Council hears from public; delays decision on University Commons

Brixmor, which has owned University Mall for 14 years, initially planned to modernize the 52-year-old mall, but in talks with city staff, was encouraged to add residential units as well. Courtesy graphic

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Council hears from public; delays decision on University Commons

After hearing from around 100 members of the public over the course of nearly three hours on Tuesday, the Davis City Council voted after midnight to continue to Aug. 18 the discussion — and a vote — on the University Mall redevelopment project.

It’s not the first time the sheer volume of public comment during the Zoom era has required a major vote to be delayed.

With members of the public able to leave their comments via voice mail even before the meeting began, the council entered Tuesday night’s public hearing on the project knowing they had at least 97 voice mails to listen to, prompting Mayor Gloria Partida to suggest to her colleagues that their deliberation and vote following the public hearing be delayed to a later date in order to ensure other items still on the agenda after the University Mall item could be heard.

Well after midnight, after listening to every one of those comments plus a handful more, the council voted unanimously to do just that.

But before voting to continue the item, council members did provide city staff as well as mall owners Brixmor with questions they wanted answered and also provided a sneak peek at the concerns they have about the project.

Similar to objections raised in May by the Davis Planning Commission — which unanimously voted to oppose the project — council members voiced concerns about the affordable housing component, the prevalence of four-bedroom units geared toward students and the sheer size and scale of the project.

University Commons, as the proposed mixed-use development would be named, would replace the existing aging mall on Russell Boulevard between Anderson Road and Sycamore Lane.

The mall would be razed — except for the Trader’s Joes building — replaced by up to 264 apartments of varying sizes over 136,000 square feet of retail and office space.

As they did when the proposal went before the planning commission in May, many residents of adjacent neighborhoods voiced their objections Tuesday night to the sheer size of the project — six or seven stories tall — and the impact the project would have on nearby traffic and parking.

That University Commons would “destroy the character of the neighborhood” was an objection heard more than once on Tuesday.

Those objecting to the project, however, were outnumbered during a public comment period where a sizable number of UC Davis students weighed in in support of the project. Many of them expressed shock that the planning commission had opposed the project.

City Council members, however, mentioned many of the same concerns planning commissioners did and requested additional information in order to help them make their decision.

Councilman Dan Carson wanted more details on how rental agreements will work — if the complex will be leased by the bed, the bedroom or the unit.

Additionally, he wanted to know how the affordable component will work. With 5 percent of units to be leased to individuals earning 80 percent of area median income, Carson said he needed more specificity for determining people’s incomes whether they are students or not.

He also requested information on what the commercial mix at University Commons would be — specifically, how much sales-tax generating retail and restaurants will be there versus office space.

Councilman Will Arnold also requested additional information on how units and beds would be leased as well as how affordable the affordable options will be.

Speaking specifically about the plan for up to 45 percent of units to have four bedrooms, Arnold noted that “more than half of the beds are in a four-bedroom unit.”

The council, he noted, has approved several student-oriented projects in recent years and questioned whether another was needed, adding that he would prefer no units with more than three bedrooms.

Arnold also shared the view of residents who live in the vicinity and object to the height of the project.

“Folks called it a seven-story wall and it’s hard to argue with that,” he said. “It has to be something that fits into the neighborhood.”

His comments were echoed by Councilman Brett Lee, who said, “I believe seven stories is just too tall.”

Lee also requested more information on how beds or units will be leased. Leasing beds or bedrooms separately, he noted, would not work well for everybody.

“I’m concerned that by the very nature … of the leasing agreement, this precludes non students or folks that would actually like to have a full two-bedroom unit or four-bedroom unit for themselves and their family or themselves and their friends,” Lee said.

Vice Mayor Lucas Frerichs said he, too, shared concerns about renting by the bed, particularly as it relates to the affordable component.

Additionally, he said, “I’m concerned we’ve done a lot of student-oriented housing” and asked whether there could be more studios as well as one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments in the mix and fewer four-bedroom units.

Mayor Gloria Partida, meanwhile, noted everyone on the council was “on the same page” with regard to questions about the mix of units and affordability. She also wanted more information on the amount of sales tax being collected now at the businesses that remain in University Mall versus what is projected in the proposal.

With the council scheduled to head into the August recess after Tuesday’s meeting, City Manager Mike Webb suggested continuing the meeting to either next week or Aug. 18 when the council was expected to be on call. At that point, staff and the applicants could provide answers to council members’ questions in advance of a vote.

Brixmor representatives expressed a preference for the latter date, which is what the council unanimously agreed to.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy. 



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