Yesterday’s column argued that the city may need to update its Core Area Specific Plan (CASP) before examining the new Trackside development proposal.
It was pointed out that the current plan was adopted back in 1996 and states, “Maximum building height shall be reviewed as it applies to the building’s density and relationship to adjacent structures. This has typically been restricted to three stories in the Core Area.”
A resident from Old East Davis writes a letter, published in yesterday’s paper, that makes some valid points of concern about the Trackside project.
The letter writer points out, “I believe in responsible infill, adding much-needed dwelling units and alleviating our housing shortage. But Trackside is not a responsible project for a residential setting.”
He rightly notes that the original proposal for six stories was largely a non-starter.
He points out the guidelines clearly lay out “two to three stories.”
The letter writer notes that “they had to scale back and maybe cajole the city into allowing a four-story building.” He argues that “the latest four-story giant is still out of compliance and is totally unresponsive to our concerns.”
To bolster the point, he notes that “this massive structure is not in the downtown core. It’s in a transition area designated as such, less than 100 feet from the smallest house in the area and many other single-story residential homes.”
As he pointed out, the Core Area Specific Plan section, “New Buildings in Residential Neighborhoods,” (page 84) states, “The single most important issue of infill development is one of compatibility, especially when considering larger developments. When new projects are developed adjacent to older single-family residences, concerns exist that the height and bulk of these infill projects do not have a negative impact on smaller scale buildings.”
The Core Area Specific Plan section on page 86 states, “Because infill projects are likely to be taller than one story, their height and bulk can impose on adjacent smaller scale buildings. The height of new buildings should consider setbacks at the second story.”
What the neighbors want is, “Scale it to the surroundings by following the specific plan and guidelines.”
And I think they have a legitimate point here – the problem is that the guidelines themselves are out of date for what we need to do as a community. Twenty years ago it made perfect sense to put two- to three-story buildings in the core of town. We didn’t have a housing crunch, we didn’t have Measure J/R preventing new development on the periphery.
As I stated yesterday in the column, a CASP will inform us what the downtown should look like into the future. It will create a plan that fits the community’s vision of our downtown. To me it doesn’t make much sense to put a two-story building right next to downtown. To me it especially doesn’t make much sense to put a two-story building right next to downtown if we believe that downtown should develop up to five to six stories.
That’s why I think we need to fix the Core Area Specific Plan – first.
In conversations I have had about this, it has been pointed out to me that many have believed that we needed to do the CASP three or four years ago. They expressed concern about how quickly the city could do such a plan. They expressed concern that it would get bogged down in politics and the normal slow-growth/no-growth debate.
I don’t see any way around that.
As I have stated before – for me this is an issue about process. I don’t know that Trackside is what this community needs. That’s certainly a discussion we should have – probably at the council rather than Planning Commission level, but that is a discussion for another day.
The first order of business is not to do major planning in a piecemeal fashion – and that is what approving Trackside at this point in time would be. Does it make sense to approve a four-story building east of the tracks if we keep the CASP at two to three stories? Does it make sense to approve a two-story building when we are planning to go to five or six in the downtown?
I’d submit that neither of those scenarios makes a lot of sense.
I have already thrown one of my cards down. I believe that two stories is a waste of space. If we have limited land for new development then it is irresponsible to build a new two-story building.
The original proposal of six stories seemed like a non-starter, the neighbors demanded two stories and the developers dropped the proposal down to four stories. The neighbors are still complaining. Does that mean that three stories is the right answer? That I don’t know.
What I do know is that these decisions should not be made in isolation from the bigger questions. We don’t necessarily have to have a final and approved CASP in order to answer them. Instead, we might be able to have preliminary discussions on what heights should look like, both in the core and in the transition zone, and plan according.
That will eliminate the patchwork nature of these developments and bring about some consistency into the future.
In the absence of a new plan, I think Trackside ends up vulnerable to the neighbors’ claims that it violates the CASP. And if they go ahead with a plan independent of the new CASP, you risk creating a new project that doesn’t fit current land use policies. Again, none of that makes sense.
The best solution is to create the guidelines, even preliminarily, and then fit the project to those guidelines.
—David M. Greenwald reporting