The council chose to defer actions on the Hyatt House for at least two weeks. From their comments, it appears there are four votes for two hotels, and at least three votes for a four-story hotel at the Hyatt House location.
The council faced opposition from the neighbors – strong and united, while at the same time measured and almost subdued. The overwhelming sentiment seemed to be a great project, but the wrong place and time. To that, Councilmember Lucas Frerichs responded, “If not now, when? If not here, where?”
Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee opposed a four-story building, arguing, “If it were me, and I were making a proposal, I wouldn’t try to maximize size and shape.” He said, “I’m very interested in three stories – four stories for me is not acceptable for me tonight.”
But his colleagues did not seem to be there. Councilmember Will Arnold all along seemed like he would be a swing vote in the absence of Rochelle Swanson, who would have been conflicted out as a resident of that neighborhood anyway.
In his extensive comments, Will Arnold mentioned the good and the bad. After applauding things like commitment to the environment and card-check neutrality, he came to the big “but.” At this point, it seemed like he was headed toward a similar position as his colleague Brett Lee.
He said, “We’re being asked a lot here at this meeting.” He continued, “Very important to me, we’re being asked to reject the ruling of our planning commission.”
For him, this was a tougher location than the next project that was before the council. It is a smaller site by 24 percent. It is right next to neighbors and “it’s farther away from things we traditionally associate with convenience of hotels. It is closer as the crow flies to UC Davis and downtown, but proximity and access are two very different things.”
He read from a report where it said “the negative impacts were fully mitigated by the Hyatt House.” He responded, “I want to quote my good friend Jeffrey Lebowski, ‘that’s just, like, your opinion, man.’”
Will Arnold went down the list of permitted uses and noted that, of the ten uses that are permitted under current zoning, again in his opinion, eight are less desirable while two are more desirable.
He pointed out that, while the neighbors have argued that when they bought their houses, they looked at possible uses and a hotel “was nowhere in the ballpark,” he stated, “The General Plan would argue otherwise.” He said, “If the General Plan said it was a possible use, that goes to the menu,” even if the current zoning does not permit it.
Will Arnold was concerned that, if the council approved the zoning changes, the owners could flip the property and he wanted to make sure that the conditions approved would be enforceable. City Attorney Harriet Steiner suggested that they could do that through specificity in the conditions.
He concluded, “I’m not there yet and I think there’s work that we can do over the next couple of weeks.” He told his colleagues that he wants to see one last good faith effort to meet with the neighbors, he wants to see a solidification about promises to community groups, and see what they can do to make sure the trees are cared for.
Both Councilmember Lucas Frerichs and Mayor Robb Davis were more solid in their beliefs.
For Councilmember Frerichs, he said there were two issues that resonate for him – privacy concerns, which he believes the mitigation measures will help with, and the future use of the property.
He noted that some of the previous concerns that did not come up – decreased property values, strangers, and additional parking “are not as much of an issue for me.”
“Many neighbors have said, even this evening, this is a great project, but not here, not in my backyard,” he said. “Some of my questions that come up are if not now, when? If not here, where?”
He said, “Davis does have the ability to take on two hotels.” He added, “Just last Friday, (the) Interland/University Research Park announcement in South Davis, I think that’s likely to be a major development as that unfolds.”
“The site is certainly challenging,” he allowed. “But I think the project is approvable with some minor modifications.”
Mayor Robb Davis expressed a degree of frustration that they would not be making a decision tonight.
“I’m frustrated,” he said. “We set as a number one goal as a city council not a month ago, fiscal resilience.”
“People have said to me what you’re engaged in around the fiscal issue, especially in relation to this project, is fear mongering,” he stated. He said that fear mongering is raising fear that isn’t merited. “The reality is our fiscal situation is dire and it’s not getting any better.”
He noted that the city is not going to have to be looking for a couple hundred thousand every year, “we’re going to have to be looking for millions of additional dollars every year.”
“In that context, is it too much for me to ask a neighborhood, many neighborhoods in our entire city, to make sacrifices? I don’t think so,” he stated. “We’re in a situation where we have to try to find more revenue for the city. I am unapologetic in trying to find ways to find revenue. And I’m unapologetic in trying to find ways to cut costs.”
He said that he believes we should move forward on the two projects. He said that he was not worried about viability, as at some point we need to allow the people making the investments to make the decisions about viability.
“Will this harm you?” he asked the neighbors. “You feel it will. I feel it could inconvenience you, I feel it could change your life.”
Mayor Davis was also pointed in his criticism of the neighbors. He said he asked the neighbors if he could help facilitate with a professional facilitator at city expense to work between the developers and the neighbors to engage in dialogue. “I went around the table that day,” he said. “The answer I received was no.”
Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee noted that the fact there were fewer parking spaces than rooms concerned him. “Why would we approve a hotel that has not enough parking spaces for the number of rooms?” he asked. This was before counting the number of employees who would have to park as well.
Community Development Administrator Katherine Hess explained that, while some people would drive to the hotel, others would arrive by airport shuttle and some would carpool. Thus, she said, the number of spaces is sufficient.
Will Arnold was also critical of the neighbors, in that “there is a lack of options being given from the neighborhood as to what might satisfy you. The two that were mentioned specifically were going down to the three stories and underground parking.”
“My understanding is that underground parking is a no go and that going down to three stories would result in sacrificing a lot of the things that we find very beneficial about this project, including many of its environmental attributes,” he explained.
He noted he read this as package deal that, if the developers did both of those things, “it might be acceptable.” Mr. Arnold said, “I think those things are a poison pill for this project.”
The council decided to keep the November 15 date, either for a status update or action on possible modifications to the conditions of this project. There seem to be three votes for four stories and four votes for two hotels.
—David M. Greenwald reporting