Late on Wednesday, just a few hours before the scheduled planning commission meeting at 7 pm, the city announced that they were cancelling the meeting. Earlier that day, developer Jason Taormino emailed city staff and planning commissioners with a revised proposal.
He wrote that the new option accomplishes three things. First, it retains the 50′ buffer on the eastern edge of the property. Second, it allows for garbage trucks to turn around within Paso Fino per Davis Waste Management’s specifications. Third, it retains all nine Canary Island Pines and places them into the City Street Tree Program.
According to the map, the existing buffer – the greenbelt that has become the cause célèbre of this debate, will be retained. And the number of houses will be reduced from 12 units, which included four granny flats, down to eight units.
The city notified the public late on Wednesday afternoon of the cancellation.
According to Mike Webb, the City’s Community Development Director, “The request for continuance was made by the applicant today at 3:10. In circumstances where an applicant requests a continuance, particularly due to changes to their proposal, the City generally grants the request, assuming that the City concurs that the request is not unreasonable. “
He continued, “The Planning Commission Chair and I concurred that continuing the matter to October 8th would be the best approach in light of the submittal of another site plan by the applicant today. The fact that staff, Commissioners, and neighbors would not have the benefit of reviewing the submittal prior to the hearing tonight, combined with potential confusion over exactly what was before the Commission for consideration, were key factors in the determination to re-schedule.”
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 previous plan called 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.
The biggest controversy was illustrated by the removal of the Canary Pines and the selling of a greenbelt to the city.
As we reported in early July, this is not a typical greenbelt arrangement.
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.”
Mike Webb told the Vanguard he believed that the concerns of the neighbors and others in this regard are overstated.
However, as the Vanguard had noted, the issue of the selling of the greenbelt was giving traction to opposition to the project.
As Pam Nieberg and Alan Pryor wrote, “Because the City of Davis does not currently have a policy addressing the sale of greenbelts and has never sold such parcels for development in the past, the Yolano Group is very concerned that this transaction to sell greenbelts to a private developer to accommodate this project could set a dangerous precedent.”
Rather than take on this growing community-wide opposition, the developers have redesigned the project to keep the pines in place and preserve the greenbelt. Will this now end the opposition of the neighbors? Time will tell.
—David M. Greenwald reporting