Why Staff Recommends Hyatt House after Denial by Planning Commission

External view with privacy screen/ rendering by HRGA
External view with privacy screen/ rendering by HRGA

The city of Davis planning staff is recommending approval of the Hyatt House, despite the 4-3 vote by the Planning Commission in September “that it could not support recommending approval of the applications.”

As Assistant Community Development and Sustainability Director Ashley Feeney explained to the Vanguard, “Staff provides their independent professional recommendation to both hearing bodies.  Prior actions of the City Commissions, inclusive of the Planning Commission, are explained in the staff report for City Council to consider.”

In the staff report, staff analyzes the Planning Commission decision and explains why they think their concerns can be overcome.

Staff writes that “the Commission passed, with 4-3 vote, a motion that the Commission cannot move ahead with recommending approval of the applications. Commissioners voting in favor of the motion cited what they believe to be inconsistency with the City Council criteria.”

They note, “There was stated confusion on how the Commission was to address the City Council criteria. Staff responded by requesting that the Commission focus on the criteria that was related to land use matters but some Commissioners voiced concern that the criteria was not elaborated on in the staff report and that the Commission was not given direction in the staff report on how to utilize the criteria in their review of the proposal.”

Staff continues, “The Commission did not structure its discussion to include point-by-point comments on the City Council criteria for consideration of hotel proposals.”

“Commissioners supporting the motion noted concerns about neighborhood impacts, building height, level of environmental review, enforceability of mitigation measures, impacts to the adjacent greenbelt, alternative uses for the property, distance from downtown and neighborhood services, site access, and concern about lack of clarity for how the City Council criteria was to be utilized by the Commission,” staff writes.

They add, “Other Commissioner comments reflected support for efforts by the applicant to address neighborhood issues, expectation of a mixed-use neighborhood, good access to transit, and potential impacts from alternative permitted uses for the property.”

The staff report then addresses six areas of concern.

With respect to consistency with the General Plan, South Davis Specific Plan and Zoning, staff “finds that an extended stay hotel can be an appropriate addition to the mix of uses found in a Business Park / Light Industrial area.”

They write, “A hotel use is similar to the restaurant and service station retail conditionally permitted under the Planned Development, and staff has concluded that the requested modification to the zoning is supportable.”

Staff notes that, while the project generally conforms to South Davis Specific Plan guidelines, “the proposed project exceeds the intensity anticipated in the General Plan and Planned Development. The GP Business Park category has a maximum floor area ratio of 50 percent, with an additional 15 percent for the housing component of a mixed use project. The proposed project has a FAR of 85 percent. The tower component of the proposed project exceeds the Planned Development’s height limit of 50 feet by five feet (which can be approved as a Minor Modification), and the four-story structure exceeds the three story limitation in the Planned Development.”

Staff concludes that “the consistency with General Plan and Planned Development goals can be met, and recommends approval of the General Plan Amendment, South Davis Specific Plan Amendment, and Planned Development Amendment, along with conditions of approval for the Conditional Use Permit and Design Review to ensure proper integration into the community in areas such as sustainability, operation, and parking management.”

With respect to aesthetics, “Staff appreciates the efforts of the applicant and project architect to refine the project design through the planning review process and recommends approval of the Design Review subject to conditions.”

On sustainability, the applicant has committed to achieving LEED Gold certification (something that the Residence Inn does not commit to).

Among the components are: photovoltaic panels on the rooftop and parking lot carports, anticipated to generate over 290 kilowatts of electricity; Energy Star refrigerators and dishwashers in guest rooms; rooftop solar thermal to serve guest rooms, laundries, and staff kitchen; EV charging stations; bicycle parking and loaner bikes; points incentive program for the use of alternative transportation; and a CNG shuttle bus to connect to UC Davis and the airport.

There are significant concerns from the neighbors, summarized as: safety, lighting, height of the hotel, adjacency to immediate neighbors, 24/7 business, transient nature of the business, aesthetics in terms of large scale buildings meshing with one-story homes, and no investment into the local community.

Staff notes it does not “consider the last issue (owner investment vs. local business) to be germane to the land use applications.”

Staff, however, concludes that “the project is not likely to become a nuisance to the neighborhood. Other permitted and conditionally-permitted uses in the Planned Development, including Davis Diamonds, also have the potential to attract visitors to Davis or operate during expanded business hours. The hotel will have staff to ensure that there are no noise or other impacts on the neighborhood.”

Staff adds some conditions which include: “The use shall be conducted in a manner that promotes good neighbor relations.” “The hotel shall have front-desk and management or security staff on premises at all times.” “Security staff shall patrol the parking lot no less frequently than once per hour during times of darkness.” “The parking lot shall have security cameras and lighting consistent with the City’s Outdoor Lighting Control Ordinance, subject to review and approval by the Police Department at the time of building permit issuance.”  “The fence between the hotel and the greenbelt shall be wrought iron or similar open design above a height of 3-4 feet.”

Finally, alcohol sales would be limited to beer and wine, with no sales of hard alcohol.

There was a lot of discussion about the council criteria for the evaluation of hotel proposals.  Staff notes, “The Commission did not structure its discussion to include point-by-point comments on the City Council criteria.”

Staff finds that the project, with recommended conditions of approval, is generally consistent with the following criteria:

A Proximity to demand generators, including international businesses, sports facilities, and UC Davis. The site is proximate to the Interland-University Research Park, UC Davis, and Playfields Park.

B Pedestrian and bicycle access and accommodations, including loaner bicycles. The project includes loaner bicycles for guests (Conditions 89 and 90). Bicycle parking for guests is provided near the front entrance of the building. The site is located with direct access to a robust off street greenbelt/bicycle path network (see exhibit) and allows for ready access to the community without a need to use vehicles or cross streets. The project also includes secure bicycle parking for hotel employees.

C Visibility and accessibility from Interstate 80. Planning Commissioners noted that the site is highly visible from Interstate 80, but not proximate to either the Mace Boulevard or Richards Boulevard interchanges. Staff notes that the general practice of on-line or telephone reservations, loyalty programs, and GPS navigation has reduced the benefit of immediate freeway visibility/offramp access in hotel marketing. In addition, extended-stay hotels would likely gain less benefit from freeway accessibility, because guests are anticipated to have limited freeway trips once they arrive at the hotel.

E Proximity or access to public transit. The Unitrans W line provides services on Cowell Boulevard to/from the UC Davis campus. The application includes improvements to Cowell Boulevard, including a Rapid Rectangular Flashing Beacon to aid pedestrian crossing and an enhanced waiting area for the bus stop. Real-time information on bus schedules is readily available by smartphone app.

G Existing zoning. The proposal requires the following amendments to the Planned Development:

  • Addition of a hotel as a conditionally permitted use
  • Increase in number of allowable stories from three to four (building height limitation of 50 feet unchanged)
  • Sign area exceeding Light Industrial standards, to be established through Design Review
  • Recreational facilities permitted outside an enclosed building.

Staff has concluded that these amendments are appropriate for this Planned Development district. The increase in number of allowable stories does not change the allowable building height. Conditionally allowing the hotel use allows the City to impose requirements for the protection of adjacent properties and the public interest, through processes outlined by the Zoning Ordinance.

H Sustainability, including commitment to CalGreen Tier 1. LEED Gold or higher is encouraged. Desirable components could be on-site generation of renewable energy, water conservation practices, LED lighting, and similar measures. Sustainability commitments are discussed on page 13 of this report. Staff finds the sustainability proposal to be exceptional, and appreciates the components supporting Community Choice Energy.

I High-profile brand not provided elsewhere in the City of Davis. Staff notes that there is no Hyatt-branded hotel in the City of Davis. Although the City does not have the ability to regulate product or brand name through its land-use authority, the applicant team has experience delivering name-branded hotel developments.

J Transportation demand management commitments, including a shuttle service to airport and conference facilities The project includes a CNG shuttle to provide on-demand service to the airport and other destinations (Condition 90).

K Anticipated revenue to the City of Davis (including TOT, property tax, sales tax, and Development Agreement commitments). The Finance and Budget Commission discussed the potential fiscal impacts of the hotel proposals at their September 12th meeting.

In summary, the Commission concluded that the Hyatt House would likely result in a net fiscal benefit of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to the City of Davis.

L Commitment to high-quality architectural treatments that reflect the community and neighborhood context. As discussed earlier in this report, the project revisions requested by staff further consistency with this criterion.

M Integration of project amenities such as public art. Condition 67 speaks to efforts to pursue art by local artists.

The Council will need to determine its comfort with the following criteria:

D Site location, product characteristics and amenities, and desirability for extended stay travelers (restaurants, groceries, neighborhood services, etc.). Some Planning Commissioners commented that the location is not adequately proximate to shopping and services. Restaurants and groceries within the area include those at Oakshade Town Center, which is approximately 14 minutes walking and six which is approximately 14 minutes walking and six minutes cycling distance all with immediate access to the off street greenbelt network (per Google Maps). Downtown Davis is also accessible by bicycle via the Putah Creek Parkway or Pole Line Overpass. Staff has concluded that this location, in a mixed-use neighborhood, is appropriate for an extended-stay hotel. Guests are anticipated to enjoy the benefits of proximity to nearby greenbelts for transportation and recreational uses, and the nearby supplies and services that serve the surrounding neighborhood are convenient for hotel guests.

F Proximity to residences and neighborhood compatibility. The site is proximate to residential uses, particularly the single-family homes on Albany Avenue south of the greenbelt. The majority of the public testimony opposing the application at the Planning Commission meetings addressed issues of compatibility, as did much Commissioner comment. As discussed in the sections on General Plan and Zoning Principles and neighborhood issues, staff believes that this proposal, given appropriate conditions, is an approvable project. Recommended conditions address privacy, noise, security, and other issues raised by opponents to the proposal.

N Demonstrated team experience and capability for both the development and operation of a first-rate hotel facility

O Demonstrated financial capacity for project delivery, if approved

—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. Davis Progressive

    i think staff and the applicants have done a good job of responding to the concerns.  how different is this development from other permitted uses?

    1. Mark West

      “how different is this development from other permitted uses?”

      If you take a look at the staff report – Staff Report Hyatt House – on page 06-15 you will see that the Staff requested the applicant’s architect to prepare a ‘massing study’ to demonstrate what a building that met the current zoning might look like. They also discuss the types of businesses that would be allowed, and the limited input/recourse available to the CC (or the neighbors) for a building / business combination that is an approved use.

      1. Frankly

        Never heard of the “massing study” but it is a good idea.   It will at least shake out the NOE people with their disingenuous argument that they oppose the hotel because that is not what the property is zoned for.

        1. Mark West

          “not what the property is zoned for.”

          It is interesting what you can learn by reading the documents. One of the arguments against the project is the claim that hotels were never considered an appropriate use next to the residential neighborhood. If you look at the South Davis Specific Plan you will find that the property immediately to the west of the HH site was zoned ‘Highway Commercial,’ which has hotels as an approved use. So the original zoning documents did consider hotels as being appropriate for the area immediately adjacent to the neighborhood.

          The Planning Staff indicated last week that the site is no longer zoned ‘Highway Commercial,’ but they so far have been unable to identify an amendment passed by the CC that changed the zoning for that parcel and without a specific amendment, the original zoning would still be enforceable.

        2. Frankly

          Why would the planning staff say the zoning has changed without being able to provide any evidence that a zoning change has been approved?  What are they basing that claim on?  It would seem that they should be able to quickly provide some documentation to support it.

          I think the “not zoned for this use” is just a lazy deflection for what is really just NIMBYism.  It would not matter what was proposed, they would just shift their argument and devices of opposition… like finding a scientist to claim that the air quality would put children in danger.

  2. Robin W.

    If there is no restaurant or other food service, why would the City agree to a bar in the hotel at all, even if limited to wine and beer?  The last thing needed in a residential area like this is a bar with no food service. Of course, I can’t understand how a hotel would survive in that neighborhood without a restaurant onsite. So will it remain a Hyatt Hotel for long?

    1. ryankelly

      You begrudge place to gather or meet and have a beer or a glass of wine before heading out to a local restaurant or heading up to bed?

      Also, I wouldn’t call Cowell Blvd. a residential area.  It is a business area.  Just because there is a residential area nearby, doesn’t make the business strip residential.  If that were the case, then all commercial areas would be deemed residential.

        1. Mark West

          You are correct, Albany Ave is in a residential zone. The project site, however, is on Cowell Blvd. and is part of a commercial zone intended to act as a buffer between the freeway and the residential area. It was all described in the South Davis Specific Plan that was approved in 1987. South Davis Specific Plan

        2. Frankly

          As pointed out below there is a restaurant.

          And there is not any “bar” problem in Davis, it has been the night club problem.  The hotel is not running a night club.  In fact, most of these hotel bar stop serving at 10 or 11 PM… before the Davis nightclub scene gets moving.

          Yours is a nonsensical argument.  Seems you are desperate to find things to tarnish the project.

    2. Mark West

      “If there is no restaurant or other food service, why would the City agree to a bar in the hotel at all, even if limited to wine and beer?  The last thing needed in a residential area like this is a bar with no food service.”

      There is an on-site restaurant included in the plans.

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