On May 28, the Planning Commission voted 3-2 to allow developers to create a small, eight-unit infill development called the Paso Fino subdivision. The matter is currently scheduled to be taken up by the city council after they return from their break in late August.
The Paso Fino subdivision is located at 2627 E. Covell Boulevard on a 0.79-acre private property, and 2675 Moore Boulevard (a 0.75-acre public property). It is surrounded to the south by Covell Boulevard and to the north, east and west by an improved Neighborhood Greenbelt parcel.
The Hausslers built a single family home in 1966, but the home is now unoccupied. When Wildhorse was build in 1998, land was created as a private buffer to benefit the Haussler property both the city and developers claim, and protect them from the homes built in Wildhorse. That land is currently designated as greenbelt.
The plan calls for the existing residence to be demolished and the reconfigured property would result in eight units.
In 2009, the city approved a four-unit development on the subject site, which requires a land transaction between the city and the property owners for the westerly greenbelt land. That plan would have retained the greenbelt to the east. However, the land transaction was never executed and therefore the approval was never effectuated, according to the staff report.
Staff notes, “The current proposal would change the easterly greenbelt to Residential Low Density designation in order to allow the proposed eight-lot residential subdivision. This land use designation change to accommodate the proposed project does not include the land transaction negotiation. However, approval of this land use change request is subject to the City Council approval of the land transaction, a separate action.”
“(This) was meant to be an innovative experiment,” Developer Dave Taormino said. “We should embrace all of the policy and debates about neighborhoods, aging in place in particular. So we have four single story houses.”
The plan, however, is not without its controversy. At the Planning Commission meeting, about a dozen neighbors objected to the fact that the city would sell a greenbelt for development.
The Planning Commission itself was divided, as it was a 3-2 vote to support the changes, with Cheryl Essex and Merilee Hansen in opposition and two members absent.
One of those neighbors who has spoken out is Claudia Morain, formerly a spokesperson for UC Davis. In an op-ed in the Davis Enterprise, she wrote, “The city of Davis, perhaps for the first time, is considering selling a greenbelt to a private developer.”
“Many in Davis are deeply concerned about the proposals and the precedent they would set,” she wrote. “About 15 of us from the immediate neighborhood and beyond attended the hearing. I had one main question: Does Davis have a policy governing the sale of greenbelts to developers?”
Ms. Morain, who maintains the website www.davisgreenbelts.org, adds, “We just don’t think the greenbelts should be used for new housing.”
Mike Webb, the city’s Director of Community Development, told the Vanguard that the greenbelt here is “not the typical greenbelt configuration” that the public would ordinarily envision as a long, city maintained stretch of grass and vegetation that people can walk or bike through.
Rather, it is a stretch of trees and brown ground that was specifically designed to buffer the Haussler home from the surrounding neighborhood.
As developer Jason Taormino explained to the Vanguard, from his perspective, “the 2009 Staff report defines the land as a private buffer to benefit the Haussler property and protect them from the new homes that were built in Wildhorse in approximately 1998. The sale of this private buffer in order to promote infill development is reasonable as it is no longer needed to protect the Haussler property from the encroachment from the new neighbors in Wildhorse.”
“The greenbelt on the east side… that was created for the Haussler family, it wasn’t created for the Wildhorse subdivision,” Dave Taormino explained to the Planning Commission.
In the staff report, it noted, “The City does not have any specific guidelines regarding elimination of greenbelt parcels, or what to do when an infill densification project involves the potential to remove an existing greenbelt space. Therefore, this becomes a policy issue to be weighed by the City Council.”
Cheryl Essex, a member of the Planning Commission, noted, “We don’t have policies in the city for selling greenbelts because we don’t sell greenbelts. If the city is going to sell a portion of the greenbelt then there must be a clear public benefit and I don’t believe that increasing housing units is a clear public benefit in this case.”
Marilee Hanson, also a Planning Commissioner, told the Vanguard that because the issue might come back to the Planning Commission, they were advised not to make comments in the press. She directed the Vanguard back to comments she made at the Planning Commission meeting.
“No one ever envisioned that the city would start selling off the Greenbelt,” Ms. Hanson stated. She added, “80 percent of the neighbors here tonight bought their homes never envisioning that that land would be sold off for development except for the four houses which people acknowledged that they knew about and that they support.”
That was a point that was reinforced by Claudia Morain, with whom the Vanguard met a few weeks ago and who expressed the idea that when the neighbors bought these homes, they were sold them noting that it backs up to a greenbelt – that was part of the real estate sales pitch.
Ms. Hanson pointed out that there are many infill units that have been approved. “I don’t think we are so desperate that we have to start selling off Greenbelt.” She would add that people came to this town because of the greenbelts and “they never dreamed the city would start selling them off.”
Mike Webb told the Vanguard he believes that the concerns of the neighbors and others in this regard are overstated.
He said, “The reports of the City putting greenbelts on the market or entering into a new trend of selling parks and greenbelts for private development I think are a bit far-fetched as this is the only property that I can think of that has ever had any such discussions, either current or past (e.g. 2009 where an agreement was reached but not executed). It is also not the typical greenbelt configuration.”
The 2009 Agreement and Issues of Density
Merilee Hanson stated at the Planning Commission, “These people who came up and testified tonight, they (combined) have invested millions of dollars in this area.”
“These are not NIMBY’s,” she added. “No one here has said they’re against development.”
Claudia Morain, in her piece, argued, “The City Council can revive the plan it approved for this piece of property back in 2009.”
She added, “That plan, which also was approved by the Planning Commission, would build four houses on the site. It would not just preserve the greenbelt. It would augment it with a patch of the private land that holds some of Yolo County’s oldest and tallest trees, trees that the Davis Tree Commission believes are irreplaceable. One, a majestic canary pine, is a nesting site for a Swainson’s hawk. Her flights to and from her nest captivate bird lovers throughout Yolo County.”
Dave Taormino said that there are eight lots and they “are equal to or slightly larger than all the neighborhoods around.” He added, “The fact of the matter is they are the same density. We are not terribly densifying.”
He said that the four-project proposal called for estate size lots. He said, while he could build that size, “I thought we should make this an innovative type of neighborhood and that’s why we came up (with the current plan).”
“We’re not overbuilding the site, we’re not proposing to hurt the neighbors,” he said.
However, Bob Hagedorn, a former Planning Commissioner who also lives in the area, told the Vanguard that, while they argued “it was no more dense than the neighborhood, but it is more dense.” The houses, he argued are smaller than all of the homes in the area, the driveway down the center of the development is only 14 feet wide. He said, “It’s a difference in the density because the houses are much closer together, almost like a condo project.”
He stated, “It is filling in, not infill.”
However, Jason Taormino told the Vanguard that the lot sizes are very similar across Wildhorse.
Commissioner Mark Braly asked Dave Taormino if a four-unit development was feasible financially.
Dave Taormino stated, while it might be financially feasible to do four units, “If we thought that was the right plan we would have just done it that way.”
Jason Taormino explained to the Vanguard that they did not want to just do any project, they wanted to do a good project and they felt that a four-unit development of estate size homes was simply bad planning.
He told the Vanguard, “The previous developer did not make an agreement with the neighbors. They went through the normal City of Davis planning process to gain all the necessary entitlements needed.”
“The previous developer believed that building large expensive homes on large lots was best,” Mr. Taormino added. “They were mistaken and freely admit that their plan was not feasible and they did not go through with the land purchase as there was not a demand for million dollar plus homes on that site.”
The Issue of the Removal of the Canary Pines
The plan calls for the removal of a small number of Canary Island Pines – between 3 and 9 depending on the plan. Staff writes, “The Canary Island Pine trees are considered potential urban ‘habitat’ as one of the trees has a potential Swainson’s hawk nest, and the trees provide visual interest.”
Staff adds, “The applicant, consistent with Tree Ordinance, has proposed mitigation measures that the City Arborist/Urban Forest Manager has found to comply with the Tree Ordinance. The mitigation measures proposed consist of a combination of payment of in-lieu fees, on-site planting, and offsite planting of trees.”
Dave Taormino told the planning commission that they are planting 433 new trees to replace the six canary island pines. He said that they ran into complaints about the trees. He argued it was an 8 to 1 ratio of trees planted to remove and “15 years from now the tree canopy with those 433 is going to be a lot greater in the community than it would be saving those trees.”
Jason Taormino explained, “The developers will plant approximately 433 trees on City approved sites along with approximately $23,000 to fund the City’s Street Tree Program. Additionally, they will provide care for the newly planted trees for specific time period. Some of the sites are in the Wildhorse neighborhood: specifically Rockwell and Moore, Greenbelt on Moore/Arneson Park, and the Sandy Motley park. They have proposed to plant more Canary Island Pines on the Wildhorse sites to offset those removed on the Haussler property.”
Eileen Samitz spoke during public comment and noted, “The historical value of those trees (is) a loss that you cannot recapture.” She added, “Please preserve the trees.”
Mr. Taormino also noted that all of the pines are located on the Haussler family property, not public property and so regardless of the configuration, those trees would be removed.
“They’re pretty trees no doubt about that and if there was any way to save them under (the current plan), we would have,” Mr. Taormino told the Planning Commission.
Street Width and Other Safety Issues
The neighbors also had complaints that the street widths are too narrow to accommodate emergency vehicles. They also note they are required to move their garbage to the main road and Claudia Morain showed the Vanguard what that might look like.
Claudia Morain and Bob Hagedorn told the Vanguard that these are narrow streets without real sidewalks. It is a walkable community but not a walkable street. And they are concerned with the layout that has sidewalks at street level with parking between the sidewalk and the road edge.
There are eight foot wide parallel parking spots on either side of the street in front of each home, providing a twenty foot clear path of travel which is sufficient for cars and fire truck access.
Each of the eight homes has two parking spaces in their garage, two parking spaces in the driveway and one space in front of the home.
The single exception is lot eight, which has a single car wide driveway, in order not to infringe upon the root space of one of the Canary Island Pines.
Jason Taormino explained that, as proposed, the street is 36′ wide. Sargent Court is 28′ wide.
He added, “Fire trucks, pedestrians and bicycles will have 20′ ‘in the clear’ for safety on our street. On Sargent Court fire trucks and bicycles only have 12′ ‘in the clear’ and the City has determined that Sargent Court meets safety standards.”
He said, “There are no safety issues associated with the width of our street, traffic speed on our street or safety issues with designing the street so that pedestrians and bicycles walk and ride inside of parked cars rather than outside of parked cars.”
He wrote, “One can see around town that the trend has been to elevate bicycles and pedestrians and make them feel at home – even on busier streets. Our street is a public access point from Moore to Covell and as such the innovative design signals walkers and riders with visual clues that they belong in this space.”
Land Swap Explanation
There was some confusion with who owned the land and how the land would be exchanged. At the Planning Commission, Dave Taormino explained that they currently own the Haussler property.
Jason Taormino explained how the process worked to the Vanguard. “City Staff with Council direction required a fair market appraisal by an appraiser of their choice. The appraisal was completed and we made an offer.”
He added, “The council made a counteroffer to which we responded, reaching an agreement on a cash purchase based on the approval by the City of the final development design. After completing these negotiations we submitted our current Plan ‘A.’ Both Plan ‘A’ and ‘B’ are consistent with our negotiations.”
Mike Webb explained to the Vanguard, “The greenbelt currently creates a horseshoe shaped ring around the east, west, and north sides of the site – effectively insulating the Haussler home from the development that occurred around it.”
“The concept proposed by the applicant would entail selling the eastern and western portions to the applicant, and swapping the northern portion for the southern portion so that the city obtains Covell frontage in the missing chunk where the City does not currently have it,” he continued. “As you can see, the City has the pathway frontage to the east and west along Covell but the piece in the middle is private property.”
Mr. Webb drew up a crude drawing that illustrates this.
None of this is a done deal and the city council will have to weigh in on the greenbelt issue before it is all approved. Currently, that hearing is set for late August.
—David M. Greenwald reporting