Five Early Thoughts on the Aggie Research Campus

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

"Onsite housing has been included, in part as a way to reduce the need for offsite vehicular trips. Moreover, reducing the need for people to go to Sacramento and the Bay Area for work could help reduce some of the in-town traffic."

affordable housing - Measure B Davis

By: David Greenwald | October 14, 2019 | The Davis Vanguard

We have been talking about Aggie Research Campus (ARC) for months already, but until this past week we had not had an official application to look at.  There remains a lot to look at in the next several months, but the plan is starting to take shape.  Here are some quick thoughts I have on key portions.

Workforce housing – as the project notes: “Include a variety of workforce housing units, diverse in both size and affordability, designed to meet the needs of the innovation center employees, further spur collaboration and technology start-ups, create a hive of activity with people living and working on-site, and thereby reduce project-related vehicular trips.”

Housing is perhaps the most controversial part of this proposal.  But other than the early promise that there would not be housing – as included in the RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) – is there really a good reason not to have it?  We have heard from experts that having housing – especially during a time of housing crisis and in a community where lack of affordable housing is the number one issue – seems essential to the success of any commercial project.

The EIR, such as it was, showed a reduced carbon footprint with housing.  You can argue there may not be enough housing here, but unless you’re actually opposed to any project, it is hard to argue for a project and no housing.

This is not a housing project with some commercial – it is a commercial project with high-density housing. How high a density?  Thirty dwelling units per acre.  That’s not a bunch of single-family homes with a small commercial in the middle (a la Cannery).  This is a 2.6 million square foot commercial project with 850 units of housing.

Will there be affordable housing?  The description notes that there will be a variety of affordability, but affordable housing both large and small “a” will be a central part of this project.

As the description notes: “The housing is planned to include a variety of mixed-use, rental, and for-sale residential options catering to the needs and demands of innovation center employees.” However, “the housing at ARC will not be restricted to employees only but will, consistent with Fair Housing Act requirements, be available to the community at large.”

Thus they are not planning to restrict the housing, but the housing will be designed to meet the needs of employees.  They don’t discuss plans to make it more likely that employees will inhabit the units – other than that the timing of the building of those units will coincide with the creation of a nonresidential development (see below).

Here again, they seek to “[d]evelop a strategic mix of employment and residential uses on-site, introduced in phases to maximize utility, to ensure that the Project does not detrimentally impact the jobs/housing balance in Davis. The mix of uses will allow employees at the innovation center to live within walking distance of work, thereby minimizing vehicular trips, reducing commutes and reducing project-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”

Phasing – It is important to note that the project itself is expecting a 20- to 25-year build out.  That might be optimistic, but that gives the community a sense of the scale of this project.  There isn’t going to be a huge amount of infrastructure and employees plopped down on day one. The housing will be phased as well, with the idea being that they want to create the need for housing first, and then build the housing.

Thus: “Housing will be permitted at the ARC site at a ratio of one unit for every 2,000 square feet of nonresidential development. The goal, if possible, is to time the availability of the homes to be concurrent with the creation of the jobs so that it maximizes the likelihood that employees at the Campus will occupy the units thereby maximizing the environmental benefits of including housing at ARC.”

This means that they will time housing to coincide with the availability of non-residential space.  And remember, they are not likely to simply build the non-residential space.  They will build that space out as the demand is created by commercial entities wishing to reside in the space. They anticipate four phases whereby in the first three they build 270, 350 and then 230 housing units.

Hotel – This is a big thing for me, the inclusion of a hotel/conference center.  The city of Davis almost has a new hotel across the street – the Marriott – completed.  They have broken ground on the Hyatt House.  But the proposed Embassy Suites on Richards is now downsized to the Richards Hotel, and gone is the hotel/conference center.

There are those who will argue that hotel/conferences centers are losing propositions.  The problem we have in Davis os we lack the space to host a major conference.  Even something as small as 500 attendees is a challenge.  We have also lacked the hotel space to accommodate them in town – that means any time we have things like conferences or even soccer tournaments, people are using hotels in Dixon and Woodland, leaking TOT (transient occupancy tax). Having a hotel/conference center can become a big asset for the community as a whole, to host events and prevent TOT leakage.

Traffic – next to housing, traffic seems to be the biggest concern that people have.  I agree traffic will be a problem on Mace Blvd.  It is a problem now.  It will be a problem in ten years.  It is going to be a problem no matter what we do.

I don’t see another logical landing spot for a research campus and so I think we have to bite the bullet here, taking as many steps as possible to reduce traffic.

One reason for the traffic on Mace is that people are using it as a cut-through due to congestion on I-80.  The extent to which two things can be improved on I-80 – lane reduction at UC Davis and back up onto the causeway – the better that flow will be, but both are well out of our hands. Onsite housing has been included, in part as a way to reduce the need for offsite vehicular trips. Moreover, reducing the need for people to go to Sacramento and the Bay Area for work could help reduce some of the in-town traffic.

Parking and Transportation – A reasonable question is how much planning can reduce car trips.  Obviously, even at 850 residential units, that is only a fraction of the expected number of employees at full buildout. They note that there is a nearby Yolo Bus park and ride lot, which will have an improved pedestrian connection to the site, and they will provide dedicated Unitrans stops, a terminus for a dedicated shuttle between the train station and the main UC Davis Campus, and dedicated areas for rideshare and bikeshare services.

They also plan to have significant onsite bicycle and pedestrian features.

Parking will include 4340 spaces – but 100 of those are for the hotel and 850 for housing.  So, for the innovation center itself, there will be just under 3400.

The anticipation is that they will be considerably below the municipal code average of spaces. It will be interesting to see – will the project be attacked for having too much parking (3400 spaces for commercial uses) or not enough parking (it’s not like they can park and walk reasonably)? Personally, on this front, I would like to see some more innovative solutions to transportation that better takes people out of their vehicles and delivers them on site.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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