On May 10, the Davis Planning Commission approved a Conditional Use Permit for a parking lot with solar shade at 815 Third Street, for Davis Ace Hardware customers.
According to the staff report, there would be a 2000-square-foot solar shade structure that would cover half the parking lot. This would provide weather protection for a loading area as well as produce about 30 kWh of electricity.
The project calls for the construction of a foot path that would provide a new direct pedestrian access to a new entry into the existing Ace Hardware building from the parking lot.
“The current proposal will permit demolition of the 2,400 square-foot metal storage building and the two small storage sheds, while the 400 square-foot breezeway and the 800 square-foot storage building will be retained,” staff writes.
The decision – as has previously been reported in the Vanguard – has been appealed, but staff is recommending that council deny the appeal and allow the plan to proceed.
Staff writes, “The proposal is an appeal of staff, HRMC, and PC actions to permit onsite at grade parking lot that includes solar shade for an existing business in the Central Commercial district, ACE Hardware.
“The basis for approving the appeal would be a determination that the Planning Commission erred in its approval of the entitlements,” they continue. “Denying the Appeal would uphold the project approval. Approving the Appeal would deny the project. Any action of the City Council is final.”
Staff finds, “Based on the analysis staff cannot conclude that the Planning Commission erred in granting its approval of the applications.”
Staff, HRMC (Historical Resources Management Commission) and PC (Planning Commission) agree that the reduced project is: “still an improvement over the existing condition of the subject site relative to this portion of the parcel,” also “consistent with the DDTRN [Davis Downtown and Traditional Residential Neighborhoods] Design Guidelines, Zoning Ordinance, Core Area Specific Plan and General Plan,” and “an upgrade to the existing business and use in the Central Commercial district to accommodate the applicants’ established needs.”
The appellant argues several points in opposition to the project.
First, “The project is not being proposed in a vacuum. We are confronted with formidable climate, fiscal, housing & commercial space shortage crises. The project undermines formally adopted community policies, objectives and goals developed to meet these crises. We have many unmet needs that could be meaningfully addressed with sustainable, efficient development of the subject site.”
Second, “The project is inconsistent with the GP [General Plan], the CASP [Core Area Specific Plan] and the Design Guidelines (note: there is no exemption for multi-parcel property owners). The project fails to meet a multitude of stated principals, goals and objectives. We recognize the project was initially already approved in June 2016, but that approval was granted in error. It should be vacated now that the initial project has been abandoned.”
Third, “At initial approval, commissions and staff recognized the project was problematic, ‘The existing and intended uses of the project site do not perfectly align with the planning policy vision along the 3rd Street corridor…'”
Further, “The project is not consistent with every Design Guideline for this area…”
And, “…a project with primarily ground floor storage and parking is inherently conflicted with certain guidelines.”
Fourth, “In June 2016, City staff, recommended project approval, despite inconsistencies with planning documents, by focusing on the merits of the proposed 8,248 sq. ft. ‘mixed-use’ building. And, “…the proposal is in keeping with certain principles of Core Expansion North, such as mixed-use buildings and intensification.
“The rational for planning approval has now evaporated with the abandonment of the ‘mixed-use’ building.”
Fifth, “The project is a downtown gateway site, within the Third Street Special Character Area. It is identified as a ‘Mixed-use opportunity site.’
“The Guidelines state: “Encourage the development of opportunity sites in the Core and expansion and transition areas as mixed-use residential projects supporting sustainable development patterns.”
Sixth, “To provide perspective, the Chen Building, covering a similar area, has 24,000 SF of retail, office and residential space. The Chen Building provides economic activity, living space and attractive architecture. It is conducive to alternative transportation modes while enhancing the pedestrian experience.
“The proposed project does not.”
Seventh, “The stated purpose of the CASP is to ensure the Core Area functions ‘in a manner that enhances pedestrian activity.’ The project does the opposite; it detracts from the bicycle and pedestrian experience.”
The CASP specifically states, “On-site parking shall not be placed In front of buildings along sidewalks; there shall be unbroken pedestrian walks and short walking distances between uses. This facilitates window shopping, browsing, people watching and social Interaction.”
Finally, “As a project justification, the applicant states, ‘the absence of progress on the now 3 year old Downtown Parking Management Plan and the recent announcement by the City Council of their intention to convert Downtown surface lots to long term parking.’
“It should be noted that the applicant has steadfastly lobbied to delay the implementation of the Downtown Parking Task Force recommendations and continues to do so.”
In response, staff notes that they believe “the applicant has identified its needs for the existing business, and has requested improvements to accommodate the needs, such as loading and offloading, dedicated customer parking spaces, and security.”
They add, “The City is launching an update to its Core Area policies and zoning, which is the opportunity for a comprehensive evaluation of goals and development expectations for the downtown. Future developments, including potential redevelopment of this parcel, will be evaluated in light of the new policies when they are adopted.”
Furthermore, they note that Staff, HRMC and the Planning Commission have “all found that the project complies with applicable DDTRN Design Guides, Central Commercial zoning standards, Core Area Specific Plan, and General Plan.”
They added that “staff does not believe the prior approval was made in error.”
Staff also adds, “The applicant’s position on parking policy issues are not relevant to the Conditional Use Permit and Design Review processes. Staff, HRMC, and PC decision to support the proposed onsite parking lot with the solar shade structure was based on compliance with applicable design guidelines, development standards, policies and goals.”
Staff concludes: “The Zoning Ordinance establishes surface parking lots as conditionally permitted uses within the Core Commercial Zoning District. The purpose of the Conditional Use Permit is to allow proper integration into the community of uses which may be suitable only in specific locations in a zoning district, or only if such uses are designed or laid out in a particular manner on the site or lot.”
Staff finds the proposed project appropriate in this location for the following reasons:
- This block of 3rd Street is not identified as a “Principal Pedestrian Connection Street” in the Core Area Design Guidelines.
- This parking lot is only a portion of a larger property containing the Davis ACE hardware building. Allowing a parking lot on the site is appropriate, while not precluding future development of more intense uses when the property owners so propose. Hardware stores are unique in that they require loading and offloading parking spaces for bulk items. For instance, Hibbert Lumber, north of 5th Street, has a private parking lot that serves customers, including loading and offloading.
- Providing private parking to serve the hardware, lumber, and nursery uses supports existing business needs.
- The Planning Commission majority action considered the fact that approval of this proposal is a support of existing local business.
- The proposed improvements provide an accessible pedestrian connection to the building from 3rd Street. Pedestrians entering the store now are required to pass through or across the alley west of the building.
- The appellants seem to want “something more” at this site than what is currently proposed. If there is a community desire to see more intense or mixed-use development at the site, then the right regulatory environment and incentives need to be present to entice such private investment. Such “big picture” visioning is ideally suited to the upcoming CASP update process wherein entire properties can be considered for their potential.
—David M. Greenwald reporting