Though it seems as though this issue has been on the table for a considerable amount of time, the city will finally hear and vote on the EIR for the Hunt-Boyer Tankhouse project.
The Final Environmental Impact Report evaluates the potential environmental impact of a proposal for Mishka’s Cafe that would be located on a portion of the historic Dresbach-Hunt-Boyer Mansion at 604 Second Street in downtown Davis. This project would demolish the existing tank house structure and orange grove at 604 Second Street to accommodate the construction of a new three-story commercial building between the varsity theater and the Mansion, according to the Davis city staff report.
The owner of the site Sinisa Novakovic and the staff report however now support Alternative 3 to the proposal. The third alternative would construct a two-story building in the location instead of three stories. It would remove the remaining orange trees “and disassemble, reassemble, and rehabilitate the Tank House on the west side of the Mansion for potential public use as a visitor information kiosk or private commercial use.”
This alternative was voted down by the Historic Resources Management Commission (HMRC) by a 3-1 with a number of commissioners either absent or recused.
“I believe it would be an indefensible proposition for the city to consider such a step. The General Plan makes it very clear the city should be a leader and example in historic preservation.
However, notwithstanding the value of the tank house, we are ignoring the longer-term view of what is best for the city and the community. This property belongs to the community, and our common benefit must remain the first priority, not private interests or financial gain. Certainly money is important, but should not be the most important consideration.
The most appealing cities have always provided wisely for open space. Here the mansion and tank house sit on a small but valuable patch of open space in the epicenter of the core area, which will only become much denser. Such a patch will be unaffordable in the future. This should be enough reason for preserving the site as it is.”
As current member Rich Rifkin described earlier this month, Mr. Berteux favors alternative 5.
“A-5 would reconstruct the tankhouse, but move it slightly closer to the street, where it would be more visible and slightly closer to the mansion. Along the Varsity wall, Richard proposes an enclosed glass structure for all-weather seating for 50 people. There would be a glass breezeway connecting the side structure to the tankhouse, which would be used for food service and preparation. And there would be seating in the plaza for around 50 people.”
Mr. Rifkin also described his interchange with Mr. Novakovic at the HMRC meeting:
“I asked Sinise a few questions. It was my question about his thoughts on the 2-story proposal which brought out the news that he now favors A-3 over the proposed project. I then asked him how he felt about Richard’s “greenhouse” idea. Sinise said that it wouldn’t work for him, because it has too little space for food preparation and storage.
However, I think the problems Sinise pointed out are resolvable. Because Richard is moving the tankhouse north somewhat, there is plenty of unused space on the property south of the tankhouse, which could be used for a larger food prep space and storage. I imagine it could connect with the tankhouse by yet another glass breezeway.
Sinise also told me that he didn’t think my idea — to use the mansion as a restaurant with outdoor seating on the plaza — was workable, the big problem being the way it is off the street and without front-window exposure. He thinks the mansion might work for a high-end restaurant, but only one with an established clientele.”
The illustration of Mr. Berteux alternative idea appears courtesy of Mr. Rifkin.
The Davis Historical Society has several notable critiques of the proposal including a lengthy response and critic of the EIR by Valerie Vann which is excerpted here.
Ms. Vann provides an analysis of the Alternative 5:
“Alternative 5 does, however, have some troubling aspects in terms of meeting the Secretary’s Standards as a re-use/rehab of the Tank House: the loss of the historic west side window; presenting a blank wall to the east bay window of the Mansion; being moved directly opposite to the bay window and much closer; the kitchen use, which will require plumbing, venting, probably fans and/or air conditioning equipment; a use that may produce steam and high humidity inside the structure. Previous occupancies of the Tank House with similar uses and interior alterations and utility requirements did not prove to be beneficial to the preservation of the historic structure and were probably overambitious considering the size, type of construction, and such characteristics as sloping sides of the structure. (Multiple opening in the siding compromised the structural soundness as well.)”
“Overall, however, it is difficult to see that Alternative 5 is less compatible with or has more impacts on the Tank House and Mansion than other Alternatives that propose moving the Tank House (which produces additional impacts in itself) and constructing a large modern building between the two Landmarks and unrelated to either one of them. The EIR seems to imply that it does.”
There is a general lamentation of “Historic resources” as an “endangered species” in general and “in Davis far more so than in most other places our size.”
She concludes with the following criticism of the project:
“All three of these EIRs evaluated proposed projects found to have Significant and Unavoidable Impacts (i.e. not possible to mitigate to insignificance) in multiple areas of concern, requiring that the City make findings of “overriding considerations”, that is, identify public interests that justify doing significant irreparable damage to the environment. Really good projects don’t have to have significant unavoidable impacts. Projects that do should be very few and justified by truly overwhelming long term public interests.
According to the General Plan (HIS 1.3-Actions), Davis is supposed be a leader in caring for historic and cultural resources. So why is Davis, of all places – where caring for all aspects of the environment is supposedly the city’s motto, not only allowing proposals for private projects with these kinds of unavoidable environmental impacts, but actually itself proposing such a damaging project for public property?”
Once again, the City Council will meet tomorrow evening to discuss this issue and the city staff has recommended along with the property owner Alternative 3.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting