A special meeting of the Davis Planning Commission at 8 am, out on the greenbelt near the site, served as an opportunity for the developers of the Hyatt House hotel, along Cowell Boulevard next to Davis Diamonds, to unveil a plan they hope will quell neighborhood concerns about privacy. Meanwhile, a small contingent of neighbors continued to speak out against the hotel location.
It was an impressive demonstration, as the developers strung balloons decked out in red, white and blue – with red representing the third and fourth story windows in an effort to illustrate the level of privacy or lack thereof. The developers then hired a professional drone pilot to traverse the extent of the hotel along the third and fourth story window levels to show the extent to which an individual can see into the homes and backyards of residents.
But the biggest part of the day was the unveiling of a new plan that will hopefully, at least partially, screen the homes of neighbors from the windows of the third and fourth story of the hotel.
“We listened, we worked with the developer and we have some possible solutions to take care of what we heard as the primary concern is the privacy issue,” explained Rick Harper, one of the project architect. They calculated the angle from the windows to the fence line in order “to block that view for complete privacy.”
“What we’ve come up with is a screen,” he said. The simple screen looks like a balcony, without the ability for the hotel guests to walk onto it. It looks like any hotel balcony but “what it is, is a screen floating out there that blocks both your views from here so you can’t see in the rooms and from the rooms you can’t see the neighbors’ yards or their windows.”
He explained, “We’re offering that as a way to help resolve or mitigate the visual privacy issue with or without trees. I think trees are something nice that should be maintained, but this really gives you almost a 100 percent protection for your visual privacy.”
He reiterated, “We listened and we’re trying to respond to your concerns.”
The Commission during public comment heard from a number of the neighbors prior to the presentation by the developers.
Former Mayor Maynard Skinner, who is not a neighbor, spoke out against the project, noting that historically they always kept the hotels near the downtown. Most of them are within walking distance of the downtown, but this one is far enough “that I just don’t think many people will walk to the downtown. I don’t know why the DDBA and the Chamber of Commerce went for this because they are going to go to the shopping center to the west or Mace Blvd.”
He added that this is only going to add to congestion along Richards Boulevard.
Neil Nhanowa, who lives on nearby Donovan Court, speaking as one of the leaders of the neighborhood asked the Planning Commission to “really take a step back and look at this as a community not today, but at 10, 11, or 2 in the morning – think about the noise impacts of the parking lot immediately on the other side of this fence would do to you, if you were a neighbor.”
He noted, “One of the main concerns of some of our neighbors is long term, should this be the only privacy screen we have, should something happen to the trees that inkling of privacy is diminished.”
“We’ve heard in the Planning Commission last week that safety is an issue,” he said. “I don’t think you can talk to one neighbor and they feel that this area is unsafe. A building that fits within current zoning isn’t going to alter the safety – it’s actually going to have better impacts for us given that it’s not 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Alisa Burnett expressed concerns about the trees, noting that 9 of 23 trees show signs of trees under stress. “That’s nearly half of these trees that are showing signs of problems,” she explained. “The idea that we’re going to have a privacy screen that is based on living things that are impacted by many different diseases… it’s irresponsible to think that they’ll never die and what happens if they do die – we get a 15-gallon sapling – that takes the next twenty years to improve our privacy screen.”
She concluded these “trees are not healthy enough, we need something better to preserve our right to privacy.”
Later in the meeting, City Arborist Rob Cain told the neighbors that, like any living thing, the trees are eventually going to die. He noted that “this area is an area that’s not maintained as meticulously as other places as it is a greenbelt area.”
He described the trees as being in “fair to good health.” He added, “The structural problems are due mainly to planting large trees too close together.” He noted, “Trees need light, they’re going to try to grow towards the light, so you’re going to have disfigured trees if you try to put a large canopy sized tree in.”
Bridgette Boyd discussed the noise issues. She was concerned about the pool and parking lot’s effects on the neighbors. She quoted the noise ordinance and argued, “I feel it’s a pretty strong argument that having parking stalls, and people hanging out on outdoor patios and a swimming pool right here in the back of these people’s homes is unreasonable noise for the neighborhood.”
Carlos Casillas noted that he lives in the most impacted home, where there are breaks in the tree line and only two deciduous trees with high foliage, leaving his property more open than many along the greenbelt. He noted the ability to see into his bedroom and bathroom windows.
He said he likes the hotel but “it’s just a square trying to fit into a circle.” He said, “great idea, just the wrong place.”
Mr. Casillas took the Vanguard along with Planning Commissioner Cheryl Essex into his home so we could see from his perspective.
The Planning Commission listened and observed. They will meet next week at their regular time and place to make determinations about this project.
—David M. Greenwald reporting