The neighbors of Trackside posed the issue of the city’s planning by exception. They wrote that the neighborhood association “supports development on the Trackside site, as specified by the Design Guidelines.”
They continue, “The Trackside Partners, however, appear to have bought the Trackside property speculating that the city would change the zoning for their project, superseding the Design Guidelines.
“City of Davis planning can no longer operate on ‘zoning by exception.’ The city must stop changing zoning at will, throwing out hard-won agreements made with the time and effort of residential and business stakeholders. The purpose of zoning laws is to establish clear expectations for allowed uses of real property, certainty of investment and to minimize conflicts among neighboring properties.”
“Zoning by exception defeats this purpose,” they argue. “This is a citywide issue, and the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association is taking a stand, saying that zoning by exception stops here, before Trackside itself is built as yet another exception.”
This again brings the issue of the need for the city to look into updates, but there is a bigger issue looming than just a General Plan update.
The original Trackside development was planned at six stories. The neighbors objected to the plan on the basis (among others) that the development would put six stories next to single- and two-story residential housing, in violation of the Design Guidelines which specified a transition zone.
As the neighbors put it, “The Design Guidelines specified a transition zone for a reason: to create a gentle gradient between disparate land uses. Ignoring the value of a transition zone could result in undesirable juxtapositions and conflicting land uses.”
While the developers have come back with a new design that lowers the building to four stories, the neighbors came back arguing, “The newly proposed, four-story Trackside Center fails to make an appropriate transition in any direction.”
They argue, “The Design Guidelines clearly state that a two-story, mixed-use building — with a clearly set-back third story — is a desirable transition from downtown to the historic neighborhood. The new Trackside Center proposal is the same height as the Chen Building at Second and H streets. In addition, Trackside would have about twice the footprint and mass as the Chen Building.”
One of the posters in the neighbors’ article lays out the problem. First, they say that “simply because the city needs revenue doesn’t mean it needs to grow up. Personally I would rather maintain the character of the city and do what it always did until measure R, grow out.”
They add that “we agree on this anti-density thing but not the answer which, I believe is to grow out instead of what I believe is your position that we shouldn’t build much of anything.”
This is the biggest issue facing growth in the city of Davis.
Measure R has prevented the three proposed “peripheral” projects to be built. The city was eventually able to build Cannery, which did not require a Measure R vote. But that is the last of the large parcels that would allow for a housing subdivision to be built in the city.
That inability for the city to build out means that the city can look at redeveloping parcels – making them more dense, taller, so that there is less footprint but more density.
But, as we see with Trackside, we saw with Paso Fino, and we are seeing now with Sterling, densification brings out concerns – legitimate concerns with neighbors. The Vanguard visited some of those homes along I Street that would have the back of their property directly across the alley from the new development.
It is very clear that this will have a massive impact on a small number of homes. It is also very clear that most people in that neighborhood will not have direct impacts, but there are legitimate concerns here.
The city has serious housing needs. The city also has the need for commercial, retail, and research and development. With Measure R either directly or indirectly limiting growth outward there will be more calls, not fewer, to build up and more densely.
That creates impacts in the form of visual sight lines, and also noise and traffic on existing residential neighborhoods. These are the same concerns raised by the neighbors at the proposed Hyatt House hotel development.
The problem is clear. The answer is less so. Some have argued that you should not build up, you need to build out. Others have argued that not being able to build out means we must build up. Finally, there are those who have seemed to argue that we should do neither and let the university deal with growth impacts.
This is the critical issue – even more than the planning by exception issue – facing this community, and we need to figure out a common vision or approach to resolve it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting