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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Early Meeting Set for Housing Element Discussion

Covell Village II Big Issue on the Table

There will be a special workshop to open this week's council meeting from 5 pm to 6:30 pm. Then the council will begin its normal meeting with a full agenda including public comment at 6:30 or 6:45.

The question one might automatically ask, is why put the most important topic, that of the housing element discussion at 5 pm when people are not paying attention and many are just getting off from work?

One of the things that will happen during this meeting is that there will be modifications to the site rankings as laid out by the Housing Element Steering Committee.

A key change that will occur is that the Housing Element Steering Committee (HESC) rank ordered all the sites. They also divided the top 20 into "green light" sites where development would be given a priority and was expected to occur during this general plan cycle and "yellow" and "red" light sites where they saw develop occurring in future general plan cycles depending on the growth rate set by the city council.

Now the Planning Commission and city planning staff recommends removing the ranking numbers from the 20 "green light" sites.

According to the staff report:
"Development applications should be allowed for these highest ranked sites. Although the property owners of several of these sites are likely not ready to submit applications in the near term, development status will be monitored to ensure that the 1% growth cap resolution is not exceeded."
Other recommended changes:
  • Move Oakshade Affordable Housing from #26 to green.
  • Move Nugget Fields from #28 to Green.
  • Keep Lewis Cannery at #21.
  • Move Wildhorse Horse Ranch to #22 from #27.
  • Willowbank Church: Move from green to yellow.
The rationale on Lewis Cannery and Wildhorse is:
"This site and the Wildhorse horse ranch site (below), with current development applications, are recommended for the top two rankings of the “alternate” sites because they are relatively large sites currently in the city not used for agriculture and can provide a mix of housing types to meet housing needs."
An additional reason might also be that both Lewis Cannery and Wildhorse Horse Ranch have been moving forward with actual development proposals while some other properties are in the more theoretical stage.

One of the groups hoping to move up as the result of this meeting are the Covell Village Developers. The Vanguard has received word that these developers have been working hard to mobilize a huge turnout of seniors who will advocate for the Covell Village Senior Project Proposal.

Having seen their large development that was proposed in 2005 voted down by a 60-40 margin, the Covell Village Developers have broken down their latest proposal into three phases. The first phase is to develop a senior housing facility on the southern portion of the 386 acre parcel.

Few of the seniors who have met with the Covell Village Developers have been told this is only the first part of their plan.

The Housing Element Steering Committee spent considerable time on the Covell Project. There are concerns about prime agricultural land in the bottom portion of the land, where the senior housing facility would be. And there are concerns that the upper two-thirds of the project rests in a flood plain that would represent considerable liability for the city both physically and financially. State legislation in recent years has placed the financial burden on cities who build in flood plains and will no longer bail out cities in the event of a flood.

In addition, the Covell Village developers have purchased additional land north of original property to act as their 2:1 Ag mitigation.

As a result, the Housing Element Steering Committee, composed of a number of very strong supporters of Covell Village including Chair Kevin Wolf, who was a huge advocate for the project in 2005, ranked Covell Village very low as a site. The developers who own the property have been working hard to change that ranking. And are expected to pack the chambers with seniors that they have worked with to bring on board.

Opinions by leaders in the Senior Community vary as to whether or not we actually need additional senior housing. Recent events at Covell Gardens have suggested the need for extreme scrutiny when building and opening senior care facilities. Many seniors have expressed an interest to not downsize and move into a senior community. Many like to live with the general population to begin with. The demand from the local senior population is unclear.

Personally, while I favor slower growth in an environmentally sustainable manner, if I am looking to add housing first, I would look to see infill projects on sites already incorporated within the city. As the HESC indicated, we have plenty of those type of sites and projects to meet our housing needs for the next general plan period.

Second, if we are to add housing I would look toward workforce housing, housing for UC Davis faculty, and student housing first. Those people who work in Davis but do not live in Davis should get the first priority for new housing. Concern has been expressed about the vacancy rate in Davis for apartments and student housing. This is where the priority should be.

It should be noted in the staff report, the only mention of Covell Village is the preference to plan for the Lewis Cannery site in consideration of the adjacent Covell Village site. This remains a chief concern of mine with regards to the Lewis Cannery site. Many have suggested that the site is better suited for high tech or light industrial use. I am circumspect on the type of development that needs to go there and for the most part agnostic. What I am bitterly opposed to would be the use of Lewis Cannery to facilitate development on the adjacent Covell Village site.

Any effort to get the property to move up is coming entirely from the developers and not from the HESC, the Planning Commission, the city planning department, or even the Davis City Council Majority.

I am not one who believes that the 2005 Measure X forever precludes development on the Covell Village site. However, there are many places that should be developed before we even start considering this. It appears that the Covell Village developers will not take no for an answer here. And that at some point we will go through this process once again.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting