by George Warren

DAVIS (CBS13) – Despite receiving the unanimous blessing of Davis city leaders a year ago, the developer behind a proposed 706-bed student housing project can’t break ground until he gets past a local environmental activist’s objection.

The Lincoln40 off-campus housing project would provide 706 beds for UC Davis students. Source: HighBridge Properties

A court hearing scheduled Friday in Woodland could get the project moving again.

“It’s frustrating. It isn’t fair,” said Paul Gradeff of HighBridge Properties, who purchased the six-acre site on Olive Drive five years ago.

Gradeff says he spent roughly $500,000 on an environmental impact report that was ultimately approved by the city council last March.

“I thought we were done,” he said.

But then Davis architect and consultant Susan Ranier, whose website says she specializes in sustainable development, filed a petition to block the project, claiming the environmental study was inadequate.

Ranier declined to comment on her lawsuit, referring questions to her Sacramento attorney, Patrick Soluri.

Soluri told CBS13 his client’s motives are pure and not driven by anything other than her concern for the health and well-being of her community.

“She’s a true believer,” Soluri said.

Soluri also represents Ranier in an environmental challenge to a second large-scale student housing project nearby called Nishi, which would offer housing to 2,200 UC Davis students. Both sites sit adjacent to Interstate 80.

“Both projects are in a horrible location,” Soluri said, claiming their proximity to the freeway will “force students to breathe contaminated air.”

In a city where the vacancy rate hovers at near zero, UC Davis students who spoke to CBS13 said they would welcome new rentals.

“There’s just too many students and not enough space,” said graduating senior Karina Montoya. “A lot of people end up having to move to Sacramento or Woodland to try to just find somewhere.”

Gradeff had planned on opening Lincoln40 in the fall of 2020. He said the delay, along with legal expenses, has cost well over $1 million.

Although the judge considering Ranier’s petition indicated in a tentative ruling he’s inclined to toss it out, the project opponent will have an opportunity to present a final argument at Friday’s hearing.