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