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Saturday, September 06, 2008

West Village Development Takes a Major Step Forward

For those wondering when the West Village development will get moving, the answer is apparently very soon. The University announced yesterday that they had signed the "ground lease" for the West Village and thus taken a major step toward the first phase of development.

According to the release:
"UC Davis and its development partner, West Village Community Partnership LLC, last week signed a ground lease for the project, clearing the way for the design and construction phase of the project."
The University will begin construction this fall on the project's off-site infrastructure, including water and sewer connections to campus systems, a storm water drainage system and entry road improvements.

Ground is expected to be broken in the spring of 2009.

Faculty/ staff housing and student housing could be available as early as fall 2010.

Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef applauded the announcement.
"After years of planning, we are excited to be moving on to the design and construction phase of the project with our private development partners. We are confident that West Village Community Partnership will be delivering an exceptional neighborhood not only for our university community, but for our region, as well."
Ron Zeff, CEO of Carmel Partners of San Franiciso, on of the groups that makes up West Village Community Partnership, said:
"This successful milestone represents our continued collaborative approach with the university to address UC Davis' long-term housing needs. West Village Community Partnership can now focus our full energies and resources to design and construct the West Village neighborhood that incorporates the values, and reflects the aspirations, of the university and the Davis community."
The release laid out the three phases of the construction plan, this being the first.
"As currently planned, the 130-acre Phase 1 includes 343 single-family homes for faculty and staff, apartment housing for up to 1,980 students and a village square surrounded by ground-floor commercial space and the Los Rios Community College District's new Davis Center.

In all, the plan for West Village comprises two phases for a combined 475 new homes for faculty and staff, and housing for 3,000 students. Many of the faculty and staff homes will include small cottages, like those at the 37-unit Aggie Village project adjacent to campus. Cottages will increase the population density and provide more student-housing options.

When the final phase is completed, planners estimate that West Village will be home to about 4,350 people -- including 500 faculty and staff members and their families, plus students. The plan calls for a generous open-space network that offers integrated bike and pedestrian connections to the campus. UNITRANS will provide frequent bus service to the neighborhood."
A key part of the plan is that this provides faculty and staff with below market price housing. The university is believes that this will "assist in recruiting and retaining top talent by enabling them to live locally and participate fully in the life of the campus and community."
"West Village will make this possible by adding to the Davis housing supply and selling the homes at below-market prices for the Davis area. The homes will also have certain resale price limitations to maintain affordability over time."

One of the reasons I have long advocated for the university to help provide housing to students and faculty-staff is their ability to offer housing at below market value. I think the city of Davis needs to work closer in concert with the university toward these ends.

There are a number of very interesting and promising models out there for how to accomplish it. This is one model, but it appears from the last statement that there will not be full equity.

One of the models I would like to see leadership at the university and the city take a look at is what they have done in Stanford. I have mentioned this on the blog a number of times. The housing market in Palo Alto is prohibitive and Stanford found themselves at a severe competitive disadvantage in trying to get top-notch academic talent.

As a result, they developed an innovative program whereby they would help guarantee and finance the loans to faculty for new housing, the faculty members would own the house outright and retain full equity. I would be very interested in seeing how they do that.

In addition the issue of student housing needs to be addressed. UC Davis is the UC with the lowest percentage of on-campus housing. As is the case with faculty and staff housing, the campus can better provide housing at below market cost than the city. They also have available land to make it work.

As we discuss further the concept of internal housing needs, the university must be a part of this discussion. Too often the city and university have been at odds with each other on these projects.

There is one further issue that needs to be addressed now that the development at West Village is imminent. That is the issue of annexation. The models from both the University and the city show that the city is the entity that can best provide the necessary services to West Davis. In both cases, there is a net loss in terms of revenue. However, the project loses less when the city annexes it than when the University runs it on campus. That means it is in the interest of both sides to negotiate an appropriate agreement on how it is to be annexed and run.

There are a number of political issues however that would have been resolved in order for that to be accomplished including whether the annexation of West Village would count toward Davis' growth requirements.

From a personal standpoint as someone who frequently uses the path along Russell as it extends from Highway 113 out to Pedrick Road, I will be saddened with the lose of that beautiful open space as the path heads out west lined with trees and the feeling of serenity. I can only hope they do a good job of design and construction so that they do not turn that area into an eyesore.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting