The Davis Planning Commission on Wednesday listened to nearly an hour and a half of public comment. Thirty-seven people spoke on Wednesday night, and while the commenters were evenly split on whether they supported or opposed the Hyatt House Hotel project proposed for south Davis on Cowell Boulevard along I-80, with 20 speaking out against the project, the neighbors were near unanimous in their opposition.
In deciding to hold over the decision for another meeting, it was clear that while a number of the arguments from the neighbors were rejected, a big concern that the Planning Commission had was the issue of privacy, with many neighbors concerned that third and fourth story windows would look directly into their homes and with many expressing concern over the sufficiency and also permanency of the tree cover.
Commissioner Stephen Mikesell said, “I heard reference to a number of things that might individually or collectively constitute a nuisance – the visual impact of the hotel.” In addition to noise, he noted that there are concerns from the neighbors about public safety or “bad actors being added into the neighborhood,” traffic and privacy.
“I think I heard enough to come to the general conclusion that almost of those really don’t rise to the level of being a nuisance,” he said. “The one that was bothersome to me was, and was probably listed by 80 percent of those who opposed the project, was the subject of privacy.”
He said, “Privacy is a really sticky issue because even a residential development raises the issue of privacy because you have two-story buildings next to one-story buildings and it’s impossible to have a backyard that no one can look into.”
“That was the most strong statement that I heard from the community,” he said.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Cheryl Essex added, “I really don’t understand the concern about strangers. I have to say.”
“At our best, we’re really an open-hearted community,” she said. “We want to be a model … we talk about all the time, how proud we are of our community and how we want to be a model and so many different ways. To be a model, you have to show it off. We’ve got one of the finest universities in the world here – we like to show it off. We love strangers in our town.”
“I don’t understand the concerns about security in the neighborhood,” Ms. Essex continued. “I think the hotel would be a real benefit to that.”
She went on to note a number of benefits to the city in terms of business as well as noise reduction from the freeway. “I feel like it could increase security, so you don’t have to worry about arson in your backyard,” she added. But she said, “I think there is a strong potential for privacy impacts to the neighbors. I’m really concerned about that.”
Ms. Essex said she felt like they couldn’t move forward at this particular meeting because she doesn’t think “we know for certain what those privacy impacts may be and whether we have adequately mitigated them.”
Neil Denowa, one of the neighbors who presented the petition that was on Change.org, noted that, given concerns about the validity of the signatures, they scrubbed out non-Davis zip codes. “We still have 255 signatures before you today asking you not to re-zone this parcel of land,” he said.
He told the commission that he went door to door and through phone calls and email to speak with 75 to 100 households. He said he wanted to understand what the concerns were. “I would say the number one concern that I have heard from my neighbors is the 24-hour, 7 days a week occupancy of this business.”
He said that when they purchased their homes they were under the impression that this would be a business park or light industrial, most of the business occurring while people were at work and not in their homes. “I think that speaks volumes to the privacy that you expect when you’re building a property 50 to 100 feet away from our houses. The proximity of this to our homes is simply too close,” he stated.
Alyssa Burnett, an Albany Avenue resident, said she would face this hotel directly. Her first concern “is the impact on privacy on my home and those of my neighbors. The back of this hotel will have four stories of windows that will face our homes, our yards, the line of sight from the third and fourth story will be directly into the front of my house.”
She added that those across the street will have rooms facing the rooms of their children and their backyards.
“The tree study commissioned by the Hyatt noted that there are a number of trees that are not healthy or that need to be defoliated to some extent,” she said. “The drone video is inconsequential. If those trees don’t exist, you no longer have that line of privacy.”
Karen Ashby lives on Christie Court, five houses outside of the 500-foot zone. She said that the process has been mis-characterized as she never received any sort of outreach or communication about this process. “My home is affected as much as anyone else’s,” she said.
She said it was critical to separate the discussion of the hotel, the art, the wine bar and the pool from the location. “This is fundamentally about the location,” she said. “If you pick up this hotel and put it in another location all the points raised by the group presenting this – they all still apply… It all still exists but not on the backs of the South Davis residents.”
Ms. Ashby said that the existing noise doesn’t bother her and “I’m not asking for a 120 room hotel for noise abatement.”
On the other hand, James Major, the owner of Davis Diamonds Gymnastics, which would be the next door neighbors of the Hyatt House hotel, noted that they have been in their current location for about a year and a half. “During that time, we have had three very serious, very expensive cases of vandalism on the building. From our point of view, the more traffic there is in this area, the better it will be.”
“The more activity there is around the area, the safer it’s going to be for everybody,” he said.
Mr. Major noted that there is subpar infrastructure and utilities in the area and they see the development of the Hyatt House as a positive for the development of utilities and other infrastructure.
“We would love to organize gymnastics competitions in Davis,” he said. He said visiting competitors and their families would stay for awhile and that would be a positive for the whole community, but “they need a place to stay. That’s not adequate right now.”
DeChristy Adams noted that, as a mother of two gymnasts, this might help improve the troublesome parking situation at Davis Diamonds. “The parking in their lot is very bad and there are lots of children,” she said.
She is also the fundraiser at Montgomery Elementary School, “Marguerite is the school that has a lot of low income housing in South Davis therefore there’s a tremendous low income population at the school… We have over 60 percent low income and the Hyatt House project has been tremendously generous with their offer of support to help these children get extracurricular exposure to things that a lot of kids get after school, in school.”
Scott Davis, while neither opposing nor supporting the project, noted he lives within 500 feet of a four-story apartment complex – the Eighth and Wake project built by the university on Wake Forest Drive a few years ago. “There were a lot of concerns about that project, but in retrospect we’ve all come to realize it was really a pretty good thing for us because we live right next to 113, and the noise off that highway is kind of ridiculous at times.”
“Without that structure there we’d be getting the full force of that 24/7,” he continued. “I’m not here as a proponent or a detractor of the project, that’s not why I’m here. I’m just here to share my experience which is that in my neighborhood we haven’t had any problems with this development… I can certainly vouch for the fact that the noise abatement has been a real benefit to our neighborhood in that regard.”
The Planning Commission discussed with city staff doing a full walk-through of the site as a public meeting. They would not make a determination on the project at that time, which right now is scheduled for their next meeting on September 14.
—David M. Greenwald reporting