Revisions to Paso Fino Have Not Quelled Public Concern

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Paso-Fino-Plan-D
The city alternative that the developers oppose but the neighbors support

When the developers put forward a new proposal for Paso Fino two weeks ago, which retained the 50-foot buffer on the eastern edge and retained all nine Canary Pines, they were hoping that this would put the controversy to rest. Neighbors had been complaining about the loss of the trees and buffer, and many in the community had expressed concern about the city selling off greenbelt for development.

However, it hasn’t worked that way. A statement from Friends of the Greenbelt representing nearby residences 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.”

In the meantime, the public continues to weigh in on the issue. Laura Westrup, Chair of Davis Tree Commission, wrote a letter stating, “Taormino & Associates’ latest plan for the Paso Fino site in Wildhorse must be rejected. This plan fails to bring the grove of heritage Canary Island pines into public ownership where they can be protected.

“The developers’ new plan would put these 60-year-old, 60-foot-high trees in private back yards where they would be at risk of inadequate and inferior maintenance and long-term care.”

She writes, “I am a firm supporter of placing the trees in public ownership as part of the neighborhood greenbelt as set forth in the compromise staff-developed plan for Paso Fino. If we protect them, these majestic trees have a lifespan of another 60 years.

“I hope everyone who loves trees and values our urban forest will attend the Planning Commission meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Urge commissioners to reject the developer’s Plan C2 and endorse the city staff-developed Plan D. Plan D preserves and enhances the easterly greenbelt and protects the heritage pines.”

Meanwhile, longtime former Planning Commissioner Terry Whittier writes in, “While I’m writing this, I am thinking about the Paso Fino application for housing in Wildhorse and the possibilities of what will emerge from the meeting on Wednesday night.

“The developer is asking the city to add to the property they purchased by selling most of the greenbelt area that is adjacent to their lot so they can build twice as many houses as their property will hold.”

“A good commission will have respect and awareness for the traditions and heritage of the past,” he writes.

Instead of Plan C-2, the group of neighbors 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 it 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.”

But Terry Whittier, surprisingly, given his reputation and record on the planning commission, seems to disagree. He writes, “In reference to the Paso Fino application, I believe that the developer has a right to build, within the zoning of the city General Plan, on the Haussler property which he purchased.”

However, he adds, “there is no obligation for the city to sell part or all of the greenbelt that surrounds that property to the developer to make his property larger.”

“Any allowance given, by way of purchase, to access of the greenbelt is properly labeled a ‘gift’ from the city even though the city receives a monetary exchange,” he writes.

Where does that leave the process? The city, as we noted this weekend, seems to want to get this off their plate and seems willing to push for Plan D. However, the developer has to agree to that, but, again,  seems to view it as a non-starter.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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28 thoughts on “Revisions to Paso Fino Have Not Quelled Public Concern”

  1. Tia Will

    “The real battle being waged in this case and in most infill situations is policy versus passion.”

    I disagree with the developer’s assertion. To me the real battle being waged is not policy versus passion, but rather competing passions. The neighbors and some in the community have a “passion” for trees, buffer and open space. The developer has a “passion” for increasing his profits. This is the real battle that I see.

    1. Barack Palin

      Thank you Tia, when I read the article I was going to say the same thing. I believe the developer is trying to take the moral high ground in this dispute when it’s the community that has that ground.

      “The city, as we noted this weekend, seems to want to get this off their plate and seem willing to push for Plan D, however, the developer has to agree to that and they seem to view it again as a non-starter.”

      This is what I don’t get, the developer should be taking what he can get, not making demands on obtaining the greenbelt and demanding more units. He shouldn’t be calling the shots, the city and the community should.

  2. Mark West

    “The developer has a “passion” for increasing his profits.”

    I sure hope so, as that is the only way that any of us have a place to live. We have all benefited from the profit seeking actions of one developer or another. Don’t see why anyone would consider that to be a bad thing.

    We have chosen infill over expansion as the means for growing our housing stock. Given that reality, we should maximize the use of any available land that we have, including parcels currently owned by the City. This isn’t a matter of the City selling off a park or greenbelt, it is a piece of surplus land that was left undeveloped years ago to appease the previous owners of the parcel in question when houses went up around their existing house. Conflating this to be a new policy to sell greenbelts is disingenuous at best, just as is the effort of portraying the developer as someone who puts profits before trees.

    If we were truly interested in maximizing the use of this piece of land, we would have the developer remove most of the trees and build a couple of rows of 3 story tall town homes, likely increasing his profits in the process. All things considered, it seems to me that the developer’s current plan is a good one.

    1. Robert Canning

      Mark West says: “We have all benefited from the profit seeking actions of one developer or another. Don’t see why anyone would consider that to be a bad thing.”

      “All” is a big word. Unfortunately many (probably not all) may have suffered because of the single-minded profit motives of those who build housing and other sorts of development without regard to other values.

      “[W]e should maximize the use of any available land that we have, including parcels currently owned by the City.”

      I find this kind of general statement short-sighted and narrow. Are you sure you really intend this to sound this way? Build on any available site?

      “If we were truly interested in maximizing the use of this piece of land, we would have the developer remove most of the trees and build a couple of rows of 3 story tall town homes, likely increasing his profits in the process. ”

      I’m not sure who you mean by “we” but my interest is not necessarily in “maximizing” the use of this land. It seems like we are negotiating with the developer, the neighborhood, and the City. Many people believe that the Plan D proposed by City staff and supported by the neighbors is the best way. I don’t think maximizing a developer’s profits is should be at the top of the list of things we should provide as a community.

  3. South of Davis

    Davis wrote:

    > Revisions to Paso Fino Have Not Quelled Public Concern

    When he should have written:

    99% of the Public in Davis could not point to Paso Fino on a map but a few neighbors who don’t want change keep fighting…

    1. Barack Palin

      SOD, your perception here is totally wrong. The Wildhorse community is open to change, that parcel will be built on, but at the same time the property should fit the neighborhood and its values. The neighbors originally agreed to a 4 house infill, now they are willing to compromise to 6. As far as 99% of the public not knowing where Paso Fino is, I’m sure the same thing could be said about plots of land in your neighborhood too. Would you want a developer to come in and build there without local community input?

      1. South of Davis

        Davis wrote:

        > Which makes you wonder how many could identify Covell Village on a map

        A few more (but not much more than 1%)…

        The difference is that a LOT more people in Davis care about a 400 acre with 1000+ units than a ~4 acre development with 6 units.

        There would be “concern” of a few neighbors if someone in Village Homes wanted to build a garage for his Escalade, but (just like Paso Fino) there would not be “Public” concern…

  4. South of Davis

    BP wrote:

    > The neighbors originally agreed to a 4 house infill, now they are willing to compromise to 6.

    Should the neighbors also have to agree if a family in Wildhorse wants to have more kids (since 4 homes of big families with kids will have more cars and bikes than 6 homes with childless couples and seniors)? Maybe the neighbors could allow a family to have another kid if they compromise and promise that the new kid won’t ride his bike in Wildhorse?

  5. ryankelly

    I believe the developers proposal has met all of the concerns from the neighbors – retains the buffer behind the neighbors homes, retains the bike throughway to Covell, makes the trees essentially “street trees” under the protection of the City, and provides a way for the garbage trucks to turn around. This has gone beyond the initial concern from the immediate neighbors not wanting a neighbor over their backyard fence. This is a buffer created for the benefit of the Haussler’s when they lost all the open space around their home when Wildhorse was built. This was not a buffer that was created for the benefit of the Wildhorse neighbors. People need to remember that.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “This has gone beyond the initial concern from the immediate neighbors not wanting a neighbor over their backyard fence. ”

      On what evidence would you call that the initial concern about not wanting a neighbor over their backyard, the greenbelt issue has been around from the start.

      1. South of Davis

        David wrote:

        > On what evidence would you call that the initial concern about
        > not wanting a neighbor over their backyard,

        Do you have evidence that ANY of these people have tried to stop ANY infill development NOT near their backyards?

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          It depends who you are talking about. There is a group of people who live in the area immediately effected, then you have people like Alan Pryor, Pam Nieberg, and Laura Westrop. So it’s not a homogeneous group.

        2. Tia Will

          South of Davis

          Do you have evidence that ANY of these people have tried to stop ANY infill development NOT near their backyards?”

          Absolutely. I have no property anywhere near any proposed infill development, and I am opposed to any project that would involve the city selling off greenbelt, or brown land, or any commonly owned open space for the sole purpose of putting in eight rather than four units thereby increasing the developer profit at cost to the city with minimal to no impact upon overall city density.

          From our posts on this and similar issues, it would appear that we have a fundamentally different view of “community”. You have frequently asked me why I care about something since I do not live near it or stated that you don’t understand why I care since it is not close to where I live.

          The answer is simple. I view Davis as my home. Not just the house that I live in, or my street, or my immediate neighbor hood. All of Davis is my home. If someone who lives in Wild Horse is adversely affected by a city policy, I view that as my problem as well. I care if someone is homeless and trying to get by in downtown Davis or in North Davis or South Davis just as much as I care when they are trying to survive by the tracks near my home. I care if there is automobile congestion on Covell, or Cowell,
          on B street or F or J. I think that many of the problems that we face are because we do not look at, or at least care as much about the bigger picture.

      2. ryankelly

        From the comments made by Claudia at that first meeting. She was there primarily because she didn’t want anything to be built up to her fence line and expected that the buffer would remain permanent open space.

        1. Barack Palin

          This has gone far beyond just the adjacent neighbors to the site. I don’t think the community as a whole knew about this overcrowded infill which included public greenbelts until Claudia and her neighbors brought it to the rest of the community’s knowledge. Now the community is speaking up and it has nothing to do with stuff being built up to their fences, it’s about the sale of greenbelts and having a project that fits best with the community.

    2. Don Shor

      makes the trees essentially “street trees” under the protection of the City,

      This would be an odd precedent and very challenging for the city to maintain. For the trees to have maximum protection, I am told by people who know the regulations that the trees should be designated ‘landmark’ trees.

      1. ryankelly

        OK. They could be designated landmark trees. Wouldn’t the actual protection be the same? The City would be responsible for pruning, etc. The homeowners would have to have permission from the City to do anything with them.

        1. ryankelly

          (I tried to edit this but I timed out.) As a landmark tree, would the homeowner be responsible for pruning and care, but have to get permission from the City?

        2. Don Shor

          Wouldn’t the actual protection be the same?

          Short answer appears to be that it would be harder for a homeowner to do anything to them, particularly remove them, if they are landmark trees. Permission from the city council vs. from the commission and/or staff, as I understand it.

  6. Nancy Price

    I am glad to read that Barack Palin finally mentions “values.” This debate over Paso Fino is not just profits vs. passion. By using the word “passion,” Taormino implies that the neighbors and others are somehow biased toward not approaching the issue in some logical, clear, analytical way (that would otherwise get Taormino what he wants) unclouded by illogical, hard-to-explain “passion.” Taomino’s use of the word “passion” is to purposely demean and discount those who have a different position based on different values.

  7. Mark West

    I know that the idea that the City would sell surplus land for a profit is a foreign concept to some, but I see no reason why this piece of surplus land should be held in perpetuity just to appease a few neighbors. This was not a park or greenbelt that was set aside for the communities benefit. If the City does not have a need for the land, and there is a willing buyer at market rates, then the parcel should be sold. If the neighbors prefer to keep the land vacant, then they are welcome to outbid the developer for the title.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      It’s not a foreign concept, but it’s clearly a policy position that many in the community seem interested in, wouldn’t you say?

  8. SODA

    Interesting as you note Terry Whitaker’s position this time around since I agree, he often voted for devleopment and in the minority during his time on the PC.

  9. Michael Harrington

    Of course the City should not sell or give away greenbelt space. Unbelieveable there has been so much flopping around over this basic concept. The land had a certain zoning when purchased, and the city does not owe that owner anything, nothing at all.

    If the owner wants an upgrade, where is the public benefit? Let’s see some sharing of the benefits that the owner reaps from this discretionary approval of something … maybe 6, maybe less. I have not studied the details, but the concept is: greenbelts are for the public. These trees need to be city trees on city land, to be enjoyed for generations.

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