Back in October, the city of Davis planning staff, seeking to end the impasse over a relatively small infill development, put forward a plan that would allow for six units while preserving publicly-owned lands, and the Canary Island pine trees on those publicly-owned lands.
The planning commission at that time supported the staff plan for six units and voted 3-2 to ask the developers to consider Plan D.
However, the developers balked at the compromise. Jason Taormino told the planning commission, as he told the Vanguard, that Plan D was unworkable. He told the planning commission, “What we see is you can’t build on three lots and one lot would have a house with no yard. It doesn’t work.”
Dave Taormino said he was willing to compromise. He said, “What I’ve heard tonight, it sounds like overwhelmingly, is that you want the trees, or as many of the trees as possible, into public ownership. If that’s the direction you want to go, give me that instruction.”
He said they could go back to the drawing board and, prior to going to the city council, “we’ll come up with as much as possible with the trees on public land. I think I can do that for six trees and maintain the eight dwelling units with the eighth one being a senior cottage. I can live with that.”
He came forward with a plan that looked like it could work on paper. It kept the eight units, and reduced the size of unit eight to accommodate the trees.
Don Shor, owner of Redwood Barn Nursery, effectively killed that proposal. He wrote, “When development occurs around mature trees, specific measures are taken to protect the trees during construction.”
In his opinion, based on the plans, “it appears that the protected root zone of some trees would be in private property, and that branches of the trees would actually hang over into back yards.”
He further adds, “A rule that arborists use is to protect a radius of soil 1.5 [feet] times the inches in diameter of the trunk. Thus a tree with a ten-inch trunk diameter should have a protected root zone of 15 feet out, or 30 feet diameter.” He argues, “It does not appear to me that the current layout provides a sufficient protected root zone for the trees.”
The city planning staff has generally been very pro-development, at times supporting relatively problematic projects and failing to push for innovation and sustainability at others. However, in this case they argue against this revision, Plan D2.
In the staff report this week, they write, “Staff believes that the subject site has potential for some infill housing beyond the four units approved in 2009. However, any infill development that deviates from the 2009 approval must balance various General Plan policies, including those related to densification and environmental sustainability, with neighborhood compatibility. Staff does not believe the applicant has yet reached an acceptable balance with the recently submitted Alternative Plan D2.”
It is not that staff doesn’t appreciate the efforts of the applicant to respond to concerns. They note that this proposal “is an evolution from initial plans in so far as it incorporates an eastern greenbelt concept and begins to integrate the Canary Island Pine trees.”
However, they argue that 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.”
At least some of the neighbors are also concerned that the land swap is not an equitable one.
Claudia Morain, a resident of Sargent Court, writes in a letter, “The proposal now before the council calls for a land swap, in which public land is traded for private land needed to create a bike path along Covell and bring a grove of towering, 60-year-old pines into public ownership.
“But it is a poor exchange that gives up too much public land for too little private land. It does not afford the heritage trees the space that arborists say is needed to safeguard their long-term survival,” she writes.
The applicants are not likely to get council approval over the objections of both the neighbors and the city’s own planning staff. So they appear to have two options – neither of which is ideal from their standpoint, but both will give them a nice project.
Their first option is to take the six-unit planning commission recommendation. I understand there were some problems from the developer perspective with the feasibility of that specific configuration, but if they can make an eight-unit configuration fit the parcel, they can certainly make six fit.
The other option would require them to go back to the drawing board once again. On Friday, Don Shor suggested, “The problem isn’t the number of units, it’s the size of the units. If the houses on Lots 6 & 7 were the size of the house on Lot 8, the trees would probably have enough room.” In addition, he thought they could go to zero-lot-line townhouses and add an additional unit or two as well.
In any case, the writing is on the wall that they either take the deal at this point or go home.
As staff puts it, “Staff is recommending that the City Council suggest that the applicant may wish to continue working on a plan that incorporates the components of staff prepared conceptual Plan D consistent with the Planning Commission and staff recommendations, including reduction in the number of lots.”
They add, “The components of staff prepared conceptual Plan D balances General Plan goals, policies and standards, while addressing the key concerns of interested citizens, neighbors and the Planning Commission majority.”
They conclude, “Staff believes that an acceptable layout can be achieved with creativity and more ‘breathing room’ on the site by providing fewer lots, while still netting a 50% increase in the density over the approved four-lot 2009 plan.”
We had originally thought that the eight-unit configuration would work because it kept the trees on public lands, but Don Shor’s analysis was the clinching point. The Vanguard agrees at this point with the staff recommendation and thinks the applicants should take this deal and allow everyone to move on.
—David M. Greenwald reporting