It has been about five or six months since Kemble Pope, the former Chamber CEO and public liaison for Trackside, first approached me about their proposed project. It was in the very conceptual stage but was a proposal about redevelopment of a very underutilized and old facility in a prime location just east of the railroad tracks on the north side of Third Street.
We received a heads up about the application being turned in and knew that the Davis Enterprise would be running a quick story on it. However, given other priorities in the news this time of year and the fact that Kemble Pope was away on a pre-planned family vacation, there did not seem to be urgency to run the story just to run the story. So we held off but, of course, when 13 people show up to public comment, the dynamics change.
This week I will be meeting with Mr. Pope and hope to get some answers to key questions, particularly on the reasons they had to go up to five and a half stories, and also to understand where the miscommunication occurred in terms of the public outreach.
This column, therefore, represents my first thoughts on the project with the belief that, as more information comes available, my view will be updated.
As my board member Tia Will put it, she is “absolutely delighted at the thought of an upgrade to these buildings which are very old, clearly past their prime, and needing development.”
However, she was critical of the project as designed. “The proposal is to put in a six-story building in an area in which the maximal height of residences is two stories and many of them are one story. I see this as a clear departure from the nature of the existing neighborhood.”
The biggest challenge for the city of Davis going forward is to reconcile several different conflicting city goals. First, we have growth restrictions on the periphery and, while I have been an advocate for building modest sized, 200-acre innovation parks, I have been an opponent at this time in continued peripheral housing developments.
But, with the city needing more rental units and more office space in the core, ways that we can densify the core while maintaining our borders are ones we should pursue. However, with densification comes neighborhood concerns. People get mocked and accused of NIMBYism, but this is people’s homes, their lives, their investments. It is understandable that people will object to massive changes that will impact their lives. We need to be respectful of those concerns and not simply dismiss those concerns as NIMBYism.
Nevertheless, we can identify clear needs for the community and for changing this particular property.
The existing facility in the proposed project location is a clear example of underutilized space – there are single-story buildings with large amounts of space taken for the alleyway and parking. It is hard to imagine a worse use of existing space than what is there currently.
That said, I agree with the neighbors at this time that six stories (really five and a half) is too radical a change in the transition zone. I think when I originally met with Mr. Pope, I was thinking three or four stories. I don’t agree with the neighbors that two stories is ideal – given the trees and the distance from the housing, I don’t think three or four stories is as much as they think.
There are also cost concerns that the neighbors (for good reason) are not considering. Some people that I have spoken to believe that the applicants probably needed to go up to six stories for the project to pencil out. That will be a key question. Hopefully there is room to compromise there.
Second, part of what I find alluring about the project proposal is that this isn’t some large, out-of-town land developer. This really is a “crowd-sourced” development project.
We are talking about a very unique approach with a group of local investors, most of whom are far from wealthy: Sandra & Philip Bachand, Jeremy Brooks, Joy Cohan, Jim Davis & Lori Schilling Davis, Carol & Bill Elms, Lucas & Stacie Frerichs, Steve & Teri Greenfield, Craig & Tracey Long, Bret Hewitt & Deborah Pinkerton, Matt Kowta, Mitch Mysliwiec & Michelle Millet, Justin Owens, Kemble & Katherine Pope, Sandy Paige, Bill Roe, Chuck Roe, Eric & Channa Roe, Jeff & Deb Stromberg, Craig & Michelle Stromberg, Eric & Pat Stromberg, Krista & Carson Wilcox, and Carri & Jay Ziegler.
These are people who live in our community and have done so for years. These are people who care about our community. I may not always agree with any of them about what is best for the community, but I do not question their commitment to the community.
We have to be mindful that, because this is not a group with deep pockets, we might not have the leverage to demand the kinds of changes we might ordinarily want in a project of this sort. For example, the issue of parking concerns came up – I’m a big believer that to really achieve increased density in the downtown, we need to go down to create parking, as well as going up.
Unfortunately, with the loss of redevelopment, the expensive option of going down for parking is probably outside of our range, but it might behoove the city to look into potential grants to fund below-ground parking for this site.
However, that does lead to one of my concerns and it has to do with the role of Councilmember Lucas Frerichs. This is certainly not a personal criticism of Mr. Frerichs – a few years ago, he and his wife moved into their own small infill home on B St.
He has long been a supporter of infill development, this was a rare opportunity, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to be part of a project of this sort. I appreciate the transparency that he has shown in this process and the opinion he sought from the city attorney that we excerpted from on Friday.
However, as much as he can recuse himself from decisions, I wonder if he can ever really disentangle the influence of being on council and having an active project before the city. From a legal standpoint, he looks clean, but from a practical standpoint there will always be questions, especially if this remains a controversial project with segments of the community. This is not a huge problem for either Mr. Frerichs or the project, but it is there and, if the project remains controversial, it will be something that opponents will point to.
From a positive standpoint this project has a lot of strengths. It is a far better and more efficient use for a prime location next to the downtown. It is not being put forward by out-of-town developers but rather by a group of citizens who are not running with hugely deep pockets.
Clearly, there were some missteps in communication with the neighbors, as well, that have to be cleaned up.
We agree with the neighbors that six stories is too high and too large a leap in a transition area, and would like to see a compromise between the six stories proposed and the two stories the neighbors want, which seems to be infeasible.
Finally, we again urge the city to start looking at the downtown as a whole rather than creating a patchwork of projects that come up as landowners seek to redevelop existing parcels – the problem with that approach is that we will have an inconsistent downtown, which is indeed what is happening.
If the project is out of compliance with various guidelines, now is probably a good time to review those guidelines to see if they still make sense.
—David M. Greenwald reporting