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University Commons: Public Meeting and Environmental Review

Public comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report accepted through Dec 20

University-commons-site-plan
Brixmor Property Group, University Commons Illustrative Site Plan

(From press release) The City of Davis Planning Commission will conduct a public meeting on the University Commons Project Draft EIR, as described below, at a meeting beginning at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 in the Community Chambers, City Offices, 23 Russell Boulevard, Davis, California. Please contact the Department of Community Development and Sustainability for the approximate time this item will be heard.

Project Description:

The Planning Commission is scheduled to review the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that has been prepared for the University Commons Project located at 737-885 Russell Boulevard, known as University Mall. The proposed project would demolish approximately 90,653 square feet of the existing University Mall building to create a new mixed-use development. Buildout of the proposed project would result in the addition of 264 new multi-family residential units and approximately 136,800 square feet of retail space, not including the existing Trader Joe’s building, which would be retained as-is. The proposed 264 multi-family residential units would include a mix of unit types with a total of 622 bedrooms and 894 beds. The ARCO gas station is not part of the proposed project or project site and would also remain unchanged.

The redeveloped University Mall building would include four levels of residential uses over three levels of parking and four levels of residential uses over retail uses. At buildout, the redeveloped University Mall building would be seven stories and approximately 80 feet in height, with the northeast portion along Anderson Road stepping down to three stories and 44 feet in height. Two new pad buildings would be added to the site.

Planning entitlements include an amendment to the General Plan for a change in the land use to a mixed use designation, a Rezone of the site to Preliminary Planned Development, and Demolition. Additional review of building architecture and final site design is required.

Draft Environmental Impact Report Review:

The Draft EIR (SCH#2018112044) prepared for the project was released for a 45-day public comment period, which ends on December 20, 2019. As part of the public review, the Draft EIR is being presented to the Planning Commission for comment. The document evaluates the environmental impacts of the project pursuant to CEQA requirements. It identified significant impacts related to Air Quality, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Energy, and Noise, but impacts were reduced to a less-than-significant level through the implementation of mitigation measures. The Draft EIR that impacts related to Transportation and Circulation would remain significant and unavoidable even after implementation of feasible mitigation measures.

Following the public comment period and review of the comments, a Final EIR will be prepared. Subsequent public hearings by the Planning Commission and City Council to consider the Final EIR and project entitlements are required and will be publicly noticed when they are scheduled. Project information is available online at the project website below.

Availability of Documents:

The project application file is available for review at the Department of Community Development and Sustainability, 23 Russell Boulevard, Suite 2, Davis, California, 95616. Project documents are also available online at: https://www.cityofdavis.org/city-hall/community- development-and-sustainability/development-projects/university-commons.

Staff reports for the public meeting are generally available five (5) days prior to the meeting date and may also be available by contacting the project planner. Planning Commission staff reports are available through the City’s website at: https://cityofdavis.org/city-hall/city- council/commissions-and-committees/planning-commission/agendas-and-minutes.

Public Comments:

All interested parties are invited to attend the meeting or send written comments to the project planner at: City of Davis, Department of Community Development and Sustainability, c/o Eric Lee, Project Planner, 23 Russell Boulevard, Suite 2, Davis, California, 95616; or via email at: elee@cityofdavis.org. To ensure comments will be distributed, comments are requested to be provided no later than 12:00 noon the date of the meeting. For questions please call the project planner at: (530) 757-5610 x 7237.

The City does not transcribe its proceedings. Persons who wish to obtain a verbatim record should arrange for attendance by a court reporter or for some other acceptable means of recordation. Such arrangements will be at the sole expense of the person requesting the recordation. If you challenge the action taken on this matter in court, the challenge may be limited to raising only those issues raised at the public hearing described in this notice, or in written correspondence to the Director of Department of Community Development and Sustainability or City Clerk at, or prior to, the public hearing.

 

Comments

Eileen Samitz

What a disastrous project. This project would put roughly 900+ more residents on the corner of Anderson and Russell which is already incredibly impacted with traffic.

It is proposing horrendously inadequate parking, will create complete gridlock all along Anderson Road, Russell Blvd. and the intersection between them (as if Russell Blvd. is not already impacted enough).

This U-Mall proposal is just another mega-dorm charade which just de-motivates UCD to build the needed on-campus housing while also creating costs and enormous impacts to Davis.

This proposal is a lose-lose situation. The City is losing some of the biggest sales tax stores in the City, World Market, The Graduate, Forever 21 and undoubtedly is going to get a non-community oriented retail targeting student needs, like a huge fast food mall.

Proposing a behemoth project like this at that already circulation impacted location which would had devastating impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods and the City as a whole is ridiculous.

On top of everything else, the City presents this right in the middle of the holiday season just like the Mace Ranch Aggie Research park proposal soliciting EIR input. This has become a tradition with the City bringing large projects for EIR "input" right in the middle of the holidays to diminish community participation since people are busy with holiday activities.

Thank you Davisite for bringing this to the attention of the public to give them a "heads up" to give input on this monstrosity U-Mall proposal.

Todd Edelman

Foreword: The following is an edited version of my questions and statement for the November 14, 2019 meeting of the Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission (BTSSC), when my fellow Commissioners and I discussed this item. In order to save time during the meeting and because they are somewhat redundant with my statement I didn't ask the following questions...

Questions:
1 - Why does the Low Parking Alternative in the DEIR not include any reductions in retail parking?
2 - Why does the Low Parking Alternative not consider the possibility of increased provision of housing within the project, i.e. on the surface parking lots, and how it could presumably further reduce regional VMT?
3 - The “significant and unavoidable impacts to Transportation and Circulation” exist partly because UC Davis is in control of areas that could mitigate impacts. Is there an existing entity which brings together - on an equal as normal level - the City of Davis, UC Davis, the developers and the consultant?
4 - Was there a survey amongst current visitors - they are all retail visitors - to U-Mall to determine how e.g. paid parking and alternatives to driving I might affect their choice for how they visit the location?
5 - What is the logistics volume of the current individual purchases at TJ’s or other locations at U-Mall? In other words, are they amounts - number of bags, etc - which could reasonably be considered to be bike-able or bus-able? (In regards to cycling, this should probably be formalized in some way for guidance: I would say it's one bag for a bike share bike*, two bags for a normal bike, up to four or six bags for a long-tail bike or normal bike with trailer and even more with a Dutch-style cargo bike or a combination of the preceding methods!)
6 - How many purchases are currently walked, biked or bussed away from the location?
7 - The following is a design detail, but it can directly impact the space available for e.g. building interiors, as well as cost, so please bear with me: What are the planned dimensions of the elevators used for bicycle access and what will be their capacity, time-wise? (I did ask this at the meeting, noting that some large bikes and bikes with trailers can be close to 10 ft. in length. It's not clear what the developers have in mind and there's nothing in City code to ensure this.)

* A bike share bicycle could easily have more cargo capacity than the current one. This would help it truly meets user needs in Davis and the region.

Recommendations:

Introduction: The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the proposed University Commons has two serious flaws. First is that the “Low Parking Alternative” proposes very few concrete parameters that could otherwise encourage a significant differentiation in the project from others. The second is that the DEIR has not been created based on the fact that UC Davis is an equal partner in a shared district - if only an informal one - of the region’s unique City-Campus.

The re-development of a 1960’s-style shopping center across the street from one of the country’s greenest universities in a city that has the best bicycle transportation in the country and one of the best bus systems for a city of its size, should be required to not only complement these benefits, but also to push them further and increase their value. Preservation of surface parking across the street from the University during a housing crisis is absurd on multiple levels and is very disrespectful to the needs of students struggling to get housing. It’s not a “commons”, it’s still a mall!

It’s unfortunately not the job of an EIR to look at positive impact. But for the purpose of discussion it seems reasonable to suggest that it can be sympathetic. It’s also unfortunate that the Low Parking Alternative in the University Commons DEIR arbitrarily limits its parameters. I say “arbitrarily” because while it appropriately considers an amount of residential parking well under the City’s traditional provision and even recent approvals -- it simultaneously does little to address the retail parking situation at the development. There’s a suggestion of various measures, but nothing concrete like the residential number differential in the Alternative. We all deserve credit for more than 50% of people arriving at UC Davis or 30% at junior high by bike, but the approximate 20-25% Citywide modal share leads me to believe that only around 10% of everyone else reaches their work destination by bike, and the even smaller fraction of trips to retail centers by bike makes it clear that the trip-to-the-store-by-bike is one of the biggest mobility challenges in Davis. It’s a challenge that the design of University Commons does not adequately address.

However, the Alternative’s greatest flaw is that it doesn’t look into what it would happen if there were more housing in the same footprint, replacing not only residential parking but also retail parking in both structures and at surface. This would result in hundreds more people living closer to their destination then they currently do. This would decrease VMT, an argument familiar to those that supported the “Nishi 2.0” project and others. Decreasing VMT is a topic mentioned throughout the DEIR.

I don’t agree with any narrow interpretation that rejects the BTSSC’s input into how much housing should be at the site: If we say that we don’t need so much parking, we should use it for something else: Less parking should mean more housing. Parking is a convenience, housing is a necessity. We have a responsibility to both the City and to our regional partner SACOG to take reasonable measures to decrease VMT, and we can decrease it if hundreds more people can live a short and safe distance by foot, bike or bus to the UC Davis campus, and to the other destinations in the area.

Zooming out a bit, I would consider the whole DEIR tainted and fundamentally flawed, not only because of what amounts to self-censorship of the Low Parking Alternative, but because it places an arbitrary line in a living transportation network. The arbitrary line is Russell Blvd. The “multiple significant and unavoidable impacts to transportation and circulation” - as stated in the report - cannot be addressed as many of the impacts are under the sole domain of the University. To use an analogy from the medical field, this makes it impossible to treat the whole person. UC Davis needed to be a full partner in the DEIR, perhaps based on some kind of temporary district. The Russell Corridor project is coming soon, but is unlikely to form the necessary basis for this temporary district.

In sum, in two major aspects the DEIR is fundamentally-flawed. The narrow view of its most climate-repairing Alternative is nevertheless not truly onboard with City policy. The formal or perhaps legal basis or structure that requires this DEIR is not based on the reality of a dynamic and shared area of the City and campus… the City-Campus. There are some design details which could be addressed now, but they are not the main problems.

Thus it is the recommendation of this Commissioner to the Council and other City bodies that this DEIR needs to be rejected, and returned to us only after the Low Parking Alternative has significantly expanded features, and it is created on the basis of a formal and more equal participation between the City of Davis and UC Davis.

*******

At the BTSSC meeting Commissioner Mike Mitchell made the following motion, which I seconded though it was more limited than what I asked for - it was nevertheless closer to it then any other opinion presented during the discussion:

"The BTSSC cannot recommend that the University Commons project move forward because impacts to bicycle facilities, pedestrian facilities, and to study intersections, as identified in the Draft EIR, remain "significant and unavoidable".

Vote: Aye: Andrews, Edelman, MItchell; Nay: Gudz, Jacobson, Patel.

Motion Fails. (Further details will be the meeting minutes, which will be available in draft form by the end of this week.)

*******

In regards to Eileen Samitz's comment above:

* The "traffic" she refers to is caused by people using cars, not people.
* The local streets north of and surrounding the project space has extensive resident-only parking permits, and it could be expanded.
* Forever 21 and the Graduate are already closed; the future retail capabilities are likely robust and in my opinion certainly more so if this becomes a much denser project with more housing and perhaps even more retail in place of all the surface level parking, surrounding a nice square (not a patio on the side of a parking lot, like with E St. Plaza...)
* About a "charade" and the University's responsibility, the project is part of the "City-Campus" I mention above, but this is not recognized in the formal structure of either entity, and thus we have an EIR with one hand tied behind its back. My suggestion of a City-Campus District should probably be a permanent feature that could improve the actual mobility (and beyond) interplay of the two entities.... with a true Commons quality. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commons

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