Depending on your perspective, nights like Tuesday are what make Davis interesting, boring, and/ or at the very least unpredictable. Fifty to sixty people filed into Council Chambers to discuss the future of the Tank House. Ordinary alliances are disrupted for that night and the dispute boils down to two alternatives to the main project.
Alternative 3 is the staff recommended and owner preferred alternative. This alternative calls for a two story building between the Varsity Theater and the Hunt-Boyer Mansion and the Tank House to be demolished, moved, and then reconstructed to the west of a building. Ultimately that project alternative won out by a scant 3-2 vote.
Alternative 5 became the other option on this night. This was Richard Berteaux’s proposal. Quite frankly Rich Rifkin – and the artist rendering – sold me on this alternative, and it became my preferred alternative. This preferred alternative provided a greenhouse-type set up and the broader expanse of open space. Sinisa Novakovic was allowed to speak at length. He made several interesting points. During one point he made he stated that people acted like it would be the “end of western civilization if the tank house is taken down.” He then cited the length of time that nothing has been done in the community to restore the tank house or fix it up.
His choice was to restore it and put up a “beautiful building.” He also suggested that Chuck Roe told him if he did not build three stories, he would not make money. This, he suggested, was evidence that he was putting up vast and considerable personal risk into this project. A claim that I have little doubt, is true.
Barbara King, a long time Davis resident during her comments pretty much summed up a lot of people’s feelings on this project when she expressed regret that she had to oppose Mr. Novakovic and Mayor Sue Greenwald on this project.
In the end, I believed that Alternative 5 was a better project alternative than Alternative 3, that it kept more of the original intact and also created a better feel in a very small space. From the start, the idea of squeezing a building into that narrow space between the Varsity and the Mansion was unsettling.
Rand Herbert, the Chair of the Historic Management Resources Commission (HMRC) argued that the assessment of the impact of moving the tank house on the historic and aesthetic value of the site was opinion rather than fact. In his opinion, adopting alternative 3 would adversely impact two city owned landmarks in order to benefit a private economic entity and he did not feel that was the best approach.
Richard Berteux also spoke at length during the meeting citing the fact that he gave up his seat on the HMRC in order to speak freely on this issue and develop an alternative proposal. He has a strong sense of the value of the Tank House to the Hunt-Boyer Mansion and felt that we were not giving proper value to the importance of what we had there. He further said that he felt open space around both structures were vital and that down the road, the open space might be worth much more than developing this property. Alternative 5 was the best option in his view to preserve and protect this open space.
Tim Allis brought in a petition with 162 signatures as a means to protect the value of historic preservation and open space.
Councilmember Don Saylor was first among the members of the council to speak. Mr. Saylor suggested that some believe that the Tank House is not worth saving, but he called that view uniformed, suggesting that this was a very unique structure. He agreed with the project objectives and the idea of creating new retail commercial development and increasing the vitality on this block. To him it came down between both alternatives 3 and 5, which he suggested in his opinion (and stressed this was subjective) had merit. However, he saw moving the Tank House to the West Side of the building as the preferred alternative and that he believes in his subjective opinion that the Tank House is in a bad location at present. In his view, “alternative 3 is the best option to preserve the tank house in its historic form.”
Councilmember Stephen Souza, in my view, has been consistent in his desire to preserve historic buildings. He was the deciding vote in saving the Anderson Bank Building from drastic alteration, and he lamented during several points in time the lack of historic buildings and sites in Davis–a number that in the core area is just five. He suggested that the historic nature of this site is unique, that nothing like it is in the rest of the city with two historic sites on the same location.
He felt that this project could be done on the other side of the building. While he did not express a preferred alternative, option 5 seemed to be the closest to what he wanted. He also felt that a one-story structure would have been more compatible with the site than a two story structure, which he felt took something away from the site as a whole. He hoped that the site remains in the hands of the city rather than private enterprise.
Councilmember Lamar Heystek spoke at length to this as his most difficult decision that he faced while on the council. He said that there were good people, people he considered friends and allies, on both sides of the issue and that he has kept an open mind throughout public comment. During his comments, it seemed almost as though he were stalling as he thought through his conclusion, but in the end he felt that our standard for economic development should be adaptive reuse on site of historic resources. Councilmember Heystek said that he believes that our neglect of this site–demolition by neglect he called it–was a great crime. He too was supportive of alternative 5 as the best option to hold to the standard of adaptive reuse on site.
As it turned out, Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson was the swing vote on this, since it was obvious to everyone that Mayor Sue Greenwald would be supporting this and she suggested this a number of months ago in various conversations. Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson was inclined for option 3, but she was adamant about the city retaining ownership of the property.
Mayor Greenwald supported alternative 3 as the preferred alternative. She felt this was a compromise arrangement and that it had adequate setbacks to avoid the encroachment on open space of other buildings. She wants this building to be a model of redevelopment and believes that any negative visual and historic impacts can be mitigated.
She then spoke at some length about her vision. She argued it was hard to imagine a vital downtown without independent theaters and independent coffee houses. I doubt anyone disagrees with that view. The only point in question was really what form this should take. Finally, she argued that the bigger threat to downtown and the core and our values was not by this project, but rather by the threat to tear down cottages in the B St Visioning Project. A point that I also wholeheartedly agree with.
In the end, it was a set of unique alliances that pushed this through. Don Saylor made the main motion for alternative 3 seconded by Sue Greenwald.
Stephen Souza made the substitute motion for alternative five seconded by Lamar Heystek. When that motion failed 3-2, the main motion passed 3-2 with Ruth Asmundson joining in. Once again the Mayor Pro Tem pushed for the city to leave open the ownership issue, an idea that was accepted.
In the end, I was swayed toward alternative 5, but on this issue it seems a subjective view as to what alternative best fit the needs for economic development and historic preservation. More troubling to me — yet again — is our neglect of historic buildings in Davis. The issue came up with regards to the Anderson Bank Building and the fact that the city was asked to bail out in essence a private owner who had failed to properly upkeep his property. In this case, as they say, we saw the enemy and it is us. It is us, the citizens of Davis and the city of Davis who failed in historic preservation to the point where the only way that we are able to preserve, is by destroying. This is not a “stomachable” option in my perspective. Our history and our legacy need to be preserved so that future generations can understand where we have come from. I urge the city and those devoted to historic preservation to never allow this to happen again.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting