Something has to give. Developer Jason Taormino told the Vanguard last week that Plan D is a non-starter but they are willing to preserve the greenbelt and trees with Plan C-2, a plan that the neighbors reject.
“Neither Plan C nor Plan C-2 permanently protects the majestic Canary Island pines and the habitat they provide by bringing them into public ownership. Plan D proposed by City Staff does this, as did the 2009 plan,” a letter stated.
Laura Westrop, Chair of Davis Tree Commission, wrote, “This plan fails to bring the grove of heritage Canary Island pines into public ownership where they can be protected.
Meanwhile, the Davis Enterprise editorial weighs in, calling Plan D, “enough of a compromise from the public.” They are right when they state, “The Davis Planning Commission will have a hot potato tossed back into its lap Wednesday night as the latest proposals for the Paso Fino development take center stage.”
The Enterprise notes, “A plan approved in 2009 called for building four houses; now Taormino seeks to build eight homes, while neighbors fear the loss of open space behind their own property and fret over the future of the surrounding Canary Island pine trees.”
“Taormino and the neighbors were tasked with coming up with a plan acceptable to both, but the neighbors rightly complained: How can they negotiate a plan for land that the developer does not own?” the editorial continues.
“Sensing an impasse, city staff, led by Community Development Director Mike Webb, drafted a compromise, known as Plan D. This plan features six homes, uses some of the greenbelt space, preserves a natural walking path and moves the property line so that the pines will be on public land. Neighbors support this proposal,” they write. “Naturally, the developer does not. Taormino’s own Plan C2 still calls for eight houses and takes a half-acre from the buffer. The trees would end up on private property, with deed restrictions to protect them.”
They add, “The developer says this project is all about infill, which is ideal when done properly. But Taormino does not own all of the land for this design. The public owns a fair chunk, and in its purest sense, infill development is supposed to protect open space, not gobble it up.”
“An essential problem is that Taormino is using the 2009 agreement as the starting point for negotiations. We’re going to compromise on a compromise,” they write. “The Planning Commission won‘t be the last word on the subject. Because both plans call for development on land the developer does not own, the City Council will have to make the final decision.”
They add, “At some point, the council will have to set a clear policy for the sale [of] open space. For now, they can sidestep the ‘sale’ issue and do a trade — some of the open space to Taormino in return for moving the pines to public land — but this saga has shown the need for strict guidelines.”
The Enterprise concludes, “In the meantime, Plan D already represents a substantial give-back by the public. The 2009 project called for 0.47 acres of open space to be left over, and Plan D saves only 0.39 acre. That should be the end of negotiations, not the beginning.”
There are three pretty tricky elements in this controversy. The first falls to tonight’s planning commission meeting. The developers are not willing to go beyond Plan C-2; the question is whether they will go to no project if the planning commission and council will only approve D.
We start with the planning commission, which approved the much more controversial original plan back in the spring. But they were operating with two commissioners absent and it was a 3-2 vote.
Predicting the planning commission vote will be difficult because so many dynamics have changed since the original vote. The public is rightly concerned with the prospect of converting city-owned greenbelt space into private uses. But the biggest change is where the planning staff itself sits.
When the Vanguard originally talked to Mike Webb, Director of Community Development, he seemed very much in favor of the project and rejecting of the neighbors’ concerns. 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.
Mike Webb told the Vanguard he believed 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.”
But the Enterprise editorial is quite right, as Mr. Webb is the one who helped direct and craft Plan D. When the Vanguard spoke with him last week, he was more dismissive of the developers’ concerns than those of the neighbors, noting that even at 6 units, they are getting a 50% increase.
So yes, the planning commission pushed through the project 3-2 in the spring, but they did so backed by the planning staff who has now clearly shifted.
There is a final complication that no one is talking about. Everyone sees this as going to council, but that adds in complication. While Dave and Jason Taormino have taken the lead on this project, Steve Boschken is a partner, as well.
That adds in a complication because Mr. Boschken was the treasurer for both Dan Wolk, during his 2012 city council campaign and his 2014 state assembly campaign, as well as for Rochelle Swanson in her 2014 city council campaign.
Does that mean that both Mr. Wolk and Ms. Swanson would have to recuse themselves? While we don’t have the answer to that, it definitely will raise questions as this goes forward.
So yes, the council will ultimately have to weigh in on this issue, but what will that council look like?
The final point is worth reiterating – will the developers even accept Plan D, because right now with the pressure from the neighbors and planning staff, that may be the best deal they can get. Will they take it or walk away?
—David M. Greenwald reporting