Council Unanimously Backs Staff Report, Pushes For Six-Unit Paso Fino Development

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Jason Taormino presents the Paso Fino project before the City Council on Tuesday
Jason Taormino presents the Paso Fino project before the city council on Tuesday

In a rare show of unity on a contentious issue, in the end, the neighbors, the community (except for one), city staff and ultimately the Davis City Council were on the same page – they were appreciative of efforts by both neighbors and developer to compromise, but supportive of the staff-developed Plan D.

The council supported Plan D 5-0, despite continued warning by the developers that it was unworkable. “The city’s Plan D you cannot build one house on any of those lots,” Dave Taormino, one of the applicants, told council following public comment. “Yes it’s very pretty, but no one measured the driveways, no one took into consideration the 40 foot worth of easements on the western side. So while it’s pretty, it’s not buildable.”

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs made the motion to support the staff recommendation, seconded by Mayor Dan Wolk.

Staff had argued that, while they appreciate the efforts of the applicant to respond to concerns about trees and preservation of greenbelts, the latest proposal “does not go far enough to address the concerns raised.”

They argue that the proposal “attempts to fit relatively large homes on Lots 6, 7, and 8 resulting in a tight lot configuration, especially with respect to the Canary Island Pines and greenbelt parcel. The configuration results in an indentation in the greenbelt parcel, which raises safety and maintenance concerns.”

Moreover, they also raise concerns about the proximity of the pines to the homes, which they say “creates concerns for the ongoing health of the trees.”

Councilmember Frerichs told Mr. Taormino, “The applicants in this case, you want guidance from the council on what we want to see as acceptable, to me the alternative concept Plan D is what I see acceptable – six units and preservation of publicly owned land is my priority.”

Council listens to the presentation
Council listens to the presentation

“It comes down to a judgment call for me,” he said. “In this case it’s kind of a Goldilocks situation where it’s not too many units, not too few… but what’s the right number of units. In this particular infill site, that balances the need of the neighborhood as well as preserves the open space, so I think for me, the six units is just the right amount.”

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis noted that he is getting diverging information, with the developer saying that Plan D will not work while staff says “it probably could work.” He said, “As a result of that, I do what I think I must do and I go to staff’s recommendation.” He argued that they work hard, are knowledgeable, have integrity, “I have to trust them at the end of the day.”

“In a case like this, I’m going to have to support the staff recommendation,” he said.

Councilmember Brett Lee raised several concerns more globally. He said, “If we’re going to change the existing zoning there needs to be a compelling reason to.”

Councilmember Lee raised the concern that, when people moved into Wildhorse, there was a city-owned buffer. “It’s reasonable to assume that a city-owned buffer will remain a city-owned buffer,” he said. So he argued that if the applicant wants to make use of a city-owned property, the “threshold needs to be a little higher than normal.”

A large audience was overwhelmingly in favor of the staff recommendation.
A large audience was overwhelmingly in favor of the staff recommendation.

Technically, he said, we are either selling or swapping this greenbelt. He feels bad that the applicant has “gone through this gauntlet when I think fundamentally the underlying issue has not been resolved. That is, what are we comfortable with with this land that is designated as a greenbelt?”

He suggested we separate that issue and give the applicant a clear picture of what we expect here. He said our first decision is, “We have land designated as a greenbelt, what is our policy for selling that?” He suggested we make a determination based not only on this parcel but also in general terms.

“I’m not really comfortable with this idea that we’re selling or swapping a greenbelt, that’s my sticking point,” he added.

However, other councilmembers seemed less concerned about this specific issue. “I’m really not worried about this becoming a precedent,” Mayor Pro Tem Davis stated. “This is clearly a unique thing in our city.” He added, “You said it in your staff report, the city does not sell greenbelts.”

“We can acknowledge that this is a unique situation. It was a buffer designed for a very specific purpose, at a very specific point in time and that time has passed and we’re going to do something a little bit different, it’s out of the ordinary, it’s unique,” he said.

Rochelle Swanson added, “This isn’t something that’s going to set precedent.” She said there is no comment on record that would suggest “that this council or anyone is in the business of selling greenbelts.”

Claudia Morain during public comment.  She was among the neighbors who spearheaded the opposition to the project as proposed.
Claudia Morain during public comment. She was among the neighbors who spearheaded the opposition to the project as proposed.

Public comment was overwhelmingly in favor of the staff recommendation. Alan Pryor noted that the Sierra Club heard overwhelming community opposition to the Paso Fino development, in part due to the “insufficient protection for the large Canary Pines and a proposed land swap in the absence of a city policy governing such transactions.” He noted that the group has not heard from so many of its members since the water project – and on the water project the membership was largely split.

He noted that there has been substantial movement by the developers, but “we don’t believe it has been sufficient to overcome the objections of the neighbors and our original concerns.”

Alan Fernandes, a member of the school board and a resident of Sargent Court, was appreciative of the applicant communicating with the residents. However, he said, “I think the staff hit it out of the park with the staff-prepared concept D.” He called it a compromise, noting that “it’s not everything I would want.”

He added, “When you’re purchasing city land, those kinds of comparisons have to be weighed.”

Claudia Morain, also of Sargent Court, has publicly spearheaded the effort by the neighbors, calling the land “a greenbelt that we treasure.” She said, “There has been a lot of compromise and we appreciate it, but all of the compromise has been to give back land that the developer doesn’t own.”

Eileen Samitz argued that the developer’s proposal, D2, “does not work.” She called Plan D “clearly the solution as to how to develop the site.” She called it good planning, “consistent with our General Plan and our General Planning Guidelines.” She mentioned consistency with the neighborhood as well as protection of the Canary Pines and their dripline.

“It keeps these trees on public land, that’s key to their preservation,” she added. Ms. Samitz added that six units or less are critical to the site. “More than six units does not work,” she stated.

The one resident to speak out in favor of the developer’s proposal was Ron Glick. He stated that he remembers the battle over Wildhorse, “and some of the people in this room were totally against Wildhorse. In other words, they didn’t want you to have your homes.” He added, “You laugh (in response to chuckles) but it sounds like you don’t want someone else to move next to you.”

Ron Glick was the only community member to speak in support of the developer's proposal.  He got into an exchange with the audience over his views.
Ron Glick was the only community member to speak in support of the developer’s proposal. He got into an exchange with the audience over his views.

As Mr. Glick continued, he began to be heckled by some in the audience. “Go ahead laugh at me, someone’s got to do it, someone’s got to speak the truth,” he chided the audience. “The truth is there’s one tree that might be Swainson’s Hawk [habitat], that’s all you got?”

“I really feel sorry for the Taorminos,” he said as the audience groaned. He noted that the land was for sale and purchased on the open market, and “they’re coming up for a plan for their property. If you value it that much, why don’t you buy it? You live in Wildhorse, I imagine you could probably come up with the money.”

Councilmember Rochelle Swanson admonished the audience. “The tenor reminds me of when I first got on council and it’s a really different time in our community. I think we need to respect everyone’s views no matter who they are and there’s no place for boos or laughing.”

Developer Dave Taormino got a chance to respond to comments from the public. He criticized the city for cutting down Canary Pine trees in West Davis for a bike path. “Isn’t it interesting that after 18 months, there hasn’t been one example from 12,000 homeowners in Davis, of homeowners abusing their trees. Not one example. They’ve done all this research for 18 months and all the examples have been the government not taking care of the trees,” he said.

Dave Taormino discusses the project.
Dave Taormino discusses the project.

Jason Taormino made the point that there would not be an incredible change if they go from eight down to six in terms of neighborhood impacts. He suggested while technically it was feasible to decrease the house sizes slightly, he felt that those changes would greatly impact the marketability of the homes.

He said, “It just feels like it’s a punish the developer. It feels like we did four before, we should do six. Trying to do a real estate development where I think it’s more likely that we lose money than we make money, that’s really the challenge that we face.”

“It’s possible (to go to six), but I look at this and I say, I’m totally uncomfortable with it,” he added.

Councilmember Frerichs asked Mr. Taormino, “Do you want a vote on this tonight?”

Mr. Taormino responded, “I don’t think we can negotiate a deal with staff on their plan. I don’t think that’s their role. I think they need direction.” He asked for input.

Toward the end of his remarks, Councilmember Frerichs responded to Jason Taormino.

“I know the comment was made that this was sort of the punish the developer process,” said the councilmember. “I take umbrage with that… You have done 11 successful infill projects throughout the community of Davis. I’m confident that six units is feasible and workable for all parties.”

Council would unanimously support the staff recommendation. The question now is whether the applicants will attempt to make a six-unit project work or whether they will let the parcel lie vacant as the previous owners ended up doing.

—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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30 thoughts on “Council Unanimously Backs Staff Report, Pushes For Six-Unit Paso Fino Development”

    1. Davis Progressive

      the bullies won here?  really?  planning staff, council, the community except for ron glick all agreed and you’re putting this on claudia, that’s not fair and that’s a bully move yourself.

    2. Davis Progressive

      if you watch the comment by glick – it wasn’t heckling, he started making sarcastic remarks and insultingly said that because people who were in the room opposed wildhorse, they didn’t want you to live here and therefore the people in the room don’t want others to move there.  then he started mocking the trees and finally people started heckling him, but you know, he brought it on himself in my view at least.

      1. Anon

        So you are okay with heckling?  Really?  Perhaps we will have to agree to disagree.  Heckling is not acceptable in my book, regardless of what the speaker says.  We have a person who comes down to the City Council on a regular basis to deride the city, the police and whoever else he can think of.  Not one person says a word.  There is no room for heckling in City Council chambers.  Freedom of speech should reign supreme.

        1. Miwok

          Used to be the polite and deafening silence following a rant would be enough to send the person home. Hearing what goes on now, like the National Anthem at the Stupor Bowl, seems to epitomize why people and their rudeness is out of control, at least of the mayor, anyway.

      2. hpierce

        Starting to think about whether we should adopt the Canary Island pine as a metaphor for the existing neighborhood abutting Paso Fino (which I think is a lousy project and I think that the best plan is the one adopted ~ 5 years ago).  The Canary Island pine, when it sheds its needles, basically ‘poisons’ the soil, effectively making sure no other plant intrudes on its “space”, or competes for its water.  And, as I think don S pointed out, it spreads its roots beyond its dripline (going into the space that could be used by other plants) and, if it was human, would expect others to respect the roots it has sent out beyond what it truly needs.  I can see where the neighbors, and perhaps some Davis Druids, would definitely want to worship that species of tree.

        Oh… also fits that it is not a native species.

        Heck, perhaps we should make it the “City tree” for its attributes.

  1. zaqzaq

    If the developer thinks it is not economically feasible to do a six home project they should just cut down the trees and sell the property.  Removing Canary pines would increase the value of the property for a future buyer by removing a headache.  The issue of what development plan works would be much simpler in the future.

        1. Matt Williams

          A picture is worth 1,000 years, and this graphic from last night’s Staff Report very clearly shows where the trees are with respect to the current property lines.

          For me, the graphic makes it very clear that the Canary Pines are on the private property, not the City property.

          1. Matt Williams

            SOD, I went to your Google Maps link and captured the image. I’m not sure that I see your “VERY different” assessment. I’ve captured the same proportions from the Google Maps image and inserted it below. The Canary Pines are clearly in the same place in both images … on the private property rather than the City property. The lower height vegetation in two side greenbelts shown in the Google Maps image are absent in the Staff Report image, but that lower height vegetation is not central to the discussions.



            .
            The image from the Staff Report appears to have been grabbed from the Yolo County GIS system. If you follow this link http://yolo-gis-prod.yolocounty.org/SilverlightViewer_2_1/Viewer.html?ViewerConfig=http://yolo-gis-prod.yolocounty.org/Geocortex/Essentials/INTERNETPUBLIC/REST/sites/GIS_Public_Viewer/viewers/GIS_Public_Viewer/virtualdirectory/Config/Viewer.xml you will go to the image I captured below.
            .

        2. hpierce

          For almost all the trees, Ryan is correct, and others are ill-informed.  Or worse.

          The trees were planted by the Hausslers, on their property. Others may have sprung up since then. These are not native trees.

      1. Jim Frame

        The Canary Pines are clearly in the same place in both images … on the private property rather than the City property.

        I hope it goes without saying, but I’m not certain so I’ll say it:  attempting to determine parcel ownership locations from a GIS — whether it be Google or a public agency application — is risky.  Even systems that are carefully assembled by people who know what they’re doing and have quantified the error budget are still subject to “unexpected results” on occasion.  Caveat locator.

        I’m not aware of any problem in this case, but I’ve seen parcel line mislocations ranging from the subtle to the gross.  This is the reason that, for some of us, GIS stands for “Get It Surveyed.”

        1. hpierce

          Jim… right on.  That being said, I am familiar with the property, have walked it several times, and the Canary Island pines are on the private property or Covell Boulevard R/W.  Although I have not performed a formal survey, I am licensed and know of which I speak.

  2. Tia Will

    I applaud our city council for their approach to this contentious issue. Whether or not one agrees with the outcome, our CC was faced with a difficult challenge. There were reasonable competing goals and values at stake. They had a developer willing to work with the concerns of the neighbors and other concerned members of the community. They had members of the community who had reasonable concerns about the impacts of the project. They were able to remain focused on the issues at hand while encouraging those in attendance to maintain a respectful attitude while listening to divergent and somewhat provocative statements. I see this approach as a huge step forward from some previous councils and am appreciative of the civility and thoughtfulness being demonstrated by our current leaders.

  3. Davis Progressive

    then we have taormino who is lecturing the council.  the funniest part was him talking about how the government does a bad job of protecting trees – we can argue whether that’s true, but more importantly he’s talking to the government – he’s not going to win the day arguing anti-government mantras in davis.  he just didn’t know when to stop.  i heard several councilmembers were put off by it.

    that didn’t play a factor, the key was the planning staff for the first time ever sided with the neighbors over the developers.

    1. Don Shor

      Dave Taormino:

      “Isn’t it interesting that after 18 months, there hasn’t been one example from 12,000 homeowners in Davis, of homeowners abusing their trees. Not one example.

      I respectfully disagree with Dave on this. And while the discussion was going on, one of my customers sent me this picture: tree abuse

      1. Matt Williams

        Now that abuse of a tree is a real crime … and a crying shame. It violates all the principles of Pruning 101. Better to have removed the tree entirely and replaced it with a new smaller tree.

  4. Anon

    ““I know the comment was made that this was sort of the punish the developer process,” said the council member [Frierichs]. “I take umbrage with that… You have done 11 successful infill projects throughout the community of Davis. I’m confident that six units is feasible and workable for all parties.”

    Council would unanimously support the staff recommendation. The question now is whether the applicants will attempt to make a six-unit project work or whether they will let the parcel lie vacant as the previous owners ended up doing.”

    IMO, the problem here is that city policy is not clear enough so that the developer knows what to expect are the requirements ahead of time.  Secondly, it will be very interesting to see whether the developer determines if a six-unit project can financially work, or if the developer walks away and Council member Frerichs has to eat his own words.  Only time will tell.

  5. Tia Will

    if the developer walks away and Council member Frerichs has to eat his own words. “

    Why would Council Member Frerichs have to “eat his own words”.

    He is not pretending to have expertise in land development or building. He is doubtless relying on staff for the feasibility. Further more, he is not saying that he knows that it is feasible for the current owners to make this proposal into a successful venture for them. He is only stating his personal opinion and making his own judgement based upon all the information that has been provided to him. That is exactly what we elected him to do and I feel that he and all the other council members were diligent in doing their job in this situation.

     

    1. Anon

      Lucas Frierichs: “Im confident that six units is feasible and workable for all parties.”

      Only the developer can decide if the six units is feasible or workable, and only time will tell what the developer will decide.  If the developer walks away from this project, then Mr. Frerichs will have been wrong in his assessment.  A developer is not going to walk away from a project that pencils out financially.  But only the developer can determine if it pencils out.

      1. Davis Progressive

        technically the council decides what they’re going to permit, the developer then decides whether that arrangement is workable for them.  lucas of course spent at least a few years on the planning commission, so he’s probably has a good grasp of the possible.

  6. Jim Frame

    Trying to do a real estate development where I think it’s more likely that we lose money than we make money, that’s really the challenge that we face.

    So, let’s see:  you bought the property at a price that presumably reflected its particular circumstances, and figured that you could make a good return on your investment (or maybe a killing, who knows?) if  — enormous “if,” in my opinion — you can get the city to sell you some land, and if — standard “if” in the Davis development world — the neighbors can be placated or overrun.  But the city isn’t really in the business of selling land and decides not to play along, and the neighbors pressed their case with enough evidence to convince a unanimous City Council to stick with the Planning Department’s recommendation.  Now, what was your complaint again?

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