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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Lewis-Cannery: Wrong Place, Wrong Time For Housing

The issue of what should be done on the long-vacant Lewis-Cannery Property has been discussed at great length in this community and on this blog. I invite everyone to hear the radio show where the Vanguard interviewed Lewis Planned Communities representatives Ken Topper and Jeanne Jones. In addition, Sue Greenwald yesterday had guest commentary in support of keeping the current high-tech zoning in place. Up until the last few days I have remained neutral on the issue of whether to keep Lewis-Cannery as currently zoned, high-tech, and create a 100-acre business park, or whether to change the zoning to mixed-use, and build up to 600 units of housing with a 20-acre business park.

There are indeed good reasons to change the zoning of this property. As we look for locations with which to accommodate new housing needs from within the city, this is an area that is already within the boundaries of Davis and more importantly already paved over. with infrastructure and many city services already in place The ideal of preserving farmland and agriculture is a strong priority for me as well as others in this community.

Additionally, some have argued that development on the 100-acre Cannery property would relieve pressure to build on the larger adjacent Covell Village site. Unfortunately, two recent developments belie that belief. First, the circulation of the map of the property which contains two rather telling arrows, one of which points north from the Cannery site towards Covell Village and the other points east from the Cannery site again towards Covell Village. The consultants for Lewis-Cannery argue that they are designing the site independently of Covell Village. Covell Village rests outside of the current city boundaries and would require a Measure J vote. Therefore different issues underlie the two properties including a 60-40 vote from just three years ago against the development of Covell Village. The goal of Lewis-Cannery is to enable a decision to made independent of their site.

However, by accommodating potential future growth at Covell, Cannery unwittingly perhaps is facilitating future development. A more sinister development occurred with the city's staff report on the site for tonight's city council meeting which includes a memo from City Manager Bill Emlen. The Davis Enterprise yesterday excerpted from the memo, but buried the lead on the key portion. The last two paragraphs of the big-headlined front page article: "City manager: Cannery site needs more study."
Emlen also would like the City Council to consider the cannery's neighboring property, an 800-acre parcel that is technically outside of city limits. The parcel was proposed as a large housing development, Covell Village, but Davis voters rejected it in 2005.

'While not in the city, it is designated industrial in the county and clearly has future development potential,' Emlen wrote. 'It seems a lost planning opportunity to not address both properties in a master plan concept.'
City Manager Bill Emlen spells it out quite clearly--the city is looking to plan for the two projects concurrently and there is no way to escape the conclusion that Lewis-Cannery is in fact the gateway to Covell Village. For this reason I can no longer remain neutral with regards to Lewis-Cannery.

Today for the first time, I publicly oppose the mixed-use option, the current proposal, and any change to the high-tech zoning of the site.

In fact, there are a number of other key issues that have led me to this conclusion including my recent visit to San Luis Obispo over the Thanksgiving Holiday. As many know, I grew up in San Luis Obispo. There are many similarities between San Luis Obispo and Davis including a strong commitment to the preservation of open space, agricultural land, natural habitat, and toward the implementation of public policy designed to produce slow and controlled growth. However, there is a big difference between the two besides the obvious climatic and geographic differences. San Luis Obispo while having almost the same population of 44,000 that it had when I moved in 1996, has a much more strongly developed commercial base.

People have expressed concern about housing in Davis, but given the development of West Village by the university, and the smaller developments such as Grande and Simmons within town, and the other available infill options over the next ten years. I am not that concerned about housing. We will meet many of our internal housing needs as well as our state mandated growth targets over the next decade.

However, the housing market makes any new housing development precarious at best. The credit market is in dire straights, and the ability to finance such projects remains in serious doubt for the foreseeable future.

From a commercial perspective, the city of Davis is in dire need of additional sources of revenue. We are staring down a deficit, unmet needs, the collapse of the revenue from automobile sales, the possibility of new taxes to pay for basic city services, and the certainty of rate hikes for utilities. We know from past discussions, that housing is not a good source for on-going revenue. In fact, given the costs of provisions of city services, new development is as likely to lose revenue for the city as gain it.

Even without the housing situation, the Lewis-Cannery property falls short of what City Councilmember Stephen Souza called the "wow-factor." This project could quite simply be dropped into any city, any town, any neighborhood. There is no great innovation. There is nothing to lend itself to suggest, wow, this is a great project that we need in this city. At best, it fills a need for housing that could be better addressed in other parts of the city in more innovative and eco-friendly ways. In terms of green innovations, there are vague mentions but nothing specific in terms of carbon-neutrality, design-efficiency, alternative power, energy neutrality. By way of comparison, the proposed-Wild Horse Ranch project is well ahead of Lewis in these areas despite the fact that Lewis-Cannery is further along in the process at this point in time.

If we are going to development new housing, we need it to be cutting edge housing that moves us forward into the next era of urban land use. The current proposal from Lewis-Cannery quite simply does not do that at this point. The proposal is fine, but there is no "wow factor." (Later in the week, I will talk about a "wow" moment I experienced in San Luis Obispo that gave me great insight into the type of housing that we need in Davis.)

The other great problem with the Lewis-Cannery property is that of traffic mitigation. The preliminary estimates are that the current proposed development would produce something between 11,000 and 14,000 (at minimum) additional car trips a day spilling onto the already congested Covell Blvd. When asked about the traffic impacts, the consultants suggested that the traffic study would help them figure out how to mitigate. The problem is that we have been down this road once before with Covell Village. There was no answer then to the traffic impacts and the mitigation thereof. And it seems unlikely that the Lewis Planned Communities plan will have any better luck. One of the reasons that Covell Village went down to such a large defeat was the impact on traffic and the fact that there is no clear outlet. Bike paths and alternative transportation are great, but cannot be relied upon to reduce traffic impacts. There does not seem to be an easy answer here.

The current Lewis plan is for 46 acres to be developed for 610 homes however once they are built there is nothing to stop the developer from organizing the new residents into supporting Lewis Planned Communities from converting the additional 20 acres from commercial/ light industrial to residential and finish building another 300 homes, for a full build out of 900 homes. So on a total 98 acre lot Lewis Homes will have built half of the homes originally proposed by Covell Village, 1900 homes on a 484 acre lot. In other words, this is not a small proposal. This is a huge proposal that would go forth with no Measure J mandated vote.

Given the lack of innovative housing plan, given the likely unmitigated traffic impacts, given the state of the housing market, given our need for commerce, the answer for what to do with the Lewis-Cannery property becomes much simpler. I recommend the city place the property in urban reserve for the next ten years. In the meantime, the city should assign a staffer full-time with the responsibility of bringing in new business and developing the business park. The viability study suggested a protracted build out, but if done properly and aggressively, this would not be an impossibility. I want to see green, high tech companies come in that produce jobs and revenue for the area. Davis should become a leader in green technology and there is frankly no better location in the city to do this than the Lewis-Cannery property. It is the largest parcel of land zoned for high-tech.

Unfortunately, the city has not put the type of effort needed to attract that kind of business. So the city council is going to have to direct city staff to do this and make it a priority. This is our shot at creating a lasting legacy that can transform Davis into the center for new and sustainable green business that it ought to be based on both the proximity of the university and the commitment that this community has toward environmental sustainability. Moreover, it is time for this community to stop developing huge sprawling new and expensive subdivisions that could be located anywhere and to once again become the cutting-edge for environmental sustainability in terms of sustainable and energy efficient housing, housing that achieves carbon neutrality, housing that is designed specifically to protect farmland from urban development. This is not the time to compromise on these principles.

Tonight, our city council needs to stand up for green high-tech industry and for moving Davis forward into a new era of sustainable development.

---David M. Greenwald reporting