One endorsement down, one to go for ConAgra Foods Inc. in its quest to build a residential development on the last large piece of undeveloped land in Davis.
The city’s Planning Commission voted unanimously 6-0 Wednesday to recommend approval of The Cannery project to the City Council.
Planned for a 100-acre parcel of land in North Davis where the old Hunt-Wesson tomato canning plant once operated — just north of East Covell Boulevard and east of F Street — The Cannery is proposed as a 547-unit “multigenerational” residential development.
The housing project also features 15 acres of mixed-use/ business park and office space along East Covell, several miles of internal bike paths, parks, a neighborhood center and an urban farm that runs up the eastern edge of the property, among other design components.
While commissioners were very deliberate in their review of the proposal, their process, which included about 14 hours of work over three meetings, always seemed to be about getting the project right, rather than deciding whether they ultimately would approve the application or not.
However, despite unanimous support for the project generally, the commission worked through many of the concerns the public has raised about the project over the past few months as it has made its way through the city’s review process.
Perhaps no issue earned more scrutiny than the bicycle and pedestrian connectivity of the project to surrounding neighborhoods in North Davis.
To remedy the access issues at the southwest corner of the property, the commission unanimously voted to recommend a different route than what ConAgra has proposed for bicyclists who would head west from the project site.
Agreeing with the preferred plan suggested by Davis Bicycles!, a local bicycling advocacy group, the commission voted that bicyclists leaving from the southwest corner of the property should ride south to the H Street bike tunnel and head west toward the various destinations from there.
ConAgra’s proposal would force bicyclists looking to travel west from the development to ride under the Covell overpass that vaults over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, turn east and pedal up an incline along the south side of Covell, and then once at the top of the ramp, head back west over the overcrossing.
“We heard from both the (bicycle) advisory committee and from Davis Bicycles! that (ConAgra’s plan) doesn’t encourage biking,” said commissioner David Inns. “In fact, they feel it goes in the wrong direction, and also risks safety.
“Parents are not going to want their small children going around, coming up on Covell Boulevard and then having to decide which direction to go, either over the top of (the overpass) or down and all the way over to the bike tunnel.”
As for the southeast corner of the property, also agreeing with a proposal put together by Davis Bicycles!, the commission recommended construction of a grade-separated tunnel somewhere between J and L streets that bicyclists could use to travel from the project site to the south side of East Covell.
Alternate plan rejected
Over the past few months, members of the North Davis Land Company, essentially the same group who proposed Covell Village, the residential development that lost at the polls in 2005, publicized a plan to improve bicycle and pedestrian connectivity from the development to the surrounding community.
Included in that proposal were under- or overcrossings across Covell Boulevard and a vehicle road that would run from the eastern side of The Cannery site across the agricultural land to Pole Line Road.
But commissioners appeared uninterested in this plan.
“The bicycle advocates have not been shy been coming to the microphone (to discuss connectivity issues),” said Commissioner George Hague. “I haven’t heard one of them support this (North Davis Land Company) proposal. The only ones that have come to support this proposal are the ones proposing it.”
Commissioners also spoke at length about potentially reconfiguring the J Street and Covell intersection, the main entrance of the development, into a two-lane roundabout — with pedestrian and bicycle tunnels running underneath it — rather than a traditional signalized intersection.
Commissioner Herman Boschken believes roundabouts tread more lightly on the environment than basic intersections because of the constant flow of traffic through them.
Eventually, with the developer voicing strong concerns against the idea, the commission agreed to recommend that the city look into all avenues to reduce impacts on air quality and safety at intersections, which still could include roundabouts.
After connectivity, the subject most often broached by community members during public comment centered on senior housing.
Scores of seniors have urged the commission to require the developer to build more single-story homes; members of the local organization Choices for Healthy Aging say those homes best serve the senior demographic.
But the commission appeared satisfied with the mix of housing types because of the emphasis on the neighborhood being multigenerational.
“I think the whole concept of the project is to have a multigenerational mixed-use,” said Ananya Choudhuri, who chaired the meeting Wednesday as both chair Rob Hofmann and vice chair Marilee Hanson were unable to attend.
“Turning everything into single-family, single-story homes defeats the purpose of the project.”
Another issue members of the community have raised has been ensuring that the development goes far enough in terms of the sustainability of the housing.
The Valley Climate Action Center, a local group that advocates for reductions in carbon emissions, has been pushing for The Cannery homes to be built net-zero energy.
The developer has committed 1.5 kW of solar power to all 367 single-family homes. But commissioner Mark Braly, who’s also member of the VCAC, made a motion Wednesday that passed 5-1 to recommend that the city hire an independent expert to look at the costs of building all homes as net-zero energy and whether that would significantly raise the cost of the home at time of sale.
With the Planning Commission’s recommendation in hand, ConAgra will now seek approval of the application from the City Council. The council is scheduled to host two initial public meetings on The Cannery on Oct. 22 and Nov. 12 and make its final decision on the proposal Nov. 19.
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash