Sunday Commentary: Developers Should Take the Deal on the Table on Paso Fino

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Latest proposal keeps the greenbelts, keeps eight units, and keeps the canary pines on public land - will the neighbors and council be able to support it?
Latest proposal keeps the greenbelts, keeps eight units, and keeps the Canary pines on public land – will the neighbors and council be able to support it?

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

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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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31 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Developers Should Take the Deal on the Table on Paso Fino”

  1. Barack Palin

    I understand there were some problems from their 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.

    Thank you.

  2. hpierce

    Ah… the headline says it all… too many Davisites think in terms they’ve learned from GSN… earlier, we’ve been playing “Let’s Make a Deal”, and now it seems David want’s to change channels and play “Deal or No Deal”.  Let’s see what the CC does after a teaser for “Family Feud”.

    BTW, if you go back 6 years, the land was zoned for 2 lots.  Thus the “compromise” proposal advocated is a 200% increase over 6 years ago, and a 500% increase over the last 25 years.

  3. Anon

    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.”

    I am going to come at this from a slightly different perspective.  This is what I would call an example of “the Davis way” (and not in a good way) and why it is so difficult for developers to deal with Davis processes.  There has been no General Plan update for quite some time, but a bunch of disconnected and competing policies that often conflict with each other put forward by various commissions/City Councils/citizens.  As a result, the process has become extremely messy, contentious, and inconsistent with at least one City Council member expressing his frustration at how we seem to play fast and loose with zoning, often ignoring our own zoning laws with high frequency.  Look at the competing interests noted by city staff in this latest development flap: densification; environmental sustainability; neighborhood compatibility.  And now add to the mix: saving trees; saving “greenbelts” (neighbors view) that are not truly greenbelts but “buffers” (city staff’s view); proper connectivity to bike paths, net zero energy; and the list goes on and on and on ad nauseum.  And I love this new twist: “acceptable balance” between all these competing interests (city staff’s words).

    Today’s Davis Enterprise put it quite nicely in describing the ridiculously complicated gauntlet developers must run in this town: “On the developers’ side, they wonder if the city actually is serious about preventing urban sprawl and focusing on its policies of infill development, or if local politicians will bend to the will of what they see as a sophisticated Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) campaign. They wonder why developers must go through the same fights again and again to build infill development in Davis?

    I don’t particularly have a dog in this fight, but I am deeply concerned about the unwieldy process that is developing, in which the loudest voices and not necessarily the majority of citizens get their way, and where some city policies are totally ignored in favor of some new standard devised by a small group of angry citizens.  This does not bode well for the future, especially with the innovation parks coming along soon.  I think the City Council and city staff need to do some deep soul searching here, and think through how to develop a much fairer process.  JMO

    1. hpierce

      Former Councilmember Puntillo perhaps had it right.  In referring to the City’s development review process, he labelled it “a spanking machine”.  My views on this issue are “in substantial conformance” with what you just wrote, Anon.  “Capricious” and “arbitrary” are two other terms that may apply.

    2. Michelle Millet

      On the developers’ side, they wonder if the city actually is serious about preventing urban sprawl and focusing on its policies of infill development, or if local politicians will bend to the will of what they see as a sophisticated Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) campaign. They wonder why developers must go through the same fights again and again to build infill development in Davis?

      To be fair, in this case the developers are the ones deviating from the originally approved plan. If they were sticking with the 2009 approved proposal to build four homes on the site and meeting this type of resistance I would have more sympathy with this argument.

      And now add to the mix: saving trees; saving “greenbelts” (neighbors view) that are not truly greenbelts but “buffers” (city staff’s view); proper connectivity to bike paths, net zero energynd the list goes on and on and on ad nauseum.

      I would argue that we shouldn’t have to “add” saving trees, greenbelts/buffers*, proper connectivity to bike paths, and net zero energy, into the mix. They should be a requirement from the beginning.

      *To be fair to the neighbors my house backs up to a greenbelt, with a nice size field, which creates a buffer between my house and the houses behind me. (which is one of the reasons we bought this house)  It’s not enough space to build a new house. But if the city let my neighbors buy the field so they could build a bigger house on it, I would not be happy either.

      1. Anon

        To be fair, in this case the developers are the ones deviating from the originally approved plan. If they were sticking with the 2009 approved proposal to build four homes on the site and meeting this type of resistance I would have more sympathy with this argument.”

        To be fair, the city has a policy of densification and the Planning Commission approved an 8 home design.  To be fair, city policies often conflict with other city policies, such as densification and neighborhood compatibility.  To be fair, neighbors start adding “policies” of their own at the eleventh hour, such as greenbelts and Swainson hawks.  From today’s Davis Enterprise article:

        On the developers’ side, they wonder if the city actually is serious about preventing urban sprawl and focusing on its policies of infill development…

        The Planning Commission already approved an eight-home design with the proviso that developers work with Davis Waste Removal to organize suitable trash pickup. Taormino & Associates said that’s been done, incorporating a specially sized DWR turnaround point at the end of the street design they drew up.”

        A group of neighbors on Sargent and Whistler courts in Wildhorse, which back up to the property, have launched a robust campaign, rallying neighbors, gathering more than 1,000 petition signatures, launching the website, gaining the support of the local Sierra Club and holding meetings with City Council members.

        The proposal puts nine Canary Island pine trees in the public space, to be ostensibly protected by the city. The trees may or may not harbor Swainson hawks, depending on whom you talk to.

        I would argue that we shouldn’t have to “add” saving trees, greenbelts/buffers*, proper connectivity to bike paths, and net zero energy, into the mix. They should be a requirement from the beginning.”

        This is exactly the problem I am talking about.  You personally have now decided saving trees, buffers defined as greenbelts, net zero energy should now be a requirement for every new development.  Someone else may have their own personal wishlist they want to add to the mix.  Whose wishlist trumps whose, if they compete, don’t pencil out, are impractical?  I would argue that every house should be private enough that no one’s window can view anyone else’s backyard. I would argue there should be greenbelt between every house, so everyone has the opportunity to see greenbelt from their home.  I would argue that every home should be net positive energy.  Oh heck, I would argue everyone in town should own a castle!  I am not trying to be snarky, but I hope you understand my point.  The process has become so ridiculously complex, arbitrary and capricious, so not only does a developer not know what to expect, but the process if very unfair.  It literally drove one developer of the Cannery out of town.

        1. Michelle Millet

          Should every house have a greenbelt view? No that is not reasonable or practical. But if someone buys a house with a greenbelt view I think it is reasonable for them to assume that the will not lose that view because the city decides to sell the land to a developer.

          A few years ago we considered moving to Ventura, which has a population similar to Davis. When we visited what I found was a bunch of distinct, disconnected, subdivisions. There was no my kids could ride there bikes from one end of the town to the other like they can in Davis and needless to say traffic was an absolute nightmare.

          The excellent bike connectivity in Davis is one of its greatest assets, its one of the reason people choose to live here, and pay more money to do so. Not adding bike connectivity only benefits the developer. Adding it benefits everyone in the community, whether you bike or not.  So yes I firmly believe that it is essential to any new development, again this does not seem unreasonable nor impracticable.

          To be fair, neighbors start adding “policies” of their own at the eleventh hour, such as greenbelts and Swainson hawks. 

          What policies have the neighbors asked for? They are not asking for a greenbelt to be created. They are asking the city not to sell a greenbelt to a developer. What seems unreasonable to me is the developer making this request in order to improve their profit margin at the expense of these neighbors.

          Again I don’t see how the neighbors opposition to this is anyway unreasonable. Am I missing something?

          1. Matt Williams

            But if someone buys a house with a greenbelt view I think it is reasonable for them to assume that the will not lose that view because the city decides to sell the land to a developer.

            Michelle, it is indeed reasonable for them to assume … but unless they want to fall into the “You know what they say when you assume …” reality, they need to check the deeds of the properties in question to see if the view is protected by a deed restriction. Absent such a legal control, they are indeed assuming.

        2. Michelle Millet

          This is an excerpt from Friends of the Greenbelt:

          City staff have proposed a compromise, “Alternative Plan D,” that would enhance the easterly greenbelt, fully protect a grove of Canary Island Pines, provide for a row of trees along the westerly greenbelt, and swap the northerly greenbelt for a strip of land along Covell Boulevard for pedestrian and bicycle use. It would mitigate traffic and parking impacts, and build six houses on the site. This conceptual staff plan is a compromise worth pursuing, assuming it doesn’t involve any sale of greenbelt. Another compromise, approved by the then-City Council in 2009, also has broad community support. The developer recently submitted a plan, “D2,” that we cannot support.

          If I understand it correctly, reducing the number of houses on the site from 8 to 6 solves a majority of the issues. Building 6 houses instead of 8 benefits the neighbors and the community. Building 8 benefits the developer and has multiple negative impacts on the community. Again this seems a no brainer, so I will repeat the question. Am I missing something?

        3. Mark West

          “Building 6 houses instead of 8 benefits the neighbors and the community.”

          I understand how it might help the neighbors, but I see no benefit to the wider community.  More houses means more fees and tax revenues that will help the City pay its bills, and provide a couple of additional homes for people to live in.  Those are real benefits to the community.

          How does reducing the number of houses benefit the rest of us?

           

           

        4. Michelle Millet

          How does reducing the number of houses benefit the rest of us?

           

          I think the staff report does a good job answering this question:

          “City staff have proposed a compromise, ““Alternative Plan D,” that would enhance the easterly greenbelt, fully protect a grove of Canary Island Pines, provide for a row of trees along the westerly greenbelt, and swap the northerly greenbelt for a strip of land along Covell Boulevard for pedestrian and bicycle use.”

          I would argue that fully protecting mature trees and creating paths for pedestrian and bicycle use benefit the community.

          I also believe that having pockets of accessible open space benefit the community at large.

          More houses means more fees and tax revenues that will help the City pay its bills, and provide a couple of additional homes for people to live in.

          The additional fees and tax revenues that come from 2 additional houses does not seem significant enough to justify the negative impacts associated with building them. As far as providing additional home for people, if the developer was planning on building lower price homes which this community is desperately in need of I’d have some sympathy for this argument, but I believe the estimated cost of these homes will be $750,000.

        5. South of Davis

          Michelle wrote:

          > if someone buys a house with a greenbelt view I think it is reasonable

          > for them to assume that the will not lose that view

          Any idea if the people on the north side of Koso will be fighting to keep the “greenbelt” behind their homes and stop the development that will block their “view” of passing big rigs and tanker trains?

        6. Michelle Millet

          Any idea if the people on the north side of Koso will be fighting to keep the “greenbelt” behind their homes and stop the development that will block their “view” of passing big rigs and tanker trains?

          The field in question is not now, nor to my knowledge ever been a “greenbelt”.  It was zoned for commercial use sometime in the 80’s I think, years before the houses on my street were built.

          I will be a little sad to see the field go, it’s fun to watch the red tail hawks hunt on it, but as it is zoned for commercial use, and I knew that when I bought my house, I realized that it’s being developed was inevitable.

           

    3. Davis Progressive

      trees are not a small deal.  trees mean cutting down on heat reaching the ground in the summer.

      ““On the developers’ side, they wonder if the city actually is serious about preventing urban sprawl and focusing on its policies of infill development”

      this is a bunch of crap.  it’s not infill uber alles.  deciding between 6, 8, and 12 units on a small parcel is not going to make a damn bit of different about urban sprawl.

  4. Barack Palin

    in which the loudest voices and not necessarily the majority of citizens get their way, and where some city policies are totally ignored in favor of some new standard devised by a small group of angry citizens. 

    That’s just it, the loudest are also the citizens that are most effected by it.  As far as who is the majority, I’m sure there are many Davisites who are opposed to the city selling off greenbelts.

    1. Mark West

      “the loudest are also the citizens that are most effected by it.”

      I don’t think that is true as a rule in Davis.  Some of the loudest voices in regard to this project for instance have no personal stake at risk at all. In fact I would say that the reason we have the (capricious and arbitrary?) system that we use for vetting development projects is because so many people feel ‘entitled’ to weigh in (repeatedly, and at high volume) on every little step, combined with a City Council more than willing to enable and reward the complainers.

       

    2. Anon

      That’s just it, the loudest are also the citizens that are most effected by it.  As far as who is the majority, I’m sure there are many Davisites who are opposed to the city selling off greenbelts.

      The Sierra Club is effected by this project?  And Claudia Morain is claiming the issue affects all of Davis.  Make no mistake, this is all about the loudest voices, often a minority view.  From the Davis Enterprise article:

      A group of neighbors on Sargent and Whistler courts in Wildhorse, which back up to the property, have launched a robust campaign, rallying neighbors, gathering more than 1,000 petition signatures, launching the website davisgreenbelts.org, gaining the support of the local Sierra Club and holding meetings with City Council members

      In a Jan. 29 letter to the editor, neighbor Claudia Morain said the issue affects all of Davis, not just her neighborhood.

      1. Anon

        From the Davis Enterprise article, just to show how many non-neighbors are getting involved:

        A group of neighbors on Sargent and Whistler courts in Wildhorse, which back up to the property, have launched a robust campaign, rallying neighbors, gathering more than 1,000 petition signatures, launching the website davisgreenbelts.org, gaining the support of the local Sierra Club and holding meetings with City Council members.

        1. Anon

          To Don:  Someone indicated that only those effected were involved in this dispute.  I merely pointed out that many citizens who are not directly effected are getting involved.  Please don’t put words in my mouth.

  5. Barack Palin

    In a Jan. 29 letter to the editor, neighbor Claudia Morain said the issue affects all of Davis, not just her neighborhood.

    Don’t think that if the city set a precedent of selling off a greenbelt that it would effect all of Davis?  Claudia Morain is 100% correct.

     

    1. Anon

      But according to the city, it is not a “greenbelt” but a buffer that was only designed for the original house, which is no longer there.  Thus the specifically designated need for the buffer is gone. This is why the city needs to be more explicit in its requirements, and it needs to stick to them.

      1. Michelle Millet

        But according to the city, it is not a “greenbelt” but a buffer that was only designed for the original house, which is no longer there. 

        Were the people who purchased houses adjacent to this buffer made aware that once the original house was gone the open space behind their property could be converted to housing?

        1. Anon

          People purchasing houses adjacent cannot just assume that a buffer will remain there forever.  They have to do due diligence and investigate whether the land in question was a greenbelt or buffer, and the legal implications thereof.

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