Three hours of public comment. Three hours more of commission member deliberation. A meeting that lasted until almost 1 a.m., and still no recommendation from the city’s Planning Commission to the City Council on The Cannery.
Perhaps it was appropriate: After being reminded Wednesday for three straight hours by a standing-room-only crowd of all the different community interests that must be weighed before approving the housing development, the commission found itself with too many issues left to discuss to reach a consensus and a recommendation.
Or maybe the lengthy public comment period in the first place was the reason the group didn’t have enough time, or energy, to make a decision before adjourning, agreeing to continue the public hearing to another meeting.
But whatever the reason, at the late hour, with unresolved concerns about an incomplete development agreement and the other necessary documents the commission was asked to approve — not to mention the laundry list of issues associated with the design of the neighborhood — there was too much left on the table.
“What is our role in terms of going to City Council?” said commission chairman Rob Hofmann. “They want us ironing out as much of this at our level as possible. If we’re basically going to punt the entire thing to them, then there’s no point in us going through this process.”
Instead, the commission will meet again on Oct. 9 to work through the items that members said still need to be addressed and make its recommendations to the council, which has final say on whether the project should be approved.
The City Council will host three meetings on The Cannery, starting on Oct. 22, with the final decision scheduled for Nov. 19.
The Cannery, billed as a multigenerational neighborhood, would offer 547 units of low-, medium- and high-density housing; 15 acres of mixed-use and commercial and office space; bike paths, parks and greenbelts; a neighborhood center; market hall; amphitheater; and an urban farm.
Proposed for a 100-acre chunk of undeveloped land in North Davis, north of East Covell Boulevard and east of F Street, the site falls within city limits and does not require a Measure J/R public vote. It’s the last large piece of undeveloped property in the city.
While there were no real surprises about what concerns the public had — bicycle connectivity and access (especially at the southwest corner of the property), senior housing, low-carbon impacts of the housing and more — commissioners raised several new questions about the project that have not been widely discussed.
Hofmann and commissioner Marilee Hanson, for example, questioned why the development agreement allowed ConAgra Foods Inc., the developer, to give back the land to the city that’s supposed to be dedicated for affordable housing after only five years if it cannot get the federal tax credits it needs to build the housing.
“Why are we not having the expectation that the funding for this (be guaranteed by the developer)?” Hofmann said. “Why is the city taking the gamble with this? … In terms of dealing with the tax credits and in terms of getting another development to do that, why isn’t the onus on the developer to have that happen?”
Earlier, commissioner Cheryl Essex brought up the fact that 353 trees on the project site, many of which are native valley oaks, are proposed to be removed if the project is allowed to move forward.
Essex suggested that as part of any recommendation to the council, all valley oaks with trunks at least 5 inches in diameter be saved.
Hofmann, meanwhile, had serious concerns about the development agreement — the document that, among other things, essentially binds the developer to the amenities and public improvements it must offer the city in exchange for approval of the development.
“We’re here, this is what we’re supposed to be dealing with on the city side and this is an absolute mess,” Hofmann said. “Our job here is to be protecting the interests of the community and getting the best deal that we can out of this and I don’t see that.”
The exhibits that spell out the commitments ConAgra will make were not included in the staff report.
In any case, while the group still has a multitude of concerns and alterations to the project it would like to see, especially the connectivity issues, which were not largely addressed by the commission Wednesday, no commissioner ever gave an indication that the project wouldn’t ultimately receive an endorsement.
Commissioner Mark Braly, who has been outspoken about his desire for the neighborhood to be built net-zero energy, said he liked the project, but that he’d prefer a recommendation to the council that included a stipulation that the city hire a consultant to look at the cost of building all the homes net-zero in order to determine whether it would raise the price of the homes.
Hanson and commissioner George Hague both said they’d like to see more single-family homes to serve the senior housing needs.
“My own particular set of concerns go to the emergency vehicle access, universal design, the number of single-story homes,” Hague said.
“I can’t say that I’m fully satisfied on any of those issues, nevertheless, I can say I believe this particular developer is responsive, listens and I have confidence that with the proper wording of suggestions by this Planning Commission that we can move this favorably, with some exceptions, to the City Council.”
— Reach Tom Sakash at email@example.com or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash