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Analysis underway on proposed Aggie Research Campus

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

As currently proposed, the Aggie Research Campus would consist of more than 2.6 million square feet of innovation center/business uses and 850 residential units of various sizes and affordability.

project details - measure B Davis

By: Anne Ternus-Bellamy | November 6, 2019 | The Davis Enterprise

Analysis of the Aggie Research Campus — a 185-acre mixed-use development proposed for land adjacent to Mace Boulevard north of I-80 — continues, with the Davis City Council voting Tuesday to authorize preparation of a supplemental environmental impact report for the project.

The supplemental EIR will examine the impacts of any changed conditions since the city certified the original EIR — for what was then called the Mace Ranch Innovation Center — in 2017. Likely to be of particular interest to many: how the Aggie Research Campus, which would include 850 housing units and more than 4,000 parking spaces, would impact traffic conditions at the already congested Mace/I-80 interchange. According to city staff, preliminary analysis of traffic conditions by Fehr & Peers suggests the ARC project may result in a substantial increase in the severity of traffic impacts identified in the original EIR. The original MRIC proposal was placed on hold by the development team in 2016 after an economic analysis indicated the project would generate less than half the revenue of similar innovation projects.

As proposed, the MRIC would have included 212 acres at the site, including 1.5 million square feet of research and development space, 884,000 square feet for manufacturing, 160,000 square feet for hotel space and 100,000 square feet for retail and restaurants.

After the economic analysis performed by Economic & Planning Systems in 2016 proved disappointing, the project applicants — Ramco Enterprises, Inc., Buzz Oates and Reynolds & Brown — withdrew the proposal from consideration. However, they did request that the City Council certify the environmental impact report that was prepared for the project, which the council did in 2017.

Over the summer, the applicants formally requested that the city recommence processing the innovation center application so the project can eventually be put to a Measure R vote. This time the project, now called the Aggie Research Campus, would include housing.

Just starting

Davis City Manager Mike Webb noted at the City Council’s Oct. 8 meeting that the city is in “the very initial throes of undertaking analysis and review” of the Aggie Research Campus and at that meeting asked the council to appoint a council subcommittee — comprised of Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida and Councilman Dan Carson — to work with staff and also to approve a contract with Economic & Planning Systems to undertake a new economic analysis of the project — one to be paid for by the applicants. This week, the council was asked to authorize a contract with Raney Planning & Management — who performed the original EIR — to prepare a supplemental EIR paid for by the applicants.

According to city staff, because that original EIR included a mixed-use alternative for the project like the one applicants have proposed this time around, a supplemental EIR is adequate.“Raney currently believes that a supplement to the MRIC EIR would be the appropriate (California Environmental Quality Act) document given that the ARC project would likely necessitate minor changes to the overall analysis contained in the MRIC EIR,” staff reported.

As currently proposed, the Aggie Research Campus would consist of more than 2.6 million square feet of innovation center/business uses and 850 residential units of various sizes and affordability. The 185-acre site would include space for office, research, and development, laboratories, advance manufacturing uses, limited supportive retail services, a hotel, and conference center. And while large projects such as the Aggie Research Campus rarely encounter smooth sailing through the city’s approval process — one which will once again include a Measure R vote — the ARC has been the subject of controversy early on, with complaints by some members of the public that the city is not being transparent in the process.

Advise and consent

Of particular concern to them: the ARC-related items approved by the council at the last two meetings were placed on the consent calendar. Items placed on the consent calendar generally are those that will generate no public discussion or opposition. The Aggie Research Campus clearly doesn’t fit the bill for some Davis residents.

“It’s unfortunate that these wound up on the consent calendar,” Colin Walsh said at the Oct. 8 council meeting. “Where is the city discussion?“This is a terrible way to govern,” he added. Mayor Brett Lee responded that night that “what we were asked to do on consent does not seem controversial at all.”Rightfully, people have very many concerns over the process and what it would look like, (but) this is the very front end of the process,” Lee said. “We as a council are not required to approve the project at all, with or without housing. There are no constraints on us at all. I am keeping an open mind on this…”

And even if the council does ultimately approve the Aggie Research Campus, it would still go to the voters who would have the final say, Lee added.

Councilman Will Arnold was “baffled” by the criticism, saying at that Oct. 8 meeting that “we have folks in our community who already have decided that they don’t like this project. That’s their prerogative … What we are doing today is to appoint a committee and to study this.”What the council was doing Tuesday was authorizing preparation of a supplemental EIR. But the concern of some is that a decision was made to prepare a supplemental EIR rather than a new, subsequent EIR for the project which would examine everything.

Additionally, that decision was placed on the consent calendar.

”This ARC would be a massive project … on prime farmland and it deserves to be dealt with thoughtfully,” said Roberta Millstein.

While the council voted unanimously to move forward with the Raney contract, Lee suggested to his colleagues that in the future, items related to the project not be placed on consent.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.

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