Planning Commission Votes Not to Move Ahead with Hyatt House

External view with privacy screen
External view with privacy screen

It was another situation with the developers of the Hyatt House attempting to better address the neighbors’ privacy concerns by adding a secondary tree line in back of the proposed hotel to better help shield the neighbors from impacts, this after previously adding screening to the windows to block sight lines to the neighbors – but it would not matter.

Though smaller in number, the neighbors remained strongly opposed to this project, perhaps any project, and this time they were backed with a narrow 4-3 vote from the planning commission to not move forward with the project.

Ultimately, this will be an issue that the council takes up – perhaps in conjunction with the Marriott proposal, which is scheduled to be heard later this month by the planning commission and in October by the city council.

Just what the 4-3 vote meant is perhaps more murky than usual, as the planning commission seemed poised to vote down the project, but the manner in which the vote was crafted was unusual.  Commissioner George Hague moved that the commission not move forward with an approval of the staff recommendation.

The motion was seconded by Stephen Streeter, although Mr. Streeter would eventually vote against the motion.  For him, he said he wanted to see a maximum height of three stories rather than four stories.

In the meantime, Mr. Hague said that he did not think this was the best location for a hotel but, at the same time, he did not see the problems with the current site as insurmountable.

Then there was chair Rob Hofmann, who said he was “of two minds on this.”  He expressed concern about access and noted that Denny’s had to close down the block due to the poor location and there has never been a replacement for that restaurant, which he called “a real concern.”

“I don’t think those are insurmountable,” he said, noting it was commendable that the developers have gone as far as they have to address privacy concerns.

For him, a big sticking point was the resolution passed by the city council regarding establishing criteria for evaluation of hotel proposals.  This issue was first pointed out by Marilee Hanson, and he indicated that this gives clear direction from the council about what criteria they should be basing their analysis upon.

Without this direction, Mr. Hofmann indicated he would probably have gone ahead and supported the project.

City Planner Katherine Hess said that these were intended to “supplement the customary planning entitlement review consideration” and, “so as we see it, the criteria on page 166 are things that the council’s going to look at when both of the planning applications are presented together…”

However, as Marilee Hanson pointed out in her lengthy analysis, the Hyatt House fails to meet most any of this criteria, which includes: “A) Proximity to demand generators, including international businesses, sports facilities, and UC Davis. B) Pedestrian and bicycle access and accommodations, including loaner bicycles. C) Visibility and accessibility from Interstate 80. D) Site location, product characteristics and amenities, and desirability for extended stay travelers (restaurants, groceries, neighborhood services, etc.). E) Proximity or access to public transit. F) Proximity to residences and neighborhood compatibility. G) Existing zoning.”

Projected with the added tree line in the rear
Project with the added tree line in the rear

Indeed, her analysis found that none of the assets of this project are site specific, but most of the downsides are generated by the project’s location.

She told the commission that she visited hotels in Vacaville, Dixon and Davis.  She was interested in the interface with housing and found “no single hotel that presented the odd compatibility issues with housing and parks.”  There were, she said, “no sites that compared to this.”

She found that, in all three cities, I-80 “appears to be incredibly important to these hotels.”  She noted that all of the hotels were closer to I-80 on-ramps and off-ramps, except for Davis’ downtown hotels.

Ms. Hanson also noted the importance of amenities and that almost all of the hotels had restaurants that you could walk to in 30 seconds, with close proximity to coffee houses, grocery stores and gas stations, and this site offers none of that.

Ms. Hanson also expressed concern that the developer and staff were relying on a public greenbelt to address privacy concerns.  The trees, she noted, were not in good shape and there was no concrete provision in the language of the report to compel the developer or the city to replace lost trees.

She also argued that the city really should do an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), not a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND).  She spent a good amount of time dealing with what she saw as the insufficiency of the specific findings.

“I find it difficult to agree that the initial study demonstrates that there are no potentially significant impacts and I think it’s too bad that an EIR wasn’t done because it would have included alternatives which would have been kind of nice,” she said.

Herman Boschken indicated that he was in large agreement with Ms. Hanson’s critique.  He said that this was a “quagmire” in that you had a well-meaning and experienced developer, but ultimately the problem was not with the developer “but the city of Davis and what it has failed to do.”

Mr. Boschken argued that “this problem speaks to the usability of a badly outdated general plan,” though he also questioned why the developer chose to pick this site in the first place.

He said that there are “a lot unanswered questions,” but not based on “insufficient information, but rather a conflict over what they are supposed to do with regard to how to envision this hotel.”  He added they are “dangerously close to spot zoning” here, which he offered as illegal.

He identified four key concerns.  First is the remoteness of the site, as he noted that “this hotel isn’t by anything, isn’t near anything.”  Second is the issue of access, in that you would “expect that there would be ample access and mobility to the things you came here for,” and he noted that public transportation wasn’t even on the mainline.

Mr. Boschken worried about the long-term viability of the site, noting that, while this is being billed as a Hyatt House, hotels change hands a lot and finances don’t pencil out.  Finally he echoed concerns about the commitment from the city to maintain the “green screen,” which was seen as the key to privacy.

On the other hand, Cheryl Essex said that she listened to the concerns of neighbors and felt that this site was really designed as part of a mixed-use neighborhood,  but the city developed single-family homes first, while the business park has not been developed and has lain vacant for over 20 years.

In her view, the key consideration about the impacts should be over the comparison between the impact of currently zoned development versus the hotel.

“Ultimately, I think this is better, I think the hotel is better,” Ms. Essex said, noting “there is 24-hour security, the traffic patterns are much more dispersed, they do not go through the neighborhood whatsoever, the privacy screens on the south windows and the hotel’s commitment to provide its guests with quiet night sleep is a significant benefit over that of a 50-foot tall office building.”

She said that the proposal is likely to reduce vandalism, and that it would certainly reduce incessant freeway noise, with privacy impacts adequately addressed.  She noted that the project is adequately set back to the homes, and there is now a bonus of 25-year-old trees.  The additional layer of trees is a real benefit.

She said that she wished neighbors had worked more with developer and city staff, but that the site has been vacant for 20 years – so, obviously, existing zoning wasn’t sufficient.

In the end, the vote was 4-3, but the positions of Mr. Hague and Mr. Hofmann on the yes side and Mr. Streeter on the no side were considerably nuanced.  The project will likely be appealed to council, and ultimately they will decide.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. hpierce

    If the PC is appealed, I hope (foolishly, I admit) the CC looks at facts as to land use criteria…

    It appears clear that the PC votes had their collective heads “elsewhere”…

    PC and CC actions should give little/no consideration as to economic viability, except in the most egregious cases (which should be ‘nipped in the bud’ by staff).

    I truly don’t care if this particular project comes to fruition or not… I am very disturbed with the apparent “decision-making” process… this one looks like a purely political “punt”… I recommend complete replacement of the entire PC, and hope for a “do over”, where people who are appointed who actually think, and who have the best interests of the community at heart, instead of how they are “perceived”… yeah, again foolish hopes…

    One way or another, am thinking it should have been at least a 5-2 (or 2-5) vote… this reeks of cowardice, lack of (pick your noun), and lack of rational thought.  That’s scary…

    It should have been convincingly approved, or convincingly rejected. [although, if it was a true “tweener”, “no” is better than “yes”]

    1. Adam Smith

      Agree with you hpierce – the PC members should be replaced – they allowed themselves to be trapped in the wrong discussion.     The PC spent a tremendous amount of the discussion time on whether or not the hotel would survive in that location.   To my knowledge, none of those commissioners have any experience in the hotel business.  They have in their hands a viability study from PKF, (who along with HVS, are the two “go-to” consultants in the hotel business) concluding  this was an excellent location and project.  Yet, somehow, Marilee Hanson spends a day driving from Davis to Vacaville and she is now an expert on site selection for an extended stay  hotel, and concludes that  this is a terrible location for a hotel.

      The developer, investors and lenders will be risking more than $20 million to build this hotel.  The developer is local and experienced in this asset class.    They work with local lenders.   The combined expertise of these business people understand the market and the opportunity for success or failure.

      Lets hope for a more rational, focused  discussion at the CC.  Lets also hope for  better staffed PC.


      1. Barack Palin

        I agree with Hpierce and Adam Smith.  The viability of any business that wants to build and open a store should not be the PC’s concern.  Have they in the past used the viability of other entities that wanted to build and open a business as a factor?

        1. quielo

          They should hope the hotel fails, it will be an opportunity for instant “affordable housing” as the conversion to a SRO w/kitchenette will be trivial and the neighbors won’t have to worry about “strangers” anymore.

      2. Frankly

        I was thinking exactly this.

        I think it is out of bounds for any planning commission member to insert their opinion of financial viability of the proposed use unless they are actually deep into the business plan and financial projections of that endeavor.   It would be a worthy discussion to debate if this is something we should expect and value in the ongoing role of the planning commission.   As someone in the business of analyzing and vetting the projected financial viability of business projects, I can tell you that it takes significant underwriting experience to do this well.   For the most part, I trust the financial judgement of investors more than I would people with only a cursory understanding of the project, the industry and the market.

    2. South of Davis

      hpierce wrote:

      > PC and CC actions should give little/no consideration as to economic viability

      It is nice to know that our planning commission (who does not run successful local hotels) knows more about “economic viability” of a local hotel than the Hayatt developers (that actually run multiple local successful hotels).

      It reminds me of (Billionaire) Fred Smith’s (not a Billionaire) Harvard professor telling him that his idea for an overnight delivery was “interesting”, but to get more than a C on the paper he would need an idea that was “possible” or (Billionaire) Mark Zuckerberg’s (not a Billionaire) Harvard professor telling him that dropping out of school was a bad idea since he had no chance of success with MySpace having such a big head start…

  2. quielo

    I Agree with the PC. They should put hotels on Olive. Except for possibly G) all of these exist at Olive.

     “A) Proximity to demand generators, including international businesses, sports facilities, and UC Davis. B) Pedestrian and bicycle access and accommodations, including loaner bicycles. C) Visibility and accessibility from Interstate 80. D) Site location, product characteristics and amenities, and desirability for extended stay travelers (restaurants, groceries, neighborhood services, etc.). E) Proximity or access to public transit. F) Proximity to residences and neighborhood compatibility. G) Existing zoning.”

  3. Sam

    Another huge win for the people of Davis. No matter how much a developer is willing to change their project the residents of Davis don’t want anything built anywhere near where they live and work. Can we start complaining about the lack of revenue that the city receives yet or do we have to wait a day?

    1. Chamber Fan

      This is the huge problem.  People talk about their quality of life, but guess what’s going to get cut – their greenbelt, their little park, their streets, etc.

  4. Frankly

    Let’s see if the CC has any huevos to get this done.

    At some point all the whiny neighbors of Davis need to give their lesson for what being a good community member requires.

    1. Chamber Fan

      I think this is on the council not the planning commission or whiny neighbors.  Watching it last night, there was too much confusion.  Staff didn’t help with the GP Amendment and other extraneous issues.

      1. hpierce

        Staff didn’t help with the GP Amendment and other extraneous issues.

        Suspect, but don’t know, if that might have been ‘a poison pill’… I hope not, as the ‘process’ should not be slanted  towards a “goal”…

  5. davisresident

    After watching the video, I’m a little baffled as to the rationale to reject the proposal from city staff based upon the criteria A) – G).  I certainly hope the same criteria is applied equally to the other proposed extended-stay hotel. If not, then there is something else going on here.

    A) Proximity to demand generators, including international businesses, sports facilities, and UC Davis.

    International businesses – I’d say it’s probably equal to the other proposed site.
    Sports  facilities – Davis Diamonds directly next door, Playfields Park across the street, Davis Legacy a straight shot
    UC Davis – 1.6 miles (the other development site is 5.4 miles)

    B) Pedestrian and bicycle access and accommodations, including loaner bicycles

    Wasn’t this one of the big strengths of the Hyatt proposal?  The greenbelt is directly behind the project site.

    C) Visibility and accessibility from Interstate 80

    The Hyatt proposal is located on a frontage road with tremendous visibility from the highway. It is about the same distance from the highway as the Hyatt Place, which (if I understand correctly) has not been hurting for business.

    D) Site location, product characteristics and amenities, and desirability for extended stay travelers (restaurants, groceries, neighborhood services, etc.)

    Oakshade Town Center: Round Table Pizza, Common Grounds Coffee, Mr. Pickles, Dos Coyotes, Boba Tea, a new chinese restaurant, Safeway, Rite Aid

    E) Proximity or access to public transit.

    Unitrans has at least two bus lines there, plus a hotel shuttle for guests

    F) Proximity to residences and neighborhood compatibility

    Mitigated as far as I could tell

    G) Existing zoning

    Neither hotel project is consistent with the zoning


    I watched the video of the PC meeting.  The ppt’s by one of the commissioners… I might address that later, but I want to watch it again first.

  6. Frankly

    This came to mind…

    A while ago I had an employee complain about another employee that would have her two young school-age kids to the office after school.  The two kids would walk to the office after school and just hang in the office of their mother and do their homework before they all went home at the end of the mother’s work shift.  The kids were generally very quiet and polite.  I also allow people to bring their dogs to work and keep them in their office.  I was clear in company policy and communication that I would allow this type of thing as long as the neither the kids nor the dogs would cause any significant disruption to the other employees.

    So this employee that complained… I asked for examples for when these kids disrupted him/her.

    He/she had nothing specific.

    The bottom line here is that they were disrupting this employee because he/she could not stop obsessing about the fact that they were there and it bothered him/her.  He/she didn’t think it was appropriate.  He/she didn’t think it was a good fit for the type of company and thought management should put a stop to it… and to allowing the dogs too because that was also a bother.

    I think there is a parallel here with the neighbors opposing the hotel and just about any development in their “back yard”.  People seem to create their own irrational opposition because they let themselves get bothered and then cannot get it out of their head.

    This is both a personal problem with those that have this tendency, and a leadership problem to try to accommodate it.

    Needless to say, the kids and the dogs are still allowed as long as they do not truly cause disruptions.  And I provide company benefits that can be used for employees to get therapy.

    1. hpierce

      Damn… Frankly, I hate to admit it, but you have pretty much hit the nail on the head, driving the ‘point’ home… je d’accord… not so sure about the City providing therapy for the neighbors if the project gets approved, on appeal… seems that would be a ‘gift of public funds’…

      And, to be clear, if the project is not approved on appeal, would also not support city-paid therapy for the applicant/supporters…

      1. Frankly

        No therapy needed for the applicant/supporters.  We just get together, drink a c___tail, and discuss the growing foolishness of the Davis DNA… and the lack of strong leadership to prevent the decline of the city.  Once we get that out of our system we go to work to try again.

        1. Frankly

          Really… you censored the spelling of a word that means an alcoholic beverage?

          [moderator] It filtered your post into the pending queue and wouldn’t stop doing that unless I edited it. The filter on this site doesn’t like roosters.

        2. hpierce

          Hint Frankly… try “beer”, “wine” (as opposed to whine), etc.  The drink you tried to refer to isn’t as healthy, unless you actually eat the olive… yes, it is a “silly” filter, but it is what it is…

      2. Biddlin

        I’m rigging for flying swine, just in case. If the project is not approved on appeal, it’s just another signal to the rest of the region that the city of Davis is closed for business.

        1. Alan Miller

          Unfortunately, Ron, it’s Winter’s tourism to claim.  It was a swimming hole up that way where the creek flows free where Fogerty frolicked, not the green scum pond by Mrak that was sealed off from flowing water long ago.

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