I have mixed feelings on the need to do a new General Plan. Or at least a full new one. An update of the Core Area Specific Plan (CASP) with updates on sustainability goals might be sufficient. But one thing is very clear, we need to do a new Core Area Specific Plan and we probably should at least have the framework for building heights in the core before we decide on Trackside.
The issue of Trackside and discussions that we had in the comment section have cemented my belief that we need to work out the policy here first before we approve the specific project.
So again, let me explain that this is not an argument for or against Trackside itself. There are a lot of other considerations at work and I think the neighbors have a number of valid concerns, especially those on the southwest portion of I Street just north of 3rd Street who will have their views fundamentally altered by the project.
When Trackside proposed a six-story building, it was an easy call to oppose it as too large for the spot. On the other hand, I believe that a two-story building is too small. As some have pointed out, given all the requirements we put on development, given land costs and construction costs, a two-story building is simply not viable.
Moreover, from a philosophical standpoint, I think putting a two-story building anywhere near the center of town is inefficient land use.
Does that mean that a four-story building is just right? In principle, perhaps so. In practice, in this specific case, I’m not ready to weigh in.
This is where I think we need guidance from the city’s planning documents. And given that the current Core Area Specific Plan was adopted in November 1996 (two months after I moved to Davis), I think it is time for a full update.
For example, it 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. In the Downtown Core (Retail Stores) area, the first floor of buildings shall be pedestrian oriented. On-site parking shall not be placed in front of buildings along sidewalks; there should be unbroken pedestrian walks and short walking distances between uses.”
Moreover, I think that one key to the downtown area is to put five- or six-story vertical mixed-use buildings where there are currently mostly one- and two-story buildings. That would allow for the ground level to be devoted to retail and pedestrian foot traffic, office space on the second floor, and then some residential uses on the upper floors.
In the absence of Redevelopment Agency (RDA) money, it is difficult to see how this will take place in any sort of rapid fashion, but rather it will likely be an evolutionary process that occurs over the next 20 to even 50 years.
Given the reluctance of citizens, including myself, to want to develop on the periphery, densification in the downtown area makes the most sense to meet both our commercial and housing needs.
If we set the downtown at 5 or 6 stories, that means, if we have a transition area, it will need to be along the periphery of the downtown that slowly transitions into the neighborhoods.
Trackside runs to the east of the railroad tracks but to the west of the residential neighborhood, which, it seems to me, puts it as a key transition area.
If you go up to six stories in the downtown, then it makes little sense to have a two-story Trackside. On the other hand, the neighbors can argue that a four-story building across the alley from one- and two-story homes might not make much sense either.
The residents in Old East Davis bring up important points. But to me they illuminate why we need to update the Core Area Specific Plan to lay guidance.
I agree completely with the view that, over the last few years, the downtown has built some buildings that are only a few stories in height, which again is a waste of precious land space in a key area.
Professor Emeritus John Lofland in his blog post pointed out a few days ago that “the brouhaha over Trackside is in part a result of an historical error appearing on pages 74 and 75 of the Davis Downtown and Traditional Neighborhood Design Guidelines.”
Trackside proponents, Professor Lofland notes, “point to the historical fact that the Davisville north-south railroad corridor development was of larger scale than the areas to the east and west. The scale of the proposed Trackside building is therefore simply a continuation of the large scale of the Downtown Rail Corridor that was created at the founding of Davis and that persisted until not very long ago. Trackside is consistent with, and is in the spirit of, that history, the argument goes.”
On the other hand, the opposition, he writes, sees this as calling for “a transition zone from downtown, from taller buildings to smaller residences . . . .”
He argues here that the opponents read the document correctly as a “transition” is implied in the title.
Professor Lofland then notes that he was a participant in the guidelines back in 2000, and that “no one, including especially me, was especially aware of (and/or appreciated the significance of) the hefty scale of structures along the tracks from the start of Davisville.
“The physical fact is that at the time the Guidelines were developed in the year 2000 period, evidence of that Rail Corridor’s former scale was not obvious.”
He concludes, “It follows that the Trackside Opponents are correct in using the Guidelines to support their opposition and to argue for ‘transition.’ But their advocacy is based on an historical error.”
While fascinating, where does that get us now nearly two decades later? Again, I think it gets us to the need to set the maximum height in the core area, which I would argue should be five to six stories, and that would put the height in the transition area at three to four stories.
That probably means that Trackside will have to go down to three stories to gain approval, although four stories might not be unreasonable.
Is that enough for the neighborhood? I don’t know. Does that pencil out for the developer? I’m not sure about that either.
But what I am sure about is that we should not set the height of Trackside until we figure out what the core area looks like.
—David M. Greenwald reporting