Randy Pench / rpench@sacbee.com

A mixed-use housing project, with bike paths, an urban farm and a marketplace filled with food vendors and restaurant stalls, is planned for the old “Cannery” site in Davis. It awaits city approval.

Editorial: Davis should approve worthy ‘Cannery’ project

Published: Monday, Sep. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am

The city of Davis should show its support for smart growth by approving an innovative housing, retail and office project on the long-dormant site of an old cannery off the city’s main east-west street.

The project makes sense for a city and region that is concerned about urban sprawl onto prime farmland. As it is envisioned, the project would be an example of infill within city limits, and provide housing in a university town that needs it.

As The Sacramento Bee’s Hudson Sangree and Darrell Smith wrote recently, the project would include small eateries and artisan food vendors, a bike loop and 547 single-family homes and apartments of varied types on roughly 100 acres.

The property owner, ConAgra, and developer The New Home Co., propose 19 acres of park and open space, including a 7-acre farm, organic, of course. There would be retail and office space so people could work near where they live.

Families with school-age children often look to Davis, knowing the public schools are top-flight. But they quickly realize that they are priced out of the housing market and settle in Woodland or other towns.

Houses would run from $350,000 to almost $800,000. The high-end would hardly be affordable for young families. But the project offers a possibility that some families might find homes. Developers also plan to pay attention to the needs of a graying population by including some small single-story homes without yards.

A concrete slab and steel gate is all that’s left of the tomato processing plant. It’s the last large parcel in Davis not zoned for agriculture or open space. That means it could be developed without a vote of the residents, although project opponents threaten a referendum if the council approves the development.

Some critics say they hope the site could be used for manufacturing. The region could use factory jobs. But while the cannery is close to rail line, there is no easy way to transport goods to Interstates 5 or 80, or the airport.

As it’s configured, the project would include two exits for vehicles, and one undercrossing for bicycles and pedestrians. As many a 9,800 vehicles a day would use the intersections.

Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza has been trying to persuade the developers to construct additional paths under Davis’ main east-west street, Covell Boulevard, for bikes and foot traffic. His ideas are worthy, but not if they make the project financially unviable.

Cannery developers promise to pay special attention to energy efficiency, as the city’s environment-conscious residents should expect. Toward this end, the developers ought to pay special heed to foot and pedal power.

Californians have seen too many developers bulldoze local officials, turning prime farmland into shoddy developments that don’t live up to their promises. No one could accuse the developers of ramming through approval of the Cannery project.

The Davis planning commission will hold another hearing this week. The City Council is expected to take up the development in hearings in October and November. The Davis Enterprise and the online Davis Vanguard have been running lengthy reports detailing all aspects of the project. Democracy is alive and well in Davis.

The old Hunt-Wesson cannery closed in 1999. Fourteen seasons later, the city is coming close to approving a replacement. Davis leaders and residents should seize the opportunity, and provide a model for developments elsewhere in the region.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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