Our View

Enough talk, enough debate; let’s build

By From page A12 | November 17, 2013

The issue: Time to turn an old eyesore into a new neighborhood

The Hunt-Wesson tomato plant shut down in October 1999. That’s right, Davis has been dealing with this crumbling, derelict eyesore on the northern end of town for more than 14 years.

IN THAT TIME, we’ve had enough offers, counteroffers, visioning meetings, EIR scopings and community forums to satisfy the most ardent enthusiast of the small-town civic process. One contractor has come and gone, seeing no way through the City Council’s shifting priorities. But the landowner, ConAgra, kept pushing its Cannery project, knowing that Davis needs more housing and that it held the largest remaining parcel inside city limits.

To be sure, the city has driven a hard bargain. Our leaders insisted on unprecedented sustainability, diverse housing and accessibility. Senior groups wanted somewhere to age in place. Bicycle enthusiasts sought integration with the existing two-wheeled infrastructure. And, to its credit, ConAgra and its contractor, The New Home Company, stepped up. The project will include detached homes, lofts, bungalows and flats. Under an agreement with the group Choices for Healthy Aging, single-story detached homes will be an option in three of the project’s neighborhoods.

On the sustainability front, each home will be built to energy efficiency standards 40 percent greener than the state mandate. The single-family homes will have a photovoltaic solar system and wiring to charge an electric car. Every unit will be built within 300 feet of the greenbelts linking the neighborhoods with the mixed-use retail and business space at the southern end.

Not only is 30 percent of the land devoted to parks and open space, but the project also includes an “urban farm.” Run by the Center for Land-Based Learning, this 7-acre space will train future farmers in sustainable practices and provide seasonal produce to residents and businesses in the market area.

ON THE MOST contentious issue — transportation — the builders are pledging $11 million in improvements along Covell Boulevard. The Covell-J Street intersection, the main entry point to the area, will get a facelift, and two grade-separated crossings will allow bicycle access across Covell.

If ConAgra can obtain an easement through the Cranbrook Apartments, a connection to H Street behind the Davis Little League complex will seamlessly link residents with Community Park, North Davis Elementary and Davis High School. Within The Cannery, car-sharing spaces, bike-repair stations and e-vehicle charging stations will help promote a less-congested lifestyle.

The latest issue is the fate of some 300 trees on the property. While the developers should make every effort to preserve the vibrant, healthy trees, the ones in  “poor” to “fair” condition will do little to enhance the neighborhoods, especially five or 10 years down the road.

THE TRUTH IS that Davis needs this project. Its 547 units would go a long way toward satisfying Davis’ fair-share housing requirements (we need to build 1,000 units by 2021). Our growth-challenged school district could definitely use the extra kids who will be growing up there, and those folks who work in Davis but find it too expensive to live here will have more options.

In the long interval since the plant was a healthy part of the Davis economy, it has occasionally served as the site of fundraising carnivals. Otherwise, the ride has been slow and excruciating.

On Tuesday, the City Council is expected to vote on the zoning change that will allow the project to go forward, as well as the final development agreement that provides all the benefits listed above. For the good of the community, the council must end the 14 long years of debate and start Davis toward a greener, brighter future.

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