Last week, hours before the Davis Planning Commission was set to hold a hearing on Paso Fino, 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 change.
However, in a statement from Friends of the Greenbelt, which reportedly includes representatives from Sargent Court, Calder Court, Whistler Court, Pollock Court and other streets in Wildhorse, the Sierra Club Yolano Group and Tree Davis, as well as three former Planning Commissioners and concerned citizens from other neighborhoods in Davis, they indicated that Plan C-2 was not supported.
The group told the Vanguard, “’Paso Fino’ is not a typical private infill project on private property; the developers are seeking City approval to obtain designated public greenbelt space to accommodate their development. Plan C-2 is a ‘compromise’ only in the sense that the developer is ‘allowing’ the public to keep more public land than in the previous iterations A-C.”
“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,” they stated. “The Sierra Club Yolano Group and Tree Davis have both called on the City to ensure that these pines are brought into public ownership as the best way to ensure their survival.”
Instead of Plan C-2, the group supports what is being called Plan D.
They wrote, “We applaud the initiative and leadership of City Staff in bringing forward Alternative Plan D, and think it’s the best compromise we’ve seen in almost a year of discussions with the developer. Assuming it won’t require any sale of designated greenbelt, this conceptual plan has broad support in the community.”
They add, “It’s a meaningful compromise — from the four houses approved in 2009 to six houses, making the project more profitable for the developer — and giving the community something in return, including bringing the grove of Canary Island pines into public ownership, consolidating and enhancing the easterly greenbelt, and addressing traffic safety and access issues.”
However, Jason Taormino told the Vanguard on the phone that Plan D was not being put forth by the developers.
Planner Ike Njoku told the Vanguard, “Alternative Plan D is staff prepared to show how issues and some of City’s and applicant’s objectives could be achieved. It is not the applicant’s proposal.”
Community Development Director Mike Webb added, “Staff prepared this to help illustrate a POSSIBLE way to balance the various concerns and objectives for an infill project. Basically, we prepared as a food for thought exercise, and it is not intended to be prescriptive.”
Mr. Taormino saw this proposal as a non-starter and believes that this opposition is not simply about objections to the specifics of the site. They believe that Plan C-2 accommodates the concerns of the neighbors by protecting the trees and preserving the fifty foot “greenbelt” buffer.
Mr. Taormino told the Vanguard in a statement, “When we move into designing infill projects the constraints associated with smaller spaces and adjacent homes increase significantly. Neighborhood design is a fascinating subject and perfection is not attainable. There are many directions that one can take to either conform or push the creative boundaries.”
“In the case of Paso Fino, I find it to be a normal infill situation in that having trees, neighbors and open space is more likely than not,” he said. “The real battle being waged in this case and in most infill situations is policy versus passion. I respect that there are many people who value trees, not having homes built behind them and retaining open space. I also respect the policies set by our community over the past few decades.”
Jason Taormino believes that this would be a simple matter to resolve “if it were simply a matter of applying City policies.” The challenge is addressing “the passion of the adjacent neighbors, tree lovers and open space advocates.”
He sees three plans that fall into three categories. “Plan A is a pure plan that follows City policies and makes few allowances for the passion of the opposition. Plan B compromises regarding trees. Plan C2 compromises on trees and open space. “
He notes, “There is an opposition to building new homes in Davis in general and in particular to Paso Fino. Their unstated goal is to stop any building on this site and their tactics to accomplish this goal are to state the opposite while pushing the idea that there are too many shortcomings about any design I put forth to proceed. The reality is that perfection is unattainable.”
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 projected 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.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting