposal, it is going to take a little energy out of the movement. At some point, a future council could get a large development through on the periphery.

Davis voters also gave themselves the ability to purchase open space through Measure O but that appears to have not been properly funded or implemented and cannot purchase at any rate, large tracts of land.

The best move I would think would be to establish an urban limit line around the city of Davis, that would enable the residents of Davis to limit where future development can take place. Anything outside of this line would be preserved for agricultural land. Moreover this could potentially serve as a key buffer between future proposals from the county and the city of Davis. Given that buffer, Davis would be a much less enticing target in the future and we would not merely have to rely on the pass-through agreement to determine how we grow on the edge of our city.

The city of Davis did not completely dodge the bullet lobbed at them from the county in terms of proposed special study areas. The county temporarily backed off in hopes of initiating talks. That gives us precious time to regroup and bolster our defenses. Even if study areas are initiated we will have perhaps a few years before the county can actually produce development proposals. In the meantime, Davis has an opportunity to take the land in question out of the hands of the county, and put it back within the hands of the Davis voters.

My present thought would be to create an urban limit line, but specifically require all land within that line remain subject to a Measure J vote if we decide to develop it. That is but one idea to prevent what occurred earlier this summer from repeating itself.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting